Monday, October 1, 2012

What A Zombie Taught Me About Writing

I like to watch movies. My son, a filmmaker, and I sit on the couch and we like to discuss the shape of the film as it would be written on the page in the form of a script. It helps I think to visualize how I am laying out my own current WIP. We talk about plot and subplot and about a character's emotional arc. But yesterday, while watching a movie called 28 Days Later, which is a pretty good zombie movie I must say, I noticed something about the main character's emotional arc or rather lack thereof.

28 Days Later is about a zombie invasion that centers around London. The opening scene shows a group of survivors hold up in a country house. The first characters we meet are a couple. As the wife cooks one of the last can of beans left in the pantry, she is overcome by emotion. Her husband lovingly kisses her to console her. A few minutes later the house is overrun by zombies and given a chance to save his wife, the husband wusses out and runs for his own life. "Quick, stop the movie!" I yelled to my son, for this was the optimal moment I thought to discuss a character's emotional arc. "You see how the writer set it up in the audience's mind that this was an upstanding guy, but now he's gone and done the unimaginable and abandoned his wife?" I said. "Now for the rest of the movie he's going to have to face his demons and his own cowardice. At some point he's going to have to redeem himself in order to conclude his own emotional journey." I must say I was rather proud that I could identify from a writer's point of view what the screenwriter was doing. But then I was surprised by what happened next. The main character was not the main character. When his wife is found alive (it appears she possesses a special immunity), she gets her own revenge by kissing him, therefore passing on the virus and turning him into a virus. Dang, I thought. I was wrong. But also intrigued. I loved how the writer took me on a completely different path than I expected.

So what's the point I'm trying to make here? Well, I have a few. For one thing, I think movies are a great way to learn about story. Of course the rules of the screen don't always apply to the rules of writing a novel (for instance scripts are often about action and not much description), but sometimes the chances a screenwriter takes to shuffle a story around could inspire you to write in a different way than you ever conceived before.

Also, as I go along in this process, I see that the most exciting work is the work that breaks the steadfast rules I've worked so hard and long to learn. Not to say that it's not important to learn these rules, but great stuff is about thinking outside the box.

So tell me, have you watched any movies lately that have inspired your writing?

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