Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The bad stuff can work for you.

If you're planning on watching the movie Match Point don't continue!  This post contains spoilers, lots of them.

Rebecca over at Diary of A Virgin Novelist recently did a post posing the question is life too short to read bad books?  I've been thinking about that quite a bit since reading the post.  I know Stephen King says in On Writing that reading bad books can be more helpful for your writing than good ones.  I'm sorry to all you Stephenie Meyers fans out there, but that bit of advice was the only reason I slogged my way through The Host.  And guess what, I learned a lot.  I even made changes to SEEDS based on what, in my opinion, Stephenie Meyer did wrong in The Host. I think things can also be learned from watching bad movies. 

Case in point: Match Point with Jonathan Rhys Meyers (yummy!) and Scarlett Johansson, two big name actors who I think have actually earned their reknown with their talent. 

Based on the actors and the premise I really thought this was going to be a great film.  It wasn't, for several reasons, which I will now pontificate about here.

In my opinion there was a lot of belaboring the point also known to us writers as beating the reader over the head.  I don't know if it was because the director delighted in seeing two hot young stars groping each other or what but I felt like the viewer was subjected to so many gratuitous sex scenes when one, perhaps two was sufficient to show the audience that these two had incredible sexual chemistry and couldn't get enough of each other. 

Then, there was the problem of motivation.  The director/writer/whomever spent the first half of the movie establishing how much JoRhyMys's (came up with that one all by myself) character Chris wanted ScarJo's character Nola.  After getting the girl and with hardly any indication that money was significant to him at all, Chris turned into a money grubber who came to the conclusion that he had to murder Nola in order to ensure he got to roll in the dough (rather than the hay) for the rest of his life.  What? He spent the majority of the film trying to get Nola into bed and once he had her he up and decided money was more important than her continued existence.  Not buying it!

I also didn't believe that Nola wanted Chris enough.  The scenes where she was trying to get him to leave his wife and marry her instead came across like a petulant, spoiled child who was being denied a toy. I didn't believe for a moment that this man was central to her existence. 

This brings me to the third and I think biggest problem of the entire movie.  I didn't like Nola at all.  She was nutty and whiny and needy.  When Chris killed her, I was like 'meh, good riddance.'  I didn't like Chris much either.  He was a cheating schmuck who put his own comfort above the life of another human being (albeit a nutty, whiny, needy one) and there was nothing, absolutely nothing to redeem him throughout the entire movie. 

I can't say I learned anything new from this, but I did have some very important lessons reiterated:  1)Make your point and move on.  This is where editing comes in.  You don't need three scenes establishing your antagonist is a psycho killer.  You just need one really great one.  2)Motivation is everything.  If you don't show that what your character is trying to obtain is central to their existence or at least that the character is totally convinced it is your readers won't believe it is and the story will fail.  3)Finally and most important give your characters, especially your protagonist and even your antagonist, some quality that makes the reader care about what is happening to them.  If your reader doesn't invest themselves in the characters no way are they going to stick with them through 1 or 2 hours or 200 or 300 some odd pages. 

Roland at Writing in the Crosshairs did this post post about Hollywood's deficiencies.  While I agree there are many in today's movies I challenge you next time you're faced with a bad movie or bad book, keep plugging and see what you can learn and apply to your own writing.


Palindrome said...

Huh, I actually really like Match Point.

I have been using movies for story dos and donts for a while now. I find it very fun. Books on the other hand, no. I won't waste my time reading a bad book. There are so many out the that I know I would like and books take up a lot more of your time. Because even if I'm caught watching a bad movie, I can browse the internet. Read blogs. Knit. Clean. So many things can be done during a movie.

Crystal Cook said...

I'm with Palindrome, I can't read a bad book, I just can't waste that much time on something I'm not swept away in. But I really love what you said about motivation, that is so crucial isn't it? It's pulling it off that's hard for me :)

Old Kitty said...


I do like how you use movies to learn what to do or what not to do with your creative writing! I'm forever making up alternative stories for films that I watch whether they're bad or good! And I don't know a book is "bad" (this is a subjective thing - one person's weed is another person's flower so to speak!) until at least three quarters through - by then I'm nearly there and so just finish.

Take care

Joanne said...

I love the way writing can be parlayed into so many other things in life, or vice versa! I've done that myself, watched a movie with the critical writing eye, observing the plot, character development. I think what gets me most is when scenes are just too contrived, and you see the writer's or director's hand behind it all.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Les Edgerton does an incredible job of using THELMA AND LOUISE to teach powerful writing do's and dont's. :-)

Jen said...

I'm with Palindrome and Crystal I can't read a bad book, I lose interest and if I try and push through that means it takes me twice as long to get into another book in fear they'll suck like the others had... not a habit I like to get into. I'm glad to see you can push through though!

I enjoyed Match Point, then again I don't think to heavily when watching anything on video, LOL.

Ann Best said...

You do make a lot of good points here. What I come away with is the fact that we can learn a lot from both the good and the bad. Yes, our likes and dislikes differ. But there are critical standards against which we measure quality.

Jaydee Morgan said...

Reading a bad book annoys me but I'll still continue to the end. I'm like you in that I think you can learn a lot from seeing what doesn't work.

laughingwolf said...

at least 90% of the time the poor film can be laid at the feet of the 'director' [most think they're 'auteurs' and/or are failed writers] allowed to make 'films'

case in point: the godawful butchering of asimov's 'i, robot', the flick having little recognizable from the book

sure, the screenwriter[s] is/are also guilty, but they're dictated to by the studio/producer as well as the 'director', so many just stfu, do what they're told, and put the $$$ into the bank, biting their tongues in order to keep affording 'the hollywood lifestyle' :(

hollyweird, indeed!

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

I learn a ton from "light" books that are easy reads. I also learn from "bad" books but they have to have something compelling about them for me to stick with 'em and read the whole thing.

Alexandra Crocodile said...

To a certain extent I do agree with you - I didn't like Chris or Nola, but I did buy the whole "I have to kill her because she'll tell my wife and I won't get any money". Also, I just loved the ending where the druggie was found with the "collateral damage"'s ring. It was so sad, but still ironic, and funny. But it was a shame that she had to die. It made me like Chris even less.

But you are spot on about how seeing bad movies and reading bad books can help your writing - it just shows you what not to do!

Creepy Query Girl said...

Great post and very true! I've never seen Match Point but I've seen scenes from it on youtube and I can't BELIEVE he kills her at the end wtf? They looked like they couldn't get enough of eachother. Shows what I know.

Lydia Kang said...

I'm so happy to read this post, bc I never liked the movie either and you totally explained why. Right on the mark!

Julie Musil said...

That's a great idea. Might as well get something worthwhile from them, right?

Pecados da mesa said...

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Maria Puala -BRASIL-