The Death of the Plot

We’re in danger of losing the plot.

I watched Cloverfield sometime last month, and sat through two hours of film footage waiting for the plot. I waited so long I let the credits run through, thinking this might be one of those movies that sneaks the final twist in right at the end of the credit roll. (Yes, I saw the water scene, although I had to rewind to find it. I don’t know how anyone managed to pick that up in the movie theatre. But, frankly, at that stage, who cares?)

Cloverfield has no plot. It is simply footage of an event and the reactions of characters to the situation they find themselves in. Theoretically there’s nothing wrong with a story having no plot – many literary works dump the plot in favour of allowing (hopefully) well-rounded characters to meander around the book until they run out of something important to gripe about (although probably well after that point).

However, I’m concerned about what appears to be a trend in entertainment. Stories without a plot used to be fringe; Cloverfield grossed the biggest profit at the box office so far this year. What is this doing to our storytelling ability when everything is becoming more news centric and journalistically written? We’ve come to this point because of 24-hour news coverage where we are used to seeing news footage and documentary-style reporting, followed by Reality TV as our main source of entertainment. None of this involves plotting, and a continuation of this trend could see a deficiency in the important skill of creating good plots.


Comments (4)

Selma - I haven't seen Cloverfield, but a friend did complain about the lack of plot after she saw it. Seems good scriptwriters are in short supply in the film industry these days. Gives me hope. Better get writing!

Posted 9 July 2008

Elle - Selma, I know you're capable of a really worthwhile story. It would be great on film. Better get that son of yours producing some of your work...

Posted 10 July 2008

Ms. Karen - You know, I thought I was the only one thinking there was a lack of plots in movies and television. And some books.

You're right when you tie it in with our addiction to reality TV and all news, all the time kinds of shows. Some folks are just more interested in seeing how other people live instead of doing some living of their own.

Um, guilty of that at times as well...

Posted 11 July 2008

Elle - Karen, I've been neglecting you terribly. I must stop by your blogs. Thanks so much for your visit.

Posted 11 July 2008

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Deathly Hallows

I've recently finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - yes, I know, I may very well be the last (interested) person in the world to get around to reading it and I've been surfing the web on tenterhooks for months hoping to avoid spoilers. And now I'm surfing trying to find all the spoilers I tried to avoid to see what other people had to say when they finished it.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with the wrap up of the series - books 6 and 7. It took me a little while to put my finger on exactly what was bugging me about it, and then I realised it was the very same thing I try to drum into my critique clients - Rowling held the reins too tightly. (Okay, so now you have a perfect excuse not to listen to me on that one, because JK Rowling does it too!)

Here's why: Rowling controlled every aspect of the story for seven books, which forced readers outside into observer mode, rather than allowing readers in to experience the story for themselves. There is no room in the final wrap up for the reader to read between the lines anymore.

The clearest example of this is in the epilogue, where every main character's life is mapped out for the next 19 years and beyond. This is the part of the book where the reader usually gets to let their imagination go based on the possibility hinted at in the final pages, rather than being left with everything so firmly tied up that the only thought remaining is: "Well, that really is the end."

I know Rowling wanted (and in some ways was forced, by fans, by the popularity of the books, and by scammers) to conclude the book in such a way that there would be no doubt that it had ended to avoid fan/scam fiction follow ups and people being caught out by "another Harry Potter book after all". It's unfortunate, though, because it dents an otherwise good story.

I would have liked to see Rowling end this series with Book 5. And while I'm on critique mode (and I know I'll get flamed for this), I would've suggested combining Books 1 and 2 together, and Books 3 and 4 together - much of Book 1 and Book 4 could've been cut, in my opinion, leaving room to combine the important backstory aspects of Books 5, 6, and 7, but ending with the battle at the Ministry.

But that's just my take on it. It's still a great story.


Comments (5)

Selma - I haven't read the final book yet. I just can't seem to bring myself to do it but I know what you mean about Rowling being a control freak. Epilogue, you say? Bleh. I am not a fan of the epilogue. I'd rather imagine.... Now you have made me realise that I am probably the only person in the world who hasn't read the final book. Guess what I'll be doing tomorrow after work?

Posted 15 April 2008

DavidM - I was watching Oprah once and one of her guests was the woman (I can’t remember name) who was instrumental in getting Rowlands published. The first Potter was in the slush pile (it had been rejected by other publishers.) This woman read it and persuaded the powers to publish it. I can’t remember the exact wording of the interview but it went something like this:

Oprah: Did JK ever thank you?

Woman: (Great big beaming smile) Oh yes, she sent me a thank you note and an autographed copy of the book.

Oprah: Anything else?

Woman: (still smiling) No.

The expression on Oprah’s face when she asked “anything else: was priceless because from it I believe I could tell that she was thinking what I was thinking: “This woman is now one the richest women in the world because of you and ALL she sent was a measley thank you note and an autographed book’?

Man, if the day comes that somebody makes me one the richest men in the world, that person will be set for life. I mean, c’mon, even if Rowlands had given the woman something like ½ of one percent of the net profits of one book, and it would have been a good bonus. James Brown gave his sound engineer the rights/royalities to one song “Sex Machine” and the guy never had to work again

I haven’t, as yet ,read ANY of the Potter books or seen any of the films. From discussions I have had with friends and rellos, I get feeling that when I do I will feel as if I already have.

Cheers, David

Posted 17 April 2008

Elle - Hi David - thanks for dropping by!

I saw that Oprah show and I remember her reaction too. I'm not sure where I stand on whether Rowling owes that woman anything more. I do know that Rowling was very lucky to have her manuscript read because she broke every rule in the book for submissions (it was ring bound, and I think it was printed on both sides of the paper). So maybe she does owe the slush pile reader a lot - and maybe a grand gesture would encourage other slush readers to take a chance on a manuscript that "breaks the rules" but they feel something intuitive about it anyway. If there's a greater chance that they could become rich off a decision like that, who knows who might get a lucky break.

But on the other hand, all she did was read the manuscript and pass it on to someone higher up who made the real decision. The publishing company who said yes (Bloomsbury) has already been rewarded extensively by being part of the Harry Potter phenomenon, and maybe it is the publishing company who should be making a grand gesture towards the slush pile reader who put them in that position. Perhaps they have already.

Selma, my dear, I'm so glad I'm not last! Email me when you finish, I want to know what you think!

Posted 18 April 2008

Inspired Writing Research blogger - Hi Elsa, this is an interesting 'out of the box' angle on JK's writing. I must admit her books have never attracted me as a reader - although my sons did love the films. Later I read that critics didn't rate the actual quality of her writing. I suppose you have to admire someone who does have the writing skill to tie up a plot so rigidly.

Posted 20 April 2008

Elle - Thanks for visiting, Inspired Writing. JK Rowling is a fairly good writer (although one who suffers from bloated writing syndrome), but even she admits that she could've done with some more editing assistance. One of the biggest problems with writers who make it big with their first major project is that they lose the introspective time to develop a second (usually more critical) perspective on their work. Rowling battles with letting go of control of her work, and she battles to trust the reader. It's not a good combination when you're hoping readers will escape into your story.

Posted 20 April 2008

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Misogyny of Shrek the Third

I love children's movies, and I thoroughly enjoyed Shrek 1 and 2, but I have a serious problem with the misogynistic message being passed on to children in this third movie.

Fiona’s father, the Frog King, dies after telling Shrek that he is next in line for the throne – or Shrek can find a boy called Arthur Pendragon, a cousin who could also fulfil the role. That scene nearly caused me to turn the movie off in disgust.

Firstly, there is a perfectly fit, intelligent, and capable queen standing at the king’s bedside – in every way the ideal person to take over as monarch of Far, Far Away. And if you want to argue that the spouse of the heir to a throne cannot be the monarch, that is exactly my next argument.

Fiona is the princess and the heir to the throne, but it is her commoner husband who is made king. Or the other option is the next male heir down the line – anyone other than the legitimate child of the current king, as long as that person is male. We don’t even do that in the real world where every excuse for misogyny is used to the full extent possible. No one in England licks stamps with the profile of “King Philip” on them, nor is there a “King Henrik of Denmark”.

And then we turn to the other women of this movie. Sure, the princesses get to fight a bit (and Snow White has one of the coolest scenes in the movie), but for a great length of the movie they contribute to the image of the stupid princess who needs to be rescued. When they do escape, they just get themselves captured again.

What happened to great reversals that Shrek 1 introduced? Not only was the beautiful Princess Fiona able to rescue herself, thank you very much, she also happened to be an ogre with a great deal of intelligence and spunk. Now she's shoved into the submissive-wife-and-mother role.

Is this Andrew Adamson's doing? The first Shrek was the work of William Steig (book) and the Ted Elliot/Terry Rossio combo (screenplay). Elliot and Rossio (best known for co-writing the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) were dropped on Shrek 2 and 3.

Were the writers/directors/producers just not thinking, or is there something more sinister going on here?


Comments (3)

Selma - You have summed up so well what I also had trouble with in the third Shrek movie. I found it an odd direction for the movie to go in. And it didn't fool anyone. I took a group of 11 year olds to see it and they all complained about Fiona not being able to inherit the throne. Did the writer intend to be misognystic (did I spell that right?) or was he just being unimaginative? Get with the program, mate, Princess Fiona could run the world if she wanted to!

Posted 21 January 2008

Elle - That's why I love writing for children - they call you on any shortcuts you try and take. You have to put far more thought and work into your story, but it's so worth it. Good on those kids for picking up on the Shrek cop out!

Posted 22 January 2008

Violette - I thought it was more a showing that Shrek was being accepted since he had been an outcast originally for marrying Fiona.

Great Blog...popped over from Bella

Posted 21 April 2008

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