Friday, January 07, 2011

Storyteller's Rulebook #64: Know The Way The World Works --Any World

I’ve spoken before about the need to write in a way that reflects the way the world works. This was driven home for me by the latest excellent video-essay by “Mr. Plinkett”, the bizarre ranter who has now crafted epic take-downs of each Star Wars prequel, analyses that are almost as long as the movies themselves. This may sound like the internet at its worst, and some of his humor is a little crude for me, but his story-sense is rock solid and you could learn a lot about storytelling in between his cries of outrage. I would say that this final tirade is the most compelling one he’s done. If you only watch one, make it this one.

So many of his criticisms come from the basic idea that “that’s not the way the world works.” These attacks ring true, even though, if you think about it, these movies aren’t set on “the world” at all. It’s a different universe, so can’t people act differently? Nope. Audiences will happily accept different laws of physics before they accept Hayden Christensen’s screwy logic that killing a bunch of kids will save his wife from dying in labor. That’s just… …not the way the world works. Any world. Anywhere.
At one point I was giving another screenwriting student advice on his script. He was writing about a bunch of small town cops. The town beauty was killed and the town drunk was found with a bloody knife, so he was arrested, even though he had no known connection to the girl. But then one cop finds a love letter from the girl to the drunk –so that means he couldn’t possibly be the killer!
Wait—what? That’s not the way the world works! Every cop anywhere knows that love is the number one motive for murder. If the cops find evidence that two people secretly loved each other, that would greatly boost the suspicion that they killed each other, not the other way around. Even if the audience somehow doesn’t know this, they’ll be able to sense that something is screwy about how your cops act.
Or, hey, can I pick on Inception some more? This was some of the nuttiest dialogue I heard at the movies all year:
Huh?? On my planet, there’s a few things wrong with that logic:
  1. No psychiatrist would ever declare anyone to be categorically sane –there’s no blood test. They can declare a person legally competent to stand trial, but that’s in no way the same thing.
  2. In the eyes of a jury, simply going to a psychiatrist is enough to prove you’re nuts. Going to three psychiatrists and asking each for a little note that says you’re sane is enough to prove you’re really nuts.

People know how people are supposed to act. No matter what your deconstructionist professors told you, there is such a thing as human nature. BUT… …there are certain bizarre onscreen exceptions to the rule of “the way the world works”. And we’ll pick up there next time...


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