Monday, May 21, 2007

Focus in Stories

I was reading this post about elements of story. In particular, how much you can leave unstated while telling a story. I consider this a variation of focus (something the writers of Spider-Man 3 should have really worked on). For many of our media today like movies, TV, and other short form story telling, focus must be nearly relentless. Decide what your story is about and strip away everything that doesn't serve to tell it.

Of course, leaving some things suggested or mysterious can also be a powerful way of drawing an audience in. Your brain will latch on to the mystery and mull it over. So, it's not just about focus. But mystery in a story can only take you so far. I admit that whole TV series have been based entirely on mysteries (e.g. X-Files, The Pretender, Lost, etc.). In the end, if all you have is mystery with no forward progress, the story is likely to be unsatisfying because, well, there isn't a story. All you have is a fictionalized mystery.

Anyway, I realize I'm being vague. Maybe I'll expand more on that some other time should I ever feel sufficiently proficient in story telling. What I really want to point to is this trailer for "Day Night Day Night" linked to in the aforementioned post. It's just a trailer, but it suggests the movie has a relentless and intense focus and probably hasn't bothered to explain the whole context.

One thing about leaving something unstated is that sometimes it's not meant to really be mysterious. Sometimes the story writer knows you will readily fill in your own experiences or fears. In fact, leaving something unstated can actually make it more powerful because of that. You don't know what it is, but you can't help but fill in the blank with your own personal demons.

P.S. Honestly, the trailer made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Considering the nature of the film, I don't know if I'll want to see it when it does arrive. Horror movies don't scare me. They just turn my stomach, and I usually don't bother watching them. But movies like what "Day Night Day Night" seems to be like can be very unsettling. They're the stuff of my nightmares. Imaginary monsters don't scare me. What people are capable of doing scares me. Having said that, I would probably see it given the chance. I don't believe we should be afraid to examine these sorts of topics. That gives them more power over us than they deserve.


Kyle said...

Crazy coincidences, Chuck.

1. I read a review of "Day, Night, Day, Night" a week or two ago on New York Times and got the same feel that the trailer gives (though the trailer is more effective).

2. The post you linked mentions McCarthy. I just finished reading "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy. I don't exactly recommend it, but I don't not recommend it either. Like "The Road" (which I haven't read), "BR" is also very, very dark and full of symbolism that I don't completely comprehend. It's a book that will stick with me a long, long time, and I'm sure I won't ever fully understand it. However, if you ever read it, please tell me. I would like to discuss it with somebody.

Kyle said...

Oh yeah: a decent knowledge of Spanish helps when reading "Blood Meridian". Not fluency, but at least a decent knowledge.

And the last chapter title has a German phrase that seems quite important to the book as a whole. I don't speak any German, so the reference was somewhat lost on me at the time. I will not translate it for myself, but I won't share.