I’ve read several websites that suggest that one good method for learning about plot and structure is the technique of watching movies and tracking how and when various plot points happen. Kristen Lamb has used the movie “Finding Nemo” for just such a purpose on her website. Here is just one of many examples. Up until last night, I’ve never tried this technique – at least not consciously – but in the last week I’ve suddenly started figuring out plot twists on television because I recognized the writer’s attempts to divert my attention elsewhere.
Last night, my wife brought “The Lincoln Lawyer” home from the library. It’s a decent film, starring Matthew McConaughey, which tells the story of a lawyer who discovers his client is guilty of the crime of which he is accused, but is prohibited from doing anything about it. There’s more, but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.
Suffice it to say, five minutes into the movie it occurred to me to watch for various plot points and record when they happened. Along the way, I felt it necessary to point some of these things out to my wife, including:
1. How the openings scenes were there to set up the “normal world,”
2. How the purpose of the first major scene was to show us the MC in action and help us relate to him before the “real” plot started,
3. Exactly when the inciting incident occurred,
4. Announcing that the first plot point (the point of no return, when the MC has to make a choice) would happen at the 40 minute mark(assuming the film followed standard structure.)
I’m sure this probably annoyed my wife to no end, but she let me talk anyway.
Turns out the first plot point was way off, not occurring until the midpoint of the film. Oh well. Maybe that’s why I’d never heard of the film?
Anyway, I bring this up because during one of the slower parts of the movie, it suddenly dawned on me that the first major scene, the one whose purpose was to introduce us to the MC, had gone on for too long and been more complicated than it had needed to be. And in that moment of realization, I knew that the secondary purpose of the scene was to introduce us to the biker gang that was going to show up later in the movie and solve some kind of problem. When they showed up at the end of the movie and… wait for it… solved a big problem, I leaped off the couch, shouted “I knew it!” and did a happy dance in the family room.
The wife only wept for a few minutes. She's getting better about this kind of thing.
So, now that I’m seeing movies in this new light, can books be far behind? And will my quest to learn about plot and structure eventually doom me to being unable to watch a movie without spotting clues or upcoming twists too easily?
This is all Kristen’s (among others) fault.
But would I give up writing fiction to regain the innocence of being a non-writer again?