about writing and life and God

Nasty and nice

on March 13, 2013

I’ve decided I need to break my heroine’s heart to up the tension and make the final reconciliation the sweeter. I read somewhere that when you didn’t know what to do next in your story, that was the time to:

  • kill off one of the characters
  • take the current problem and make it much worse
  • be thoroughly nasty to your characters.

Happy-ever-afters are all very well – and much to be desired – but non-stop sweetness and light is sickly and indigestible so ratchet up the obstacles your characters have to face, make it as difficult as possible for them – and you’ll have a much better story. Your characters will have to work harder to achieve whatever it is they’re aiming for, and by the end of the story will have changed and developed the more as a result.

I’ve just been to see the film Quartet. A couple of friends and I went to a matinee and enjoyed the sense of skiving on a working day! The cast are fantastic: great actors and wonderful musicians. The music is fabulous. The scenery first-rate. The portrayal of ageing and dementia in particular is done skilfully and accurately. But the plot thin, almost a linear and rather obvious one. However, because of the great acting and music, it is enjoyable.

However, I feel the writers could have been nastier to their characters and made it all much more gripping. I felt the development between ‘Jean’ and ‘Reggie’ barely scratched the surface and the crucial resolution was almost a throw-away line. There were also a number of clumsily dropped opportunities and loose ends that drive me back to my own novel-in-progress with a critical eye.

So maybe it wasn’t an afternoon’s playtime alone. I am a visual person and tend to write a fast plot-driven first draft, trying to type as quickly as the video rolls in my head, so watching a well-constructed film is educational as well as fun.

Sadly, Quartet won’t make it to my roll of honour: but Salmon Fishing in the Yemen will, as will The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (another fabulous vehicle for the amazing Maggie Smith). And Mama Mia.

Good story-telling is good story-telling whether on screen or on the page, and making your characters work and really change is key to good story-telling. Quartet didn’t achieve this. The others did.


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