Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Plot Sickens


I love a good story. I mean, who doesn’t? Television, movies, books—if the plot is constructed on a foundation of awesomeness and self-reflection, I am all over it. Fill your story full of fluff and garbage, however, and I will dismiss your work as a cultural trashheap contributing to the downfall of western civilization—unless you make me laugh, then it’s all cool.

Still, there are a few plot tropes that I absolutely cannot stand. There are some things that I find insulting, lazy, or just outright bad writing. If your movie/show/etc. utilizes any of these ideas, I am most likely going to dismiss the work for being unoriginal. Unfortunately, some of our culture’s most well-liked movies fall into some of these categories. Hopefully future creators will put their spin on this to make me less irritated.

Of course, there’s always that chance that someone will dazzle me with some new twist. Just be forewarned: I’ve heard it all before.

None Of This Actually Happened: You are halfway through a movie. The plot weaves and twists and turns. You can’t keep track of everything, but it all sort of makes sense in a cosmic way; something is connecting everything to everything else. You can just feel it in your bones that in the last few minutes of the movie, the Big Reveal is going to happen and everything is going to make perfect sense. Even if they end the movie by planting that one seed of doubt about the whole thing, it’s acceptable simply because it’s fun.

However…a common plot is that throughout this sidewinding journey of mindscrew, it turns out that half of it didn’t happen. Or none of it happened. The protagonist, it turns out, is crazy. Or maybe everyone was on drugs. Or it was a dream or a child’s imagination. In other words, the twisting plots aren’t the product of a well-thought-out plot, it’s a lazy scriptwriter who decides to throw everything at the screen and whatever doesn’t make since is just a fictional hallucination.

Examples: Suckerpunch, Vanilla Sky, Black Swan

If I Could Just Say One Thing: This is the bane of most romantic comedies, but applies to other genres as well. Usually the driving force of the story is one of unrequited love, almost always due to some petty misunderstanding. The girl sees a guy kiss another girl, and runs away with a broken heart. The girl blows off a guy because something more important came up. Turns out it’s his sister! Turns out she has a funeral! Turns out he was going to propose that night! You see, if one party simply said one thing to the other party the entire issue would be cleared up. It’s just bad writing. Sure, there has to be some reason that the main couple has some sort of conflict—that is what makes a movie interesting—but the actual reason is usually so weak as to be laughable. If the entire movie could be negated with a six-word conversation, then you should scrap your movie and start from scratch.

Examples: Does it star Hugh Grant or Jennifer Aniston?

The Incredibly Awkward Disjointed Symbolism Scene: You are a mighty director, or perhaps a tortured novelist, or a scriptwriter, and you have a point you want to make. No, seriously, there’s a point you HAVE to make because it will be the single greatest advancement of philosophy for mankind in the history of everything ever. Problem is, your point doesn’t translate well into a work of fiction, and you don’t have the patience or intellectual chops to go into academia. So what do you do? You shoehorn your idea into your work of fiction and cover it up by saying it’s “symbolic.” And since it doesn't actually fit into your storyline, you just occasionally reference it and claim it’s a visual representation of the protagonist’s tortured personality. Or the rare chapter that has nothing to do with the rest of the novel involving existential concepts. The important thing is that your important point isn’t lost on the audience by repeatedly bashing them over the head with the sledge hammer you’ve crafted out of the shitty dialogue and poorly-constructed plot. 

Examples: Brazil, The Matrix

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