This weekend, I’m thinking about taking in a movie. This is always a big deal for me, because I hate wasting money to go to a theater, sit with someone kicking the back of my seat, and possibly be bored out of my mind because Hollywood seems to have forgotten to tell a story. And, given my nature, knowing (KNOWING) that once I’ve plunked down my money, I’m going to sit through whatever I’ve paid for, no matter how bad it is–
Anyhoo… *steps back from mini-rant*
Movies and storytelling… Where was I? Oh. Right.
Have you ever been in the middle of a movie and found your mind wandering? Or have you described a film as “a little slow”? For me, both of these are signs the story isn’t doing it’s job.
When a movie stops working, I start thinking about my own stories, or rewriting the script for the film I’m watching, or plotting the different ways I could torment the person kicking my seat. In other words, I stop paying attention. The current scene has failed to keep me anchored in the story.
After awhile, I started paying close attention to those scenes that made me want to nap. It didn’t take long to figure out why. Each and every one of those scenes lacked conflict. A prime example for anyone who has seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy: There is one instance (and I don’t recall which film, forgive me) where the sole purpose of the scene is to convey the amount of travel the band of heroes must undertake. This is illustrated by showing the characters traversing sweeping (and cinematic) mountainous landscapes. Nothing happens beyond that. Frankly, my mind wanders every single time that scene plays.
I could tell you how important conflict is to storytelling, but I’ve got something better. Knowing how lack of conflict made my mind wander, I turned conflict-watching into a bit of a game. This weekend, I’m sharing that game with you as a tool you can use when you create fictional scenes.
This weekend’s assignment doesn’t involve any active writing. Unless you just want to take notes. It does involve paying close attention to your entertainment. Watch a movie, or television show you enjoy, snuggle up with some popcorn, and attempt to identify the conflict in each and every scene. (Bear in mind, the conflict in a scene may have nothing to do with the central conflict of the movie.) For extra credit, keep track of how many scenes have no conflict at all. And, for EXTRA-extra credit, if you find a scene with no conflict, ask yourself two questions: 1. Does this scene add something of value to the movie? and 2. Would I miss it if it was gone?
You can use what you learn to write better scenes in your fiction.
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