Mix it up and get a better story

     Hello everyone and very happy turkey death week. When last we left off I tried to impart some of the knowledge I’ve acquired in starting the creative process and creating a good (film/story), but what I didn’t take into account is that I sometimes have trouble with this aspect and others out there might as well. So I thought perhaps a few tips would be in order, tips that help me when I feel that a story just isn’t going anywhere, or that it is stale and repetitive. So here is how I break up the monotony and make sure I have a Mt. Doom to march my imaginary hobbits to (I know a Lord of the Rings reference, it’ll make since in time though).
     When writing a story most of us are set in a genre, be it horror, comedy, action, etc. Each of these genres have subgenres and within these subgenres you find your formulas and cliches. The formula is good in that it isn’t set in stone and can be manipulated. The cliches are okay provided you’re aware that they are there. If you want your story to stand out a little bit you need to play with these two factors, otherwise you wind up with the same story that people have heard time and time again. Let’s take a look at 2 films, Rio Bravo with John Wayne and directed by Howard Hawks and Assault on Precinct 13 (the original) directed by John Carpenter. They are very similar stories. Good guys have to barricade themselves in the jail and outlast the bad guys. Howard Hawks made a Western classic setting it in the small town of Rio Bravo and has the deputies hold up in the town waiting on the marshall to come pick up a dangerous outlaw, but his gang wants in. Assault on Precinct 13, takes place in a run down urban precinct house on its last day where a prison transfer bus has stopped to drop off its passengers until the bus can change tires. There are 2 deputies, 2 female clerks, and 2 prisoners, who have to outlast a gang assault on the jail. John Carpenter admittedly wanted to do something with the tone of Rio Bravo but rather than make a Western remake, he took the story and changed the characters and the setting. He took the concept but made his own film.
     This is one way to take your genre and your formula and change it. Take a familiar story and character archtypes and change the setting. Several films and stories have done that, Alien is a gothic horror film set in space. The Dark Tower by Stephen King is a Lord of the Rings epic quest that mixes in a good dose of Sliders and The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly. So if you think you might be running down the same street as someone else, change the street but run a similar path.
     The other thing to watch out for is the classic cliches. The good guy never runs out of bullets or gets injured in action films. Then along came Die Hard, ammunition was a very real concern for John Mclane that’s why he kept taking the guns off of the dead bad guys. And he was injured. He wasn’t Rambo, he was just a NYPD in the wrong place at the right time. That’s partly why Die Hard stood out as much as it did, it changed the convention and defied the cliché. Be aware of your cliches and try to avoid them (unless this is a spoof or parody in which case be aware of the cliches and run as fast as possible for them). Horror films are notorious for their cliches so instead of college kids make it a group of middle aged business professionals, instead of a cabin in the woods set it in a run down apartment building in the middle of an urban renewal project. This is partially a change of formula but formula is partially determined by the cliches. But when you avoid the cliches you make your story more enjoyable because we aren’t expecting what happens and we aren’t secretly chuckling telling ourselves we knew it. General emotional responses will be elicited by your audience if you give them something that does not follow the same cliches as the other 6 books with similar plots.
     Something that will also keep your story crisp and new is to look for conflict. You have your CONFLICT which is the center part of the story but see if you can throw in additional conflict. 9 had conflict against the machines but also amongst the stitchpunks, this added an additional side to the story. If you have a private detective investigating a murder and a police officer investigating as well, rather than team them up have them work against each other put in some personal history between them that puts them at odds with one another. Almost every film will have interpersonal relationships with your main character. Any relationship is ripe for conflict no matter whom or what the relationship is. The saintly old mother and the constantly obedient son, what happens when the son begins to fall in love. You have his trying to win the girl as your big CONFLICT and then the stress and evolution of the relationship with his mother as your smaller conflict. It gives your characters more depth and makes them more relatable when they aren’t perfect in their home life or their job or in their morals. Your hero should be flawed be they cynical, full of self doubt, an alcoholic, some flaw that adds to the character. Dealing with this flaw is also a great place to look for conflict. If you have a character who is not only dealing with the big CONFLICT, but battling his flaw (or personal demons if you will), you can add another dimension to your characters. This is also a good way to break the cliches.
     I know some of you will probably get started and go on for a while and then walk away from the project because you don’t feel like it’s going anywhere. For me, I don’t start on a project unless I know where it’s going to end. This doesn’t work for some people, and occassionally my end point changes. But to me it always helps to know where the finish line is. The journey in between is up to you and the characters but the finish line is important to me. Which brings me back to Mt. Doom, without Mt. Doom Lord of the Rings does not have a sufficient ending. The books are comprised of these different adventures and the growth of the characters and their relationships, but without Mt. Doom they merely wander around forever. I don’t know if Tolkien started with Mt. Doom as the finish line or merely the destruction of the ring. But they made it to the finish line or else how do you know when to stop. So if you are like me and need to know where your stopping point is, make sure you know your finish point or (for my more LOTR inclined friends) don’t stop until you feel the heat from inside Mt. Doom.
     These are some of the things I look at if I want to keep from falling in the same traps as other stories and rather than blending in with the anonymous crowd, stand out. I hope they work as well for you

About lagomorphflix

Hey everybody, I'm a writer/ amateur filmmaker. I'm looking to go professional and always looking for ways to reach new audiences. So please feel free, take a read and let me know what you think.
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