This one reminds me of writing advice from South Park's Trey Parker: write better stories by figuring out how to replace all your "ands" and "buts" with "therefore".
> 20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
This one strikes me as an especially great idea! Rewrite something bad to make it good. There are certainly some shows I've bitched about (like a lot of people) but I would have a hard time dissecting it to find what's wrong with it, and even harder time fixing it. Having to do it would certainly be educational.
Just a minor change in order of the same scenes completely changed a movie.
- the original movie was explained because I had never heard of it; and
- a short version of the re-edited movie was spliced together so that you could see what the author had in mind.
Overall, this is a compelling demonstration of how simply changing the order in which the viewer gets information can make a so-so story great.
Also, it makes me want to see both Passengers (even though it's supposed to be predictable) and Solaris (because it's not supposed to be).
He said he wrote the movie because he really wanted to explore the idea that sometimes people choose love even when it has hurt them--he used the example of people who get cheated on, yet stay with their partner and work it out.
But it became clear that he was so interested in this aspect of the movie that he just could not get perspective on the central violation of Jennifer Lawrence's character, which is truly horrific. Being awoken early, to spend your entire life on a spaceship you can't escape, by someone who wants to have sex with you... that's some pretty clear callouts to core human fears like slavery, claustrophobia, rape, etc.
A plot device that was just supposed to be an obstacle to love, is totally overpowering. Based on the questions, a lot of the audience couldn't get over it, me included, so the happy ending just felt forced, hollow, and unbelievable.
I take Passengers as a great example of why it might be good sometimes for studios to bring in someone new to rewrite a script. I think any good writer, coming to that script cold, would recognize the power of the core horror and start from there.
Passengers spent a while high on "The Black List," which is a consensus list of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood. I wonder if that put the writer in a position to maintain more than the usual amount of control for a spec script.
In fact, I recall a Pixar writer said it was one of his favorite books.
Actually, I found it (same blog):
Apparently the author claims neither he nor Pixar came up with it.
I believe this line comes from Brian McDonald and am witness to his use of it in a writing class he led at Seattle's 911 Media Arts circa 2000. (The number in their name was in reference to the original address on E Pine St.)
He is both an accomplished writer and excellent instructor for writers. I found his guidance to work well in tandem with McKee's STORY.
His early works are of spectacular quality (e.g., White Face), and this reminds me to get caught-up on his more recent material.
That leads to a cliche - the nobody who becomes a hero. That's so Pixar.
Biography movies of real people aren't like that, because real life usually isn't.
first act: once upon a time there was ____. Every day,____.
inciting incident: One day ___.
second act: Because of that, ___. Because of that, ____.
third act: Until finally ____.
> Biography movies of real people aren’t like that
There was a great comment the other day about the interview story structure, and how to make a story about average people into an interesting narrative:
Everyone does it and despite that, it seems not many people are getting tired of it.
Though it's quite fun to know how a movie is going to play out next, some can even surprise you in how they do it.
If you feel you really need this lucky coincidence to save your character, you can fix that by going back earlier in the story and earning it. Your hero getting shot, and the bullet being stopped by a lighter in his pocket we've never seen before, will feel like a cheat. But if he helped a homeless guy earlier, and the homeless guy insists he take his lucky Zippo, and then the lighter saves his life, most people won't complain.
Just a little justification goes a long way, and helps make your world and story feel real and complex.
A lot of "reason" is really just narrative logic. It's much more weakly predictive and less rational than scientific logic, but it's far more persuasive.
Are you allowed to combine multiple movies? If so them I'm off to combine "Howards End" and "The Hurt Locker" into something more to my taste....
That's a lot of what someone like Tarantino does.
Storytelling is about more than just deciding the plot. It is very much about staging the reveal of details.
However, I think these rules can easily be "how to write a shallow but emotionally compelling story" (surprise, surprise).
That said, having these rules on the table (so to speak) is useful for when you as story teller want to have something other than the obvious happen (ie, know the rules to break them). Try occasionally having extra, useless characters just to confuse people. Have detours and details that turn into their own story. Slow down or speed-up pace just for the heck of it. Let the players find ways to short-circuit all the apparent barriers and then have something different happen.
If you're telling a modern story, your first inclination is either a car chase or a foot chase. You certainly CAN just spice these up (put them in a surprising location being the easiest) but there is value in trying to find a different way (chase on Segways, or maybe on animals stolen from the zoo, etc).
This is not the greatest example because it's very rare that a story needs a chase scene to drive it forward. The end result will boil down to "they get away" or "they get caught" and both of these can be accomplished instantly, no full chase sequence required. Chase scenes are things you add to visual media because they're exciting. You never get them in books!
A better example might be "I need to establish that this character is not very smart" or "I need a reason for this character's parents to be dead" or, heh, "I need a way to make it so that this chase scene also develops the plot and/or characters".
And for good solutions to the last problem, you can look at e.g. The Terminator or the entirety of Mad Max: Fury Road...
I disagree. A chase scene is a great way to build tension or provide a test of character, and maybe even a way to provide exposition. Using "The Hunt for Red October" (since I just watched that over the weekend), the first half of the film is essentially the main character chasing after a sub. It's not a fast-paced foot chase, but it provides a character test (how far he's willing to go to catch the sub), obstacles that are interesting when overcome, and provides an urgency to some of the exposition that's delivered at the film's start.
Or a space chase scene in ancient Jerusalem? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=il26svFhWM8
As someone who grew up reading these, I would have liked better characterisation but concept focused stories still appeal to me.
The Pixar approach allows nothing to have depth but everything to still work emotionally. Any variety of original, well-craft fiction will have "meat" whereas this sort of thing is more or less just "sugar" instead.
Individual characterization is nothing special, probably par for the course for SF of that era, but nobody is stupid and nobody is evil and watching everything play out organically is just fascinating.
If done masterfully—this overrealization captivates me, and the emotions I feel at the end are real. And I can learn something new about myself for it.
If the odds are too against the characters, the resolution is going to feel contrived, even if it makes sense and it's not really a Deus ex Machina.
I find it interesting that "your story" can be interpreted ambiguously in the last rule. But I guess it's a coincidence.
Contrived tension is no more useful than contrived resolution of tension. When the characters suddenly act like idiots born yesterday, they lose any sense of depth or agency. If you want a prime example of what I’m talking about, watch The Walking Dead.
People want to see the main characters overcome obstacles, and the above rule is just giving authors permission to spend more time considering how they overcome those obstacles (again, avoiding Deus ex Machina) than considering how they get into such trouble in the first place. In fact, this is sort of the opposite from what you're mad about: if the writers for the Walking Dead were more willing to simply let bad things happen rather than contorting their characters in stupid ways in ill-considered attempts to justify those bad things happening, it might have turned out better. :) (And of course, this doesn't mean it's a bad thing to avoid coincidences, it's just that audiences won't care about coincidences that create drama rather than resolving it.)
Coincidence in fiction is ultimately a contrivance, and I don’t mean the initial conditions. 19 talks about coincidence being fine to get characters into trouble, but not out of it.
Dexter became a coincidence parade after the first season. But I couldn't keep watching once he became bad at murder. Relatability isn't a virtue if your character starts with a premise of prenatural skill, power, emotional baggage or any other attribute. I do not want to see dexter leave his wallet at a crime scene, let alone over and over again.
I stopped watching Arrow after it became clear that every single villain was going to be related to him in some way. "A-ha, what you didn't know is that I was your father's limo driver!"
I stopped watching True Blood when Bontemps started running out of citizens without a mystical hidden identity. If that show had been given another season the sherif would have been revealed a water elemental.
I could go on.
> 19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
The rule means basically what you said. "To get characters into trouble" means basically the first third of a movie or so, or the point in the movie that "kicks the action off". So I'm not sure what in that rule can be reasonably disagreed with.
Now you've given me a thought experiment. How to give a treaty of versailles treatment to a rant about TV shows.
19 has nothing to do with character.
19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
It doesn't mean contrived is great - it just means sometimes bad things happen and you have to deal with it, and we often don't understand the root causes. But if you rely on random good things to solve your problems, you won't have a very satisfying story.
This is just saying it is fine if a random car crash starts the conflict. But if a random car crash takes out the big bad, it's cheating.
So stories like The Fugitive, The Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, Leon, Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Up, Die Hard, and The Big Lebowski sucked because they made use of this technique?
"Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating."
Coincidences are rarely great. At best, they're a necessary annoyance.