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Monday, April 1, 2013

Picking apart a story or three

I recently saw two movies I'd been anticipating for a long time - Puss in Boots (yeah, I know it's been out a while but life sometimes interferes with my movie plans) and The Hobbit. One was a complete disappointment, the other was good but not as great as it could have been.

When my family goes to the movies, we end up dissecting them afterwards, what worked and what didn't and why. This is one way to improve as a writer - take apart other peoples' stories. Why movies? Because you can focus on plot and characters and because they're relatively short and easy to experience. Writing mechanics are a completely different topic. You never hear someone say, "I hated that movie because it had so many typos and the grammar was atrocious!" Besides, I can sum up my position on how writing mechanics make or break a book in one word: communication. Grammar and writing are structured forms of communication. Learn the rules and why they exist so you can communicate effectively. If you stink at it, find a good editor who knows it inside and out. Then, listen to them when they tell you to fix your grammar and sentence structure. And if you can find someone who still remembers how, get them to teach you to diagram a sentence. It will do wonders for improving your clarity.

Back to movies. Why do so many reviews dwell on the negative aspects? I don't know about you, but I find it much easier to pinpoint why a story didn't work than why it did. When a movie gels and becomes something greater than its parts, it can be very hard to take it apart to figure out why. When it has flaws, they're noticeable and easy to examine.

Puss in Boots was a tremendous disappointment, so much so that I regretted spending a few dollars on the DVD. Here was my favorite character from the Shrek franchise in his own movie. What could possibly go wrong? Pretty much everything. The characters fell flat. The storyline was overly simplistic. The jokes were much too adult for the intended audience (I'm assuming it was supposed to be a kids' movie). It didn't gel. All the parts were right on their own, but together, they didn't work.

The Hobbit, on the other hand, was a good movie. It was funny, exciting, all around enjoyable. Except, it could have been not just a good movie but a great one. I don't know about you, but it really dragged for me. Good scenes went on so long they became annoying. Do we really need twenty minutes of trolls telling fart jokes, or dwarves doing dishes? Does Radagast the Brown really need that long of an introduction? Yes, he's a fun character, but he wasn't central to the story. I'm not saying cut any of the scenes or characters, just edit them tighter. Take out some of the saggy bits. If the movie were an hour shorter, it would have been a great movie. At least in my opinion.
The last movies I saw that really pulled me in and kept me captivated were Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The A-Team. Compare those to the movies I just pulled apart. Voyage of the Dawn Treader had a few saggy scenes, mostly at the end, but they fit with the overall pace of the story. The story kept moving, kept me intrigued. The characters worked well, separately and together. None of the elements of the story overpowered the others. It was balanced and well-told. The A-Team took a pretty cheesy tv show, one of my favorites by the way, and smartened it up. The characters were more real, more everything, as they should be on the big screen. The story was even more wild than the tv show. They flew a freaking tank! Totally wrong according to physics, but it fit the story.

What movies have you seen lately that really drew you in to the point you lost track of time and your surroundings?