Friday, January 25, 2013

No Moldy Stories, Please.

Non violence sculpture by carl fredrik reutersward malmo sweden
     I just watched a movie called "Stolen" with my husband (who is a big Thriller fan and who has morphed me into one also. So persuasive, darn cute man). Strangely, I don't mind tearing apart a movie as much as a book. Food for thought. Moving on!
     The movie. It was...not awful, but I wouldn't ever recommend it to anyone. The strange thing is, it had a good actor. It had heart-poundingness. It had high stakes and it had (some, all right, not total) believability.
     But I still didn't like it. Why? Where did it go wrong?
     Let's check it out.

*Spoilers: If you want to see this kind of lame movie, don't read this next part. Move on to  the words "Spoiler Off"*
     In the movie,
  • an otherwise respectable man is robbing a bank. That's semi-interesting.
  • He gets caught. That's interesting.
  • He gets out of jail eight years later, and stuff has changed. Following.
  • His young daughter is not so young anymore, but is a "so whatever" teenager. Getting clichéy
  • Man's daughter is kidnapped by, you guessed it, a crazy cab driver who feels he's been betrayed by our hero. Haven't I seen this before?
  • Now cabbie is insane with anger and wants the money Hero-man stole from the bank, which everyone thinks Hero-man has...but which he burned.
  • ...and yes, crazy cabbie is going to kill the daughter. So Hero-man must pull off one last job to get the money to give to the cabbie to save his daughter. 
  • But will the insane cabbie really give the daughter back?
*Spoiler Off*
     Now, my story craft skills are okay. I've been studying them for a bit. But it was pretty sad how I called so many of these shots, and then continued to. Nothing unique or surprising happened. Also, I cared not for the characters. Even Kevin, who does not study storycraft, recognized that "this story was nothing new."
     I have a theory about this. Sometimes, stories are pushed into molds. They are formed a certain way because "Hey! That's how stories are formed and we need money so make a story. We give a man a desire, a ticking time bomb, and someone to combat the desire. Walla! Story!"
     There's a lot more to story than that.
     This story was one of those that followed the rules, but shouldn't have. It's been done before, it's unoriginal. The writer took a worn premise and recycled it without adding any originality. So the story structure was basically this:
     "Force a 'changed man' to steal money to pay his daughter's ransom."
     It was moldy. Stuck into a mold. When planning this movie, someone said, "Let's call this a Thriller and stick in some Thriller things. People will eat this up."
     Well, this particular "Thriller" needed to come with an ending an average storyteller like Christy couldn't call. In fact, Christy called a better ending than Thriller story served. There were other problems, and some of it was okay, but Kevin's words, "It's been done and it's been done better."
     Let me tell you the ending which you've probably already guessed.

*Spoiler On*
  • Crazy Cabbie refuses to give back daughter.
  • Hero-man kills Crazy Cabbie (a horribly long-drawn out, gruesome, unlikely, horror-filmish death involving multiple jumpings from behind and beatings).
  • Hero-man's daughter nearly dies,
  • Hero-man nearly dies,
  • but both live. 
  • Hero-man keeps some gold from the resulting last "job."
    Now, for a minute I thought they were going to pull off something really original in Hollywood. I thought they were going to kill the hero (after all...he was kind of a wimp and a criminal). I didn't see that coming until I thought they did it. Then they didn't do it.

*Spoiler Off*
    So, the "thrills" were less than steller. The characters could have been dug out quite a bit more. The cop-characters, the ending, the whole darn was all so very done before.
    I think this lame end and lame cast of characters lived to be filmed because it technically met the expectations of a Thriller-story. That's not good enough!
     Don't stick your story in a mold, friends. It'll grow green things on it and nobody will want it after that...unless you stick hot people in it, of course. Then they might.
     Now, because we can't all write original premises and we don't all just want to smack hot people into all our stories, we have to find our own unique twists. Is it a setting we know well? Characters we love? A topic we're passionate about? Could be. Add those. Don't just add mold-stuff and call it good.
     For great ideas about how to do this, read the book I'm reading: The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.

Photo Attribution
By Francois Polito (Appareil numérique OLYMPUS C700UZ) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Works Cited
Stolen. Dir. Simon West. Writer. David Guggenheim. Perf. Nicolas Cage. Malin Akerman and Josh Lucas. 2012.

Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story: 22 steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. New York, NY: Faber and Faber, Inc. 2007. Print.

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