Friday, March 26, 2010

Modern Story Telling

This past week I had the last class in my 10 week writing class. I haven’t blogged much about the class, ‘cause I generally find other peoples notes on writing classes boring and figured nobody cared.

But this morning I was reading Steph In The City’s blog about how nobody reads books anymore and everyone watches movies, and it made me think about my writing class. The purpose of the class was plotting. Students brought in outlines and talked about holes in story structure. The idea is that simply workshopping scenes doesn’t do any good, if that scene doesn’t belong in the story to begin with.

But here is the real crux of the class. The teacher, Marc Acito, began by lecturing on the basic three act format of movies. Screen plays are very formulaic. Sure they can have any number of plot lines, but they always start with an establishing shot, then about 5% of the way into the story there is an away we go moment. Then 25% of the way in there is a huge left turn (Start of Act 2). The point of no return comes at the stories midpoint. Then at the 75% point all hope is lost (Start of Act 3). The climax happens about 95% of the way in and the final details are wrapped up in the last few minutes.

It doesn’t matter if you are watching an action movie, a romantic comedy, or a Disney cartoon. That is the formula for which all movies are based. If a screen play doesn’t follow the 3 act structure, it wont find a major producer. Marc’s idea is that since movies are the major medium through which stories are currently told, a book is more likely to resonate with a reader if it follows this structure.

I actually think that he’s right. When I read classics that have tons of backstory, or drag out long after the climax, it tends to agrivate me. They are often really good stories, but are told in a format that no longer resinates. We are now a people who see the world via the silver screen, and have a hard time comprehending stories told in other formats.

That being said, I’ve all but completely given up on movie watching. There was once a time when I watched tons of movies, when I would have already seen every film nominated for an achedimy award. But that time is long past. I almost never go to the movie theater and simply wait for things to come out on video. I belong to netfilx, but I don’t have cable, so I find myself mainly order dvd’s of TV shows. I typically read (or listen to) 20 books per month. But I rairly watch more than two movies per month.

When a movie comes out that is based on a book, the added media attention often clues me in that I should check out the book. But it never makes me want to see the movie. If given the choice between a book and a movie, I know the book is always better. The only time I ever watch movies based on books is when I’ve read and loved the book and want to see what they did with the movie version. Naturally this always leaves me feeling very disapointed.

What do you think? Am I alone on my solitary island of perfering books to movies? Or will others come back around and discover that no amount of CGI can compete with your own imagination?

Joke of the Day
A clear conscience is a sign of a bad memory.

1 comment:

Stephanie Faris said...

I prefer books...and I ALWAYS refuse to see a movie until I've read the book if it's something that interests me. The Lovely Bones is one...and The Time Traveler's Wife. I finally read The Time Traveler's Wife...but I still haven't seen the movie.

Interesting that you said that about your class. I've noticed many writing classes use movies instead of books as examples. Of course, it's because more people have seen the same movies than have read the same books, but I find that a shame.