Cheap Writing Skills

Structure is a very important part of story telling. Whenever I sit down and watch a film, I'll always end up commenting on the film structure. A lot of films follow a simple structure which is basically an intro, conflict, complication, climax, resolution and conclusion. The ones that truly interest me are those who structure themselves differently, or use another motif to do so.

I recently watched 'The Prestige'. Which is built like a magic trick, you have 'the pledge' which is the part of the story that shows something ordinary, or familiar, followed by 'the turn' which is when something ordinary turns extraordinary and finally concludes with 'the prestige' which is when the trick is finally created. These three steps can, by vocabulary, be substituded with the simple structure named above, but nonetheless is a worthwhile effort on the writer's part.

What I mean by 'cheap writing skills' is anything that comes in the form of flashbacks to explain things that were never looked at previously in the story, or plot developments that are unanticipated because they are never mentionned or looked into before they happen. Batman, the old television series, was the king of terrible writing. Often having the protagonist in peril, only to fix the issue with a simple line of dialogue: "Thank God I took my anti-poison Bat-milk this morning!" Another terrible franchise to utilize terrible writing is the Saw franchise which axed the entire third installement on flashbacks. I got lucky and skipped out on the story by reading up the plot on wikipedia, and the amount of time 'is shown in flashback' is written makes me happy I avoided watching this, or another film of the franchise. This type of plot developement is absolutely attrocious and should never be green lit.

It's not an exercise in good writing to fool the audience by using cheap thrills. Things like silent moments followed by loud string instruments, or trumpets doesn't make up good thrills either. One liner plot twists don't add much to story development as well. One series that was especially good at this was 'Angel', which had a lot of story progress in directions not previously foreshadowed or explained, simple lines would give the direction of the next episodes and made the process of following such a show a pain. Things like "It's the prophecy, I've managed to decipher more of the text. A giant meteor is currently hitting us because the almighty Lord is pissed." is definetly taken off of my list of things-I-should-watch.

A director, on the other hand, that utilized misdirection quite creatively and intelligently was Alfred Hitchcock. He was a wonderful user of the MacGuffin which is, according to wikipedia, 'a plot device that motivates the characters and advances the story, but has little other relevance to the story'. For example, in the movie 'psycho', Janet Leigh's character is initially running away from her employer after having stolen some money. The money is the MacGuffin because it drives the character to leave and find shelter at the Bates Motel, where the true plot of a murdering madman begins. This actually is a demonstration of good writing skills.


At 3/3/07 2:14 AM, Blogger Portelance said...

I haven't seen any of the Saw movies, and never will. Interesting anecdote: a student in my Political Thought class tried to suggest that Saw was a good example of some philosophical principle we were studying... yeah.

I had a good chuckle when I read this about Saw III on Wikipedia, though: "The final shooting draft of the script was written in under a week in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by Leigh Whannell based on an idea by creator and Saw director James Wan." One week... ooh boy!

It always interested me that Psycho was so infamous and popular. I figured that no movie that is so highly rated and influential could be as good as this. I first watched it several years ago, after already being quite familiar with Hitchcock and generally enjoying his work. I was completely overwhelmed at the sheer quality of the film. The foreshadowing and, as you say, misdirection in the film are works of complete genius. Hitchcock points the camera in certain directions in order to suggest things -- many of which ultimately lead to dead ends, but contribute greatly to the suspense. There's a scene I recall in the hotel with some dead birds on the wall or something. I don't remember all the details.


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