An introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors who welcome him to the real world.
Stephen Chbosky is a genius. Plain and simple. The novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower struck me like lightning in high school and I finished reading the gut-wrenching final pages in the mountains of the Czech Republic. Chbosky’s honesty bleeds through, having adapted his award-winning novel into a screenplay which he then directed. I love what he did with the screenplay and learned a great deal from reading his work.
Here are three lessons I learned from reading the screenplay for The Perks of Being A Wallflower:
- Write with authenticity.
- Don’t shy away from traumatic elements.
- Write from an omniscient perspective while honoring characters.
#1. On the first page of the screenplay, Chbosky makes the choice to display each word of the title in a different font, then glimpses the magical tunnel ending and introduces Charlie, our protagonist:
WRITE WITH AUTHENTICITY — With the ever-increasing amount of content in the world today, it is absolutely essential to develop and utilize our own unique voices as screenwriters. Chbosky showed with his novel that he is a master of literary craft, then entered the screenwriting world which is a landscape with its own rules and restrictions. We see from page one that Chbosky is willing to break the rules his way, with purpose, to tell the story honestly. Look at the title — each word is a different font — letting the reader know that this story is going to be a bit quirky. A bit different.
Examine the line in the opening paragraph, “Someone reaching out to us.” This is how the story feels and that feeling is intentional; look at the novel, written as a series of letters, each beginning with the line, “Dear friend…”
Develop and use your own unique voice, devoid of pretension and ego.
#2. Let’s discuss the way Chbosky handled trauma and adult themes in The Perks of Being a Wallflower:
DON’T SHY AWAY FROM TRAUMATIC ELEMENTS — One of the many elements I admire about the book and film are how trauma and sexual abuse are handled. The urgency of these moments are apparent yet are handled with class and dignity. By the end, it is clear that Charlie was sexually abused by his mentally ill Aunt Helen. This trauma hindered Charlie socially and sexually over the years.
Repressed Memory (n.) — An event that occurred in a subject’s past, the memory of which was actively repressed often because of the devastating impact of that memory i.e. child abuse, rape, molestation
His mind tried to protect him. Repressed memories are real. I used to think it was hogwash but now wholly believe in their validity. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie remembered the trauma of his Aunt’s death but not the recurring abuse. Throughout the story, he is skittish and shy as he tries to get close to people but doesn’t understand how. Charlie’s memories come flooding back in a time of stress which leads to a meltdown, elegantly handled on the page and onscreen.
Face mature themes head-on in a classy, dignified manner.
#3. On the following page, Charlie and his group of friends are opening secret Santa gifts:
WRITE FROM AN OMNISCIENT PERSPECTIVE WHILE HONORING CHARACTERS — The sentence that stands out here is, “The kids look ridiculous, but they don’t feel ridiculous.” As adults, it is easy to recognize moments like this in our own lives. Whether it was a time when we tried to act older or a time when we hung around people twice our age and attempted to fit in, this moment rings true. As a reader, it could have pulled me out of the script but instead, my connection to these characters felt enriched. Chbosky uses an omniscient perspective here, reminding the reader what it felt like to be a teenager, and in my opinion, it works splendidly.
Be your characters while also viewing them from above.
Thank you for reading and remember, WE ARE INFINITE. Come back soon.