Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Good Fiction Is All About What You Leave In...

I watched American Reunion yesterday. Actually I watched the first, third, and fourth movies in the series in order: American Pie(1999), American Pie: The Wedding (2003) , and then the 2012 sequel written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg.

While not on the short list of movies I was anxious to see, it was hot outside and I am studying a stack of books on screen writing in an attempt to improve the structure and pacing of my own novel w.i.p..

Here's the premise:
  It's been 13 years since the group of guys and their girls graduated from high school in East Great Falls so it's about time for that overdue 10th High School Reunion. When Jim Levenstein and his wife Michelle arrive at Jim's old home, Jim's dad Noah (who has been a widower for three years) is obviously happy to see them and quickly escorts his daughter-in-law and grandson Evan into the house leaving a less than enthusiastic Jim to slep their luggage inside.
  Just then a car comes speeding up the street and with horn blowing pulls into the driveway next door.  Jim watches as a gorgeous young chickie hurries out of the house (if you've watched the first pie you'll remember Jim for his Internet video  and other title antics). Chickie notices slack-jawed Jim ... and comes bouncing over to greet him instead of hopping into the car.
  Turns out that she is Kara, the girl he used to babysit. Married Jim seems not to have outgrown his high school fear of women. She is about to turn 18 she explains and invites Jim to her birthday party. Adult Jim seems to be having a hard time catching up. There are a lot of raunchy innuendos bounced around. 

Here's the problem:
   How is it that Jim hasn't seen Kara one time in these last thirteen years? Jim's mom died three years ago, wouldn't they have crossed paths then? Maybe? Or during a previous vacation? While it is clear that I am not the intended audience for this juvenile outing I do understand the deal we viewers make about suspending disbelief, but the idea that Jim is so befuddled was a tad annoying to me at first. Me, being a member of the audience.

But it got me (the writer me) thinking about scenes, characterization, dialogue and what it takes to tell a good story that hangs together. Or to be more succinct what to leave in and which scenes to delete. And in what order to write it.

If good storytelling reflects truth, and author, writing coach, screenwriter and producer Blake Snyder assures us this is indeed true, I understand that Jim needed to reconnect with Kara in the opening. It is the "truth" that bothered me.

Understanding the four-part story structure is crucial for any novelist who wants to write and sell commercial fiction. Our job as storytellers is to understand what has to happen in each of these divisions (and why Jim needed to connect with Kara in the opening), and to deliver the material in the right order. Our goal is to keep the reader turning the pages.

Larry Brooks, the author of Story Engineering cautions that if we "intend to sell what we write" we need to understand "the art and craft of the story architecture. Mr. Brooks has a ten-part tutorial on the fundamentals of story structure here: http://storyfix.com/story-structure-series-1-introducing-the-four-parts-of-story

A final note, Jim's dad, played by actor Eugene Levy steals the      show over and over again with his patient fatherly advice. I am a fan.

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