The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

3. Keep It Interesting

Interesting is the spackle of the creative world. Interesting is a get out of jail free card. Interesting let's you break the rules.

But most of all, Interesting keeps people watching.

There are many rules floating around about story structure. Some good. Some completely arbitrary. As far as I'm concerned Keep It Interesting is the final arbiter in all matters. If the audience wants to know (preferably has to know) what happens next you've done your job. No caveats are needed here.

In the original Star Wars, Luke isn't even introduced until about twenty minutes into the film. Even then, he's not an especially strong character. We don't mind because we are interested in this alien world that we've been introduced into, and this Darth Vader guy, he's a badass. If not for the strong and interesting characters that surround Luke we might lose interest before they even get off of the planet Tatooine.

In Patton there is a scene where Patton visits some ruins and talks about his belief in reincarnation. Completely unnecessary from a story standpoint yet one of the things that really standout as exceptional to me.

The story of Avatar is serviceable but ultimately lackluster compared to everything else the movie has to offer, but I'd watch it again (in 3-D) in an instant because the world Cameron creates is extremely interesting and detailed and well thoughtout. Did I mention the 3-D is mind-blowing? People say the story needs to stand on its own. I think that if you are interested and entertained and your not looking forward to leaving that world then the filmmaker has done his or her job. Avatar seems to end and then start up again. With a runtime of just under 3 hours you'd think that a bad thing, but I was happy it lasted that long so I could spend more time in the world.

2001: A Space Odyssey is perhaps the best example of this though. This film is propelled almost solely on interest. If you are not engaged on an intellectual level, you will be bored to tears. There isn't really much of a story or a character to be found. It's as emotionally void as space is empty. And yet to me it is perhaps the finest and most perfect film I have ever seen.

The trick of it all is that these deficiencies are noticed only during post-mortem evaluation. If you are sufficiently interested, none of the things I mentioned will occur to you in the least, because you are being thoroughly entertained and under the trance of the storyteller and that is, in the end, what matters most.

Academics will deconstruct and analyze the merits of films and declare one more technically sound and therefore superior to another. And they will argue the finer points and that's all fine, but it doesn't really mean much. It's an attempt to objectify the subjective, to make the formless concrete. There might be some use there, but to me it's mostly people trying to appear smart.

I feel that I must offer at least one qualifier. I'm not saying that if you string together 50 interesting moments that you have an interesting movie. The story, above all, must be interesting and if you just start throwing randomly cool things around the story stops being interesting and the audience starts to wonder why they shouldn't leave and start clicking on random YouTube links.

So the next time you are writing and you find yourself wanting to violate point of view or leaving in an unnecessary scene ask yourself how interesting it is and then determine if it will jar the audience out of the world you've put them in. If the answer is no and it's interesting enough* then leave it in.

* That's the key isn't it. Trust your gut. If you know your audience and are trying to honor your duties as a storyteller it should be apparent whether you should kill this particular baby.

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