Blogger: Rachel Zurakowski
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa CA
What makes a movie interesting? How does it keep your attention to the end?
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a strange story about a boy who was born old and gets younger as time goes by, had great potential to be an engaging film. The story idea is fascinating, but while I was watching the movie, I kept wondering when it was going to be over! The movie is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The movie is 2 hours 45 minutes; the short story is 32 pages. I think the filmmakers took a good story and stretched it too far. The cinematography is beautiful, but the movie, other than the interesting basic plot, is boring. Most of the movie experience is spent waiting for the next “almost” moment between the two lead characters–Benjamin and Daisy. My favorite part, however, is the man, Mr. Daws, with Alzheimer’s who keeps recounting the many ways he has been struck by lightning. It’s the only thing he can remember. I thought this was silly at first, but toward the end of the film, he tells Benjamin, “Blinded in one eye; can’t hardly hear. I get twitches and shakes out of nowhere; always losing my line of thought. But you know what? God keeps reminding me I’m lucky to be alive.” Wow. What a line!
I liked the film–I’d say it’s worth seeing, but I’m not going to watch it again for a LONG time.
I felt the same way about “Watchmen.” This story had so much potential to be exciting and engaging, but the film fell flat. There was too much narration, mostly done by Rorschach, and the majority of the film felt old-fashioned. It was a “historical” film set during the Nixon era (hey, I wasn’t born yet so it’s historical as far as I’m concerned), but I’ve seen historical films that feel real, not old and tiresome. There was hardly any action in “Watchmen,” and the gory parts didn’t make me want to keep watching the narration-filled superhero movie. I think they could have written a superhero movie that actually kept the audience’s interest, don’t you?
Can books fall to the same fate? Of course! I’ve read so many books in which the back cover blurb makes the story sound fabulous, but when I start reading, I can’t even finish. Using “Watchmen” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” as my sources, I suggest you watch out for these things in your writing:
1) Don’t rely on narration to carry your story. There MUST be action. You have to engage the audience in the perils of the main character(s). Don’t just tell the story, show it.
2) Don’t stretch your plot too far. If you have an exciting plot that can only last for 40,000 words, don’t try to make a 100,000 word book out of it. You need to have a very complex storyline to support a 100,000+ word book. If you run out of plot, and you need a longer book, you need to go back to the beginning and start revising. (Note: Most novels need to be at least 70,000 words unless you’re writing for a publishing house with a lower word requirement.)
3) Plot comes first. If the story isn’t keeping the audience’s interest, don’t throw in gore, sex, violence, or action to keep the reader interested. It’s not going to work.
4) If you’re writing a historical story, it still needs to be exciting. We have history books already, which the majority of us don’t like to read. You don’t need to try to make your story feel old-fashioned. Keep it authentic, but help the audience to identify with the characters.
I’m sure many of you have seen “Secondhand Lions.” This film did everything right. Set in the past (the ’30s, I believe), it depicts two older men and a 13-year-old as the main characters. The majority of the plot is the two old guys recounting their life-stories to the young boy, Walter. Sounds boring, right? But it wasn’t! This movie was touching, hilarious, and exciting. The characters were fresh and real, the story was filled with engaging adventure, and I don’t remember any narration. The old uncles were telling the story, but the adventure took center stage. Walter’s coming-of-age story fit into the plot seamlessly.
Let’s write like secondhand lions. 🙂