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Birch Bay Public Market

Friday, May 10 through the end of summer, Cathy and I will be selling her hand-made soaps, lotions, and toiletries, along with my photography, note cards, calenders, books, etc.

Come see us!

Across the street from the C Shop

4825 Alderson Road, Birch Bay, Washington 98230

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I had an automated blogroll here, powered by Google Reader, but Google, in its near-infinite lack of wisdom, killed Google Reader. Prior to this murder, all I had to do to put a blog on my blogroll (or to take it off) was to place it in a Reader folder called, appropriately enough, "blogroll" (or, of course, to remove it). I use The Old Reader now for following blogs, but it seems to have no way to something similar regarding the blogroll. If you know of a way to do this, please let me know.

A Story Told So Badly…

…that the combined talents of three of the planet’s best actors couldn’t save it.

I sat through Stone last night. Sat through. As in not enjoyed. As in sat there thinking This is really sad.

Main gist (caution – here be spoilers): Jack Mabry (Robert De Niro) is an officer at a prison, where he conducts parole eligibility procedures, including interviews with prisoners. Stone (Edward Norton) is one of the prisoners he is working with as the story (such as it is) begins. But Jack is retiring soon. In fact, almost the first thing we’re told is that all of his new cases are to be handed off to his incoming replacement. Ok, he says, but I want to keep all the ones I’m already working on. Fine, you can do that.

Fast-forward a bit. One of the cases he’s already working on, Stone, deciding that he’s never going to get his parole in the ordinary way, sics his wife, Lucetta (the absolutely incomparable Milla Jovovich) on Jack. We’re never really told, and I remain uncertain, as to whether she was to seduce him to make him happy enough that he would agree to Stone’s parole, or if she was to seduce him so that Stone could blackmail him. The omission is not the problem. The problem is much deeper than that, and it is systemic to the entire story.

When your character has a choice between easy and hard, between natural and forced, between comfort and pain, then I need to know why the easy choice wasn’t made.

In Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell (as I explained in great detail to my long-suffering wife last night, while we sat so-not-entranced by this movie) has detailed what he calls the “doorways” of a plot. His point (and please note that what follows is my possibly inaccurate and/or incomplete understanding of his argument – any errors are entirely my own) is that the transition from Act I to Act II and the transition from Act II to Act III are essentially doorways, through which the characters (primarily the protagonist) must pass, and by extension, through which the story itself must pass.

As Mr Bell puts it:

“In order to get from beginning to middle – the first doorway – you must create a scene where your Lead is thrust into the main conflict in a way that keeps him there.”

– James Scott Bell, Plot & Structure, 1st ed, 2004, p 29 (emphasis in original)

If the blue pill offers a soft and easy happily-ever-after, then I need to know why your Lead chose red. And I need to know, and was never told, why Jack didn’t take the blue path when Stone began to be a problem, why he took the bird’s nest from Lucetta after he told her he couldn’t, why he met with her when it would have been so much easier, so much more natural, so much more human not to.

All he had to do was tell her “No!” and open the door he already had his hand on. All he had to do was hang up on her. And before all that, back there at Mr Bell’s “first doorway,” all he had to do was hand Stone off to the replacement.

Instead, he chose the red pill. And we never do that.

We don’t take the touch choices without reasons. More to the point, we don’t fail to make the easy ones without reasons. We take the path of least resistance. We may stumble into darkness, we may back into it, we may go by mistake, our eyes on something else (or simply closed). But we do not walk boldly into the dark without a reason.

I once read a short story (and I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything more about it, its author, its title, etc) in which some dark secret of something or other lay within the easy grasp of everyone, and yet was never found, because it lay at the end of the path of most resistance. And no one from this world we live in would ever stumble on such a thing, given the chance to avoid it, because we always make the easy choices unless we have a convincing reason not to.

Tell me that Jack chose to keep Stone’s case because he felt he needed to close his career on a tough one. Tell me that he saw him as a puzzle to be solved. Tell me that he thought he was the secret to life, the universe, and everything. Tell me something. Give me his reason. Let me believe that he had one, at least.

Because, as it stands, I simply don’t believe he did.

As it stands, Stone is simply the latest in a long series of films proving the near impossibility of creating literary fiction in movies. Despite impeccable performances by three of the best actors ever to walk this Earth, I was left wishing I had not wasted my time.

The moral? As a writer, force your characters, and your story, to pass through that doorway into the conflict that awaits them.
FORCE THEM.

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