Thursday, April 1, 2010

Short to Long: The Plot Thickens

I don't dismiss the shorter web. I'm as addicted to quick links and short posts as anyone. Bits of the shorter web also lend themselves to further exploration and that can lead to uncovering the longer web. Hence the posts I call Short to Long.
The Short

Wayne sent me a link to Uncomfortable Plot Summaries. A large collection of one line summaries of movies. Go ahead... I'll wait.... The entries for Lord of the Rings and Sophie's Choice are good ones. Some are much funnier or insightful than others so take your time.

Now where were we? Oh right.... short versions of movie plots.

Short plot synopses naturally got me thinking of Angry Alien Production's 30 Second Bunny Theatre. I remember when they first released The Exorcist - back before they had to replace the few seconds of the bunnies doing Tubular Bells at the end. Since then they've continued creating 30 second masterpieces and they've even released a DVD. It's amazing how so many movies can be reduced to half a minute.

Now small plot synopses are only possible if there are longer plots to shorten. If you feel like writing some of your own longer plots here are some short tips from a few great writers.

The Medium

The way plots can be shortened or collapsed came to mind when I stumbled across Kurt Vonnegut explaining drama. This seems like something Kurt Vonnegut wrote about before. He lays out the ups and downs of a character throughout the story on a graph. Showing the trends the character goes through over time.

Diagrams and charts don't just apply to what happens to a character throughout a story. Diagrams can also show where to put the basic turning points in a story. It seems like many modern screenplays end up with a very similar structure. Michael Hauge uses diagrams to break down the five key turning points in screenplays.

Explanations on how to write don't require diagrams at all. Effective advice can even be written IN ALL CAPS. If you want some effective writing tips here is David Mamet's memo to writers of The Unit.

The Long

There are many different books and theories that try to lay out plot and show you how to write interesting stories. Dramatica: A New Theory of Story is one that seems to have a following. It's not just online for free. It's also a book and some software that can apparently help you lay out your masterpiece. The Story Fanatic site mentions Dramatica theory repeatedly throughout it's collection of articles and links. Of all the current theories on how to structure your novel or screenplay Dramatica seems to have the most traction. Especially in screenplays. Which may explain why so many movies seem similar.

There are more scholarly works on narrative as well. Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative by Manfred Jahn is a perfect example. It's part of his ongoing work Poems, Plays, and Prose: A Guide to the Theory of Literary Genres.

(WARNING: The link in the following paragraph is almost certain to take hours out of your day if you have any interest in movies or television. You have been warned.) 

Of course if you are going to write your story you better make sure you don't overuse standard devices and conventions. How do you know what to avoid? You wander over to TV Tropes and look around for a while.

Don't say I didn't warn you.


Lene Andersen said...

The short tips were awesome!

(and I'm still avoiding TV Tropes because if I don't, you won't see me until July)

Anonymous said...

found your site on today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later