Thursday, January 26, 2012

If you show a gun in the first act...

You gotta use it by the third.

Last night, I posted a photo of one of the greatest villians in movie history Hans Gruber from Die Hard. On it, was a funny caption adopting his famous line "You asked for miracles Theo? I give you the F... B... I..." to "You asked for miracles Obama? I give you Newt Gingrich."

Politics aside, it made me really want to go back and watch Die Hard last night... which I did as I have a thousand times before. This time however, I decided to watch it as a writer or director would, knowing that, a great action movie has certain beats and tropes and if I want to be any sort of decent writer, I need to be aware of them while I'm writing instead of just writing from my gut, which is how I managed to do most of The Twelve Stones (buy it today why don't ya!!!!!!).

In the first act, before the terrorists show up, his wife Holly McClaine (Gennaro), is forced to show off the new and expensive Rolex she received for helping complete a multi-million dollar deal for Nakatomi Corporation to her husband. During my first few hundred watchings, I didn't realize exactly what they were doing... but, sitting down and deconstructing each scene last night really forced me to pay attention to details instead of just drifting off into "Lemme watch things blow up and terrorists get splattered" zone that I normally fall into while watching movies I truly enjoy.

The watch is symbolic for a couple reasons.

1) It shows John that her moving to LA has been a complete success, undermining his previous objections to  moving the family to California, because he was certain she would fail within a few months and be back comfortable with their family in whatever bungalow a NY City Cop might be able to afford. She's a success now. She doesn't need her husband's validation no matter what happens.

And more importantly,

2) Her watch is the only reason Hans doesn't immediately plummet to his doom from Nakatomi Towers. Once removed however, he falls to his death, and John McClaine saves the day (Well, until Urkel's dad kills the  terrorist playing possum in the parking lot, that is). Not only does the watch serve as a symbol for Holly's success, but it also kills the man who's entire life was about the pursuit of being rich and powerful. Gruber was only robbing Nakatomi for hundreds of millions of dollars (which by the way is just short of a billion in 2012 dollars) so he could easily buy an expensive Rolex or all the John Phillips London suits he wants. He didn't care about terrorism or any real goals... the dude just wanted his own slice of heaven... which as it turns out was sitting on a beach earning 20%.

Talk about poetic justice.

What this forced me to realize is that, as of right now, I have no "watch" or "gun" in the first act of Rosetta. Now, you don't always have to have a trope like that in your books, but it certainly adds to the detail to the plot and story while giving the author a fun way to cap off an already exciting story.

Over the last few years, I've noticed the truly great pieces of fiction and art are the ones that pay attention to the world it inhabits and allows enough detail to make a reader work with the story, instead of against it. If I'm going to kill my antagonist with a fish at the end of Act III, then I'd better figure out a good way to introduce the fish in the first act. I don't have to slap the audience over the head with the fish... that just leads to shitty exposition that gets tiresome to a reader, and makes the author come off like an untalented hack. Holly's watch in Die Hard took up less than three or four lines in the entire script at the very beginning, and never mentioned again until it becomes the pivotal point for the entire plot.

For instance, if I wanted to make the fish killing my antagonist major plot point for my third act, I should introduce something that connects fish to my protagonist or antagonist in some way. Perhaps my Villain loves the taste of fish... (I realize I need a better mcguffin than a blood thirsty fish, but, hey, this is where we're at at the moment... just go with me for a little while longer), or my villain tortures sharks, and is somehow eaten by them at the end. Both poetic and just.... but I'd better indicate in some way why fish or sharks relate to my villain and protagonist.

It's the little details that matter when it comes to good storytelling. One of my favorite writers and producers Dan Harmon was able to summon Beetlejuice on Community over the course of three seasons. Now, Dan is the first to admit he didn't really see that joke coming necessarily, it was mostly credited to one of his staff writers Megan Ganz... but the point stands, paying attention to the small details in your own work can really make for a rewarding experience for a reader.

So, lessons learned Hans Gruber. I'm going to be a better writer because of you. Your death was not in vain.

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