Make It Compelling

After my last spleen-lancing post, I’ve had some imaginary emails and non-existent comments with valid questions like Who the [hell] do you think you are? and Why make do with the length you have?

To answer the first, I get paid to write, thank you. And although the polite and understated New Zealand way of explaining such a position would be to shuffle my shoes and bashfully say that I must be doing something right, the reality is that I’m good at what I do. I’m a professional. I deliver.

So there.

As for the second question, that was actually from some email or comment spam, so no response required.

I may have been a bit harsh with my accusations of lazy storytelling and a fear of audience confusion in my last post. It’s one thing to blame everything on the writer – and very easy: just trawl through a random sample of dissatisfied film reviews – but it’s another to ignore the fact of how fragile a feature film is. Anyone who’s made a film will tell you that everyone involved – every-bloody-one – has a hand in how it turns out. It’s a miracle they get made at all.

But back to the hapless writer and those ever-reliable chestnuts:
– the child/sidekick/damsel who don’t do as they’re told;
– the unnecessary lie; and
– egregiously dumb acts by characters.

I’ll be lazy and hereby categorise them as dumb things. Such dumb things can be avoided by providing a compelling reason so that the dumb thing becomes at least understandable.

Remember how the DAUGHTER got her MOTHER killed? What the hell was the kid doing outside the house? Well, what if…

Once MOTHER left to investigate the noises outside, we spend some time focussing on her DAUGHTER. All alone. So vulnerable.

There’s a LOUD NOISE from the back of the house: it’s the backdoor being busted down by a couple of mobile VENUS HUMANTRAPS! Their tendrils slither across the polished wooden floor, rushing towards the little girl until –

DAUGHTER

(sotto)

The hell with this.

– and she slips out the front door.

The same principle can be applied to the other situations. In the boy-meets-girl situation, what if…

BOY listens to his BEST MATE tell him that –

BEST MATE

– women are stupid. We, as manly men, lie to them to save them face.

Whereupon Boy ignores his friend’s advice and is upfront with GIRL about MEAN BOSS’s request – and the challenge then is to bring about a different yet interesting obstacle to put in the way of Girl and Boy’s embryonic romance.

And finally, what if…

HOT DOG COP and OLD BULL COP admire the form of NAKED WOMAN for a couple of slo-mo seconds as she hoofs it down the street, shrieking all the while.

HOT DOG

What’s she yelling about?

OLD BULL

You weren’t listening either?

HOT DOG

(sheepish)

I was a bit –

OLD BULL

Distracted? Yeah, me too.

HOT DOG

(beat)

I suppose we should call it in.

OLD BULL

(nods)

There was some blood on her.

(off Hot Dog)

Go on. I’ll call for backup while you run her down.

A mental image strikes Hot Dog:

HOT DOG

I... suppose I should.

So:

Knowing why the kid leaves the house won’t save her mother from being beheaded by some plant hybrid but at least no-one’s thinking of throttling the ill-disciplined sprog.

Having a realistic response to patently stupid advice may have generated some work down the line but at least viewers aren’t planning death-threats against the writer.

And replacing blind machismo with some droll humour doesn’t really work here, but at least police-procedural aficionados aren’t up in arms about blatant disregard of common-sensical law enforcement practice.

See? Provide a compelling reason for action – or inaction – and you make that moment yours.

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