The Big Trap – Tip 13

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I feel compelled to write this blog, out of some frustration.

I have seen a number of films recently, watched a number of TV series, and read a number of books – which have all ultimately disappointed. Why? Either because they have each been so obsessed with the premise of their own idea, or they have been obligated by the need to fill so much screen time or so many pages, that they forget to tell a STORY!

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The most recent cause for disappointment was Ridley Scott’s glamorous film, The House of Gucci. Good subject, great cast, fabulous clothes, settings, and period detail – yet ultimately boring! Hard to believe, coming from one of the cinema’s great producer/directors of thrilling movies, but Scott is so obsessed with the emotional ups and downs of the famous fashion house family that he ends up with a domestic saga that is like a thousand other mundane tales, except for the exotic context. It almost drowns under the weight of gorgeous clothes, jewellery, cars, houses, and furniture. The real interest of the dynasty – how they developed their unique style, how they came to dominate the fashion world, how they came to grief through their internal divisions and crimes – was skimped over and dissipated in an endless procession of emotional family confrontations which might have come from any second-rate TV soap, despite the power of the performances.

Before that came The French Dispatch. Typical Wes Anderson – imaginative, original, great filming, great cast – but NO PLOT! Ultimately tedious.

Before that, The Power of the Dog. I’d go anywhere to see Benedict Cumberbatch, especially in a Western. But this tedious, rambling, incoherent piece of filming from Jane Campion is again so obsessed with atmospherics and supposedly suspenseful scenes that it completely forgets to develop any plotline, and in the end we don’t know any more about the characters than we did at the beginning, except that Cumberbatch is not what we thought he was – by which time we’re past caring. (Yes, I know, it’s tipped for all the awards – do the critics see something I’ve missed?)

You discover people’s real characters, not by how long they stare moodily at each other, but what they actually DO.

And I’ve lost count of the number of TV series I’ve begun in hope, continued because of an interesting idea and a good first episode or two, but then abandoned when the writers – in the attempt to string it out for six or more episodes – divert into rambling side stories, irrelevant domestic scenes, and prolonged minor elements.

Even that terrific Kevin Costner production, Yellowstone, has in its fourth series lost the fascinating huge battle between competing political forces, and descended into a series of contrived domestic squabbles.

Likewise with books. It’s rare these days to find a book I want to finish. Even Kazuo Ishiguro, a writer whose style I have always admired, seems to have lost the plot recently. His latest – Kara and the Sun – is such a meandering, meaningless, sequence of unrelated encounters that I wanted to tear my hair out. But then he sells a lot more than me, so what do I know?

If you have come to a stop with your piece, but feel it’s still too short, then either the theme is only worth a novella, a one-act play, a single screenplay, or a four part TV serial. If you believe it’s worth more than that, don’t succumb to the temptation to pad it out. Find the actual DEVELOPMENT of the central plot. 


(See Tip 7 – Tension & Pace, and Tip 10 – Economy in Style).

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