Monday, December 30, 2013

What novelists can learn from movies about plotting. Is your hero's goal so clear and compelling that your audience knows when it's time to go home?




NOTE:  This is excerpted from a recent Facebook discussion with other FB folk about the holiday movies.  It occurred to me that some of this is worth sharing for movie lovers and emerging novelists.  In this post, my friend Teddi was wondering if she should skip the new movie "Inside Llewyn Davis" based on lukewarm responses from her peers.


Teddi, 

I'd say Llewyn Davis is worth seeing. The Coen Bros get so many things right in the film: the 60s period styling, the folk music era, the music. The central character is played by a handsome actor who isn't given a whole lot to do, so there's not a lot to root for. I was rooting more for the lost cat than him. Justin Timberlake's character had more juice than the protagonist.  Even the cameos of the mixed race couples hinted at stories with more hook than Llewyn's.

But then my expectations are very high with Coen Bros films. They set a high bar.
    
So many of the artsy and anticipated holiday films seemed to have plots that were too meandering for my tastes: HER, LLEWYN DAVIS, even AMERICAN HUSTLE to a degree. That's why I was especially satisfied with strongly plotted films like WOLF OF WALL STREET, FROZEN, WALTER MITTY, NEBRASKA and GRAVITY. 

I always feel as a writer I learn about fiction from movies. In the strong plots, the goals were clear and specific and relatable, unlike the others. In Frozen, the cursed sister wanted to turn her kingdom from winter back to spring. In Mitty, the hero wanted to find the missing mag cover photo. We learn this in the first few minutes and that goal kept things moving forward to a satisfying climax. 

But in Llewyn Davis, what did the hero want?  To have a hit record?  To leave music altogether? To get back with his ex? To get on prozac?  It wasn't clear to me.  What did Joachin Phoenix want in HER? To live happily ever after with his virtual girlfriend? To get approval of the relationship from her peers?  To conceive a cyber child? To become a monk?  It wasn't clear to me so I never knew when it was time to go home, never knew when the credits should roll. The movie just ended.

In Nebraska, the old man wanted to claim his million dollar sweepstakes winning. Exactly that.  In Gravity, Sandra Bullock wanted to make it back to earth. Period. The end.  These goals are clear and meaningful. Once they are achieved or not achieved -- we know the movie is over!  We know it's time to go home! I love that. 

Now I need to go back and clarify my hero's goal in my new novel!

2 comments:

  1. Hi Dwight, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris
    http://chelencarter-retiredandlovingit.blogspot.ca/

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  2. Chris, thanks for much for leaving a comment. I will plan to visit your blog as well. -- Dwight

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