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A thread on storytelling...


#121

I read some of that tropes webpage and I have to say that it is hard to come up with something that hasn’t been done before over the decades. This especially goes for comics. I can think of Hawksmoor of the Authority who gets his powers from highly industrialized cities, and this other character Alchemy who appeared in X-Factor who converted metals.

Say… maybe we can discuss creators and their different styles of storytelling and themes. Lots of names out there. Just saying…


#122

… or gaping plot holes :grinning:


#123

In comedy and drama, reversals alone can often provide terrifically distracting entertainment. Just have a character reveal in some way at the beginning of the story exactly what they would never do and then have them do everything they said they wouldn’t by the end of it.

It works just as well for LA Confidential as for Knocked Up. The important thing is that the storyteller cannot care about the wellbeing of the characters as much as he wants the audience to care.

Michael Crichton also once pointed out that the storyteller can’t care about the wellbeing of the audience too. In his case, he mostly writes thrillers, but we have to recognize that we go to the movies to be abused. Crichton called it a “little bit of sadism,” but as a storyteller he put characters in peril and builds tension in the people reading or watching. And then he withholds the release until that anxiety is at its most intense. However, he knows how it will turn out, so in a sense it is about enjoying torturing people.

Honestly, in most stories, the characters are rarely having a good time. In fact, if you are writing anything where the characters are just having fun, you should probably cut that out as quickly as possible. That’s never a payoff. It’s simply a set up for a downfall.

Also, it’s not that important that a story be realistic. I watched THE GREEN MILE the other day, and it really makes clear the difference between a plot and a plot hole. You can see this a lot in stage plays as well.

Next time you have a day or two free, take a look at THE GREEN MILE and ask what are the hours Paul works at the prison? What are the shifts on “the Mile?” When Paul invites his team over for dinner to plan taking Coffey to heal Melinda’s brain tumor, who’s guarding the prisoners? The only time we see them working at night is during executions, but they take Coffey out of the prison at night and get back just before daybreak the next morning. Also, why even pick a night that Percy is working? Surely, he gets a day off now and then or has to work the day shift. There is one scene where Terwilliger, the older guard, is sitting with the one guard who only appears in a few scenes (giving the sense that he’s on the other shift) when they see the mouse, but that looks more like a lunch break for Paul and Hal since Percy is there as well, and Paul and Hal get back a few minutes later. Why are they all working all night when they take Coffey out and no one in the prison thinks that’s strange?

The work hours of the story are entirely unrealistic, but that isn’t a plot hole. They are at work when the story demands it, and we really don’t care. There are actually very few real plot holes in movies or books that manage to reach an audience. There are unrealistic elements aplenty, but a plot hole has to be much more like a continuity error in the story. It has to completely contradict something significant that was established earlier. If you have a character trapped in a cage in one scene and a few scenes later, he’s out and about, then it’s a plot hole if you never showed him getting out of the cage… or have him say something like, “I told you, I really did work for Houdini.”

This goes back to the need to torture the audience… but in a good way, a way we’re all asking for. If the plot builds that painful tension, and draws it out, then the audience will put up with it - even enjoy it - because they are anticipating the release more than questioning the story.

It’s not a plot hole if it does that, and even if a plot makes complete sense in its progression, it’s a problem if it doesn’t build that emotional tension.


#124

Back again…

I noticed again in Batman TDKR and the original Robocop, the use of the news program to advance the story adding satire and more detail to the world around them. I just wish that would be done more.


#125

TV news flashes are used to great effect in Wes Anderson’s recent “Isle of Dogs”.


#126

After Robocop, Verhoeven did it again in Starship Troopers. Incredibly well done satire, too.


#127

Don’t know if this fits here, but:


#128

I agree.


#129

I do not object to the above principle.


#130

Can’t you learn what a past participle is and read a shit ton of books? They seem two completely different things.


#131

Yes, and I think most people do that anyway. The “lesson” I took from her comment is that if you want to be a good writer it’s more important to read a lot of writing by good writers than a textbook about writing.


#132

I have worked with second language English speakers here in Malaysia and it is amazing how much you know but can’t explain the theory. I’m pretty good on tenses but I got a degree majoring in English, including modules on language as well as literature and don’t know much beyond what a verb, noun and adjective is.

One insightful part of all that is the ‘order of English adjectives’. Nobody I know understands the theory of it. That it should be ‘12 large 8 year old round yellow cheeses’ just makes sense because you know it and not ‘yellow cheeses large 8 year old round 12’.

My main advice to those who were fine speaking English but had some issues was to just read and listen more, you absorb the rules rather than learn them. Especially for English which has its strengths but is highly illogical too.


#133

I think one of the most difficult things about learning English is understanding idioms. How do you explain to someone learning English what the phrase “go fly a kite” means?


#134

And you also learn when the spoken language doesn’t follow the formal rules. I remember going to France for the first time and speaking in the way I’d learned in class, and quickly realising that people don’t stick to language the way it’s taught. :slight_smile:


#135

Idioms are something that cannot be taught with theory but to be fair most languages use them just as much. In Welsh the term for ‘raining cats and dogs’, which makes no sense, is ‘raining old women and sticks’, which makes no more sense.

The fascinating thing about the adjective order in English is we all know it if we are native speakers but nobody has ever been taught the theory. I had to Google it to set up my example.

It’s all exposure and osmosis with languages. I studied French for 7 years and got the top grades, my friend James did none at all in school and worked on a campsite in France for 6 months and was better at conversational French than I was.

I agree pretty much completely with what Caitlin says (she’s a good writer too).


#136

And it works both ways too - you can lose proficiency when you aren’t immersed in it any more. I find it a bit maddening that I know I was so much more proficient at spoken French when I lived there in my early twenties than I am now, but it’s a natural result of being there and using it (and hearing it) on such a constant basis. It’s like a muscle - without regular exercise, it starts to diminish.


#137

Very little formal grammar is taught in English schools (I should qualify that with: “When I were a lad”; maybe it’s different now). I learned to write by osmosis, just reading so much that it became obvious what worked and what didn’t. But despite getting an “A” grade in O-Level English, I couldn’t tell you what a past participle was when I left school. I could use them, but I couldn’t have told you how or why.

When I got my first professional writing job, and worked with an editor who really understood all the formal rules and technical terms and stuff, I was appalled at how much I didn’t know. I decided that if writing was going to be my career, I was going to have to teach myself proper grammer – and I did, as much as I could.

And I do believe it is important to know the rules (if for no other reason than being able to justify yourself if you have to defend your writing or editing choices – it’s actually more important for an editor I think). But it’s not what made me a writer. I learned to write by copying good examples, not by memorising rules and terminology.

Really, all you need to know to be a good writer is, “It’s a stylistic choice”. From there, you can bluff everything else :wink:


#138

When I was a lad.


#139

I can fully justify that word choice :stuck_out_tongue:


#140

My problem with a lot of would-be writers is that they immerse themselves in mediocre writing, and so they consistently produce mediocre results. And they’re all trying to support each other, which itself is admirable, but that just means reading more mediocre writing and thusly producing more mediocre results…And none of them realizes what’s happening.