Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Great Purge, Day 1: Is this a new twist on a classic type of story?

So we have a robust checklist for improving any manuscript, but it’s just too much. 140 questions is a lot, and some of the questions have turned out to be less helpful over the years, and the book needs to be shorter, so it’s time for the great purge! I’ll be nominating more than 20 questions to cut, with pros and cons for each one!

On trial: Is this a new twist on a classic type of story?

Why it was added: I wanted to remind writers that wild-and-crazy ideas were rarely as good as stories that started with classic templates and add one unique spin.

How do the checklist movies answer this question?
  • Alien: Yes, the haunted house movie done on a space freighter.
  • Babadook: The haunted hause / demonic possession movie.
  • Blazing Saddles: Very much so: the appointed sheriff in a overrun western town was a classic subgenre, but this is a very new twist.
  • Blue Velvet: Yes, an amateur detective story where the amateur is driven by impure motives.
  • Bourne Identity: Yes, a spy story but the spy is trying to solve the mystery of who he is and what his mission is.
  • Bridesmaids: A raunchy wedding-party comedy focused on the bridesmaids for once.
  • Casablanca: Yes, the forbidden love romance with Nazis thrown in.
  • Do the Right Thing: Sort of: The day-in-the-life-of-a-city genre had died out fifty years earlier, but this revived it with a new perspective.
  • Donnie Brasco: Yes. Reverses the usual undercover story.
  • Education: Not much of a twist. Just a very classic coming of age cautionary tale, but exceptionally well done.
  • Fighter: Yes, a mix of boxing movie, crack movie, and family drama. But funny.
  • Fugitive: It’s not much of a twist, just an exceptionally good version of a very classic thriller template.
  • Groundhog Day: The “guy has to grow up and move on to the next stage of his life” romantic comedy gets a supernatural twist.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: No, that’s pretty damn original. It has elements of the war movie, the gladiator movie, the coming-of-age movie, etc., but it’s really something pretty new.
  • In a Lonely Place: It’s a “falsely accused” movie in which the accused doesn’t care to clear his name, and is guilty in his heart.
  • Iron Man: A superhero origin but he’s a cocky middle-aged asshole instead of a young do-gooder.
  • Raising Arizona: A zanier and sweeter rich-man’s-baby-gets-taken story.
  • Rushmore: Yes, the love triangle.
  • Shining: Yes, a non-gothic haunted house movie.
  • Sideways: No.
  • Silence of the Lambs: The serial killer hunt, but with another serial killer helping
  • Star Wars: A fairy tale in outer space.
  • Sunset Boulevard: Not really, it’s pretty original: part comedy, party noir, part satire.
Deliberations: Five movies say no, and it’s interesting (to me) to focus on how that makes them different from the other movies, but none of these examples suffers from saying no, and indeed I doubt many stories would. Ultimately this is more of an interesting tendency, rather than a standard to hold oneself to. Ultimately, if this is a rule that it rarely hurts to break, I think we can safely cut it.

Verdict: It’s out!


Brian Malbon said...

A new twist on a classic story is a great brainstorming idea when you're looking at a blank page. But if you're past that point it really doesn't help at all.

Brian Malbon said...
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