The Stupids of Storytelling

October 29, 2010 § 8 Comments


I yanked that line from John Ochwat who commented on my blog post about Romantic Ninja Fight Music. He said, “That video was full up with the stupids.” I agreed with him. This week I re-discovered a song that I haven’t listened to in years. I heard it first before the heightened time of Youtube. Oh, the dark ages when we had to rely on music channels to watch music videos. In South Korea, where I grew up, they had a music channel based out of Hong Kong: Channel V. Anyway.

I was excited over this forgotten song: Your Woman by White Town. Loved the song and the memories associated with it. I wondered what the music video would be like. The song has a renovated, old-timey depression era, silent-film type of feel to it and that’s what kind of story I saw in my head in context with the lyrics.

I ended up severely disappointed and confused by the visuals. They were in black and white, which is what I expected, but I found the story inconsistent and disjointed. It overwhelmed the words.  I watched it three times in an effort to “get it.” This was the artists’ interpretation of the song. They wrote it. Maybe I am the one getting it wrong. I’ll put it up and you can all tell me if I’m an idiot or not.

I love stories in all forms: music, books, art, dance, and films. As a writer, I take deliberate mental notes when I see or hear something that helps move a story or make it more beautiful. I also take notes on what I think does NOT work. The Ninja video Mr. Ochwat commented on is a great song and the leading man and lady are certainly attractive enough, but I think they spent all of their budget nabbing the Oscar-winning heroine. There was no money for a continuity director to find gaping plot holes. (FOR THE RECORD, BRANDON FLOWERS AND CHARLIZE THERON, I LOVE YOU!)

One director who I think does a fantastic job in storytelling is Wes Anderson. (CALL ME, WES. I’LL BAKE YOU A RED VELVET CAKE!) His films (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, pictured here) are quirky and endearing. The characters and storylines are sometimes so odd and quirky they have potential to be distractions. All that could be overwhelming for me, movie watcher. What I adore about his shots are how simplistic, symmetrical, and beautiful they are. His music is subtle and scores the mood perfectly. I am no film student, but this is something I’ve noticed and appreciated. The story is there and supported, not overwhelmed, by music and visuals. Stellar performances from the actors all around. Always.

I’ve mentioned Sean Ferrell’s NUMB on the blog several times only because I cannot forget it. It has stuck to me and I admire Ferrell’s storytelling. There is a lot going on plot-wise and thematically, but the story isn’t overwhelmed by either of these things because (I think. This is just my opinion) his prose is so simple and straight-forward.  You aren’t distracted by the words and can focus on the meaning behind them.

Again, these are just my opinions. Lately my own storytelling stupids involve cheese ball dialogue, so I’ve tried to read and watch a lot of smart, male dialogue. I’m a woman – in case you wondered – and want to write realistic man characters. I’ve had a few beta readers say, “A dude would never come out and say all that.” 

What are your story telling stupids and how do you try to catch them?

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§ 8 Responses to The Stupids of Storytelling

  • Patty says:

    I’m swamped with 3 competing deadlines today but wanted to say YES! Agree completely about Sean’s novel, NUMB!

  • This is an inspiring post for me. I love to see other writers studying to get better.

    I think first drafts are always stupid, or at least mine are. My characters always act too much muchly. I have to tone it down draft by draft.

    I’m very fond of you today, HM.

  • jmartinlibrary says:

    It’s funny you mention music videos and story telling. There’s an LA indie band called SAINT MOTEL. The musicians went to film school and their videos are AMAZ-O-RAMA. (You can google their site or YouTube them, of course.) If Wes Anderson chugged *Rock Elixir*, he’d sound a lot like Saint Motel, I think.

    Thanks for the post!

  • My latest writing stupid is when I’m writing about a character who is coming to a realization or pondering those things that are bigger than they. I know when I’m going overboard because I start hearing a full orchestra begin to soar in my mind, full of melodrama and what not.

    And then the phonograph needle scratches across the vinyl and I have to regroup.

    FWIW, I gotta go with Rushmore as my fave Wes Anderson film. Max Fischer pretty well rules.

  • Funny you say that about men and dialogue. I write epic fantasy, so I run everything past my husband (who’s about two parts Aragorn, one part Richard Rahl, three parts Ned Stark, and a dash of Rand Al’Thor). He said to me one day “That’s not what a guy would do. That’s what a girl wants a guy to do.” 🙂 But I want to write realistic male characters. I HATE reading a book and thinking the male author completely missed the boat on his female characters.

  • adrienne says:

    I love watching movies for character study, and I agree fully with your opinions on Wes Anderson and definitely about NUMB. Sean Ferrell’s book is in my top ten ever for exactly those reasons.

    I’ve had trouble writing women more than men. I have no idea why this is, except that maybe I’m influenced too much by stereotypes about women being these sharing, emotive creatures, and that’s not really how I roll. So I find myself forcing dialogue out of my characters that I’d never use myself, and it’s dishonest.

    Anyway, love this post. Sharing it now.

  • Harley May says:

    Patty, yes and yes again.

    Beth, your comment was so dear. Whenever anything of mine inspires you I feel like I should put up my feet and eat a piece of chocolate pie. You are lovely.

    JMartin, I will HAVE to check out that band. They sound delicious.

    Jonathan, I know what you mean. Another stupids I struggle with is over telling the characters feelings when I should trust my readers. If they know him or her, they know what he or she is thinking. Thank you for commenting.

    Amy Rose Davis, I ADORE the way you described your husband. That’s awesome. I agree about male characters. I don’t want them glamorized for girl fodder. Give me a manly man.

    Adrienne, you flatter me! Thank you so much. But I envy the way you roll. I am a throbbing heart, painfully sensitve to real life things. I am fully aware of this downfall and try to keep myself in check when writing AND reacting. I should run my dialogue by you. Thanks again for commenting.

  • Trisha Leigh says:

    You’re pretty. And not stupid at all not one bit not ever.

    Mine is sentence structure. Apparently during first drafts I fall in loves with one sentence structure. Then when I revise I have to rewrite 3 out of 4 sentences.

    Trusting your reader is a big thing – you want to make sure they get it. Sigh.

    Loves.

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