Coloring a plot

Here’s something I believe: plot and character aren’t a dichotomy. They’re both tools, a means to an end. That end is entertainment.

A reader asks: I’m just trying to understand how you feel about plot. What makes a good plot? Is there such a thing as a good plot? Are all plots equally uninteresting until colored?

That’s a really good question. I think the answer is yes. You need to color plot with character or substance otherwise it’s just a plot. Nobody comes out of a movie theater saying: my god! What a plot! People like the emotional experiences the plot enables, the journey the plot enables, not the plot qua plot. Take speed – the action set pieces aren’t necessarily plot, they’re moments the plot makes possible.

Consider the color advance exercise. Plot by itself isn’t interesting without something else. In an anecdote texture and detail, in movies, it’s something else.

The reason why the premise test focuses on the “doing” part so much is that the doing is generally what’s going to make the most entertainment. In an action movie, it’s mostly going to be doing, while the character part ads wonderful specificity and originality to the setpieces. In a drama, that’s usually reversed. The scenes are going to be more based on talking, so the exact nature of the characters carries the entertainment and drives the action.

Someone’s going to say that all movies are based on character decisions. I think that’s a little dichotomous, and I’ve never seen anyone successfully prove that. if you think you can do it prove me wrong.

If you were to walk into a packed, 500 seat theater and start telling jokes, you’d want a pretty solid grasp on what an audience finds entertaining in stand up comedy. If you’re going to spend 6 months writing a script, you want to have a grasp on what the audience for that might find entertaining. You’d think that’d be common sense, but oddly, it’s not. Sadly, the people who most need this lesson are the most resistant to learning it. Don’t be that guy. This is the kind of idea that comes from a subjective opinion, but one that will yield more value if you entertain it rather than fight against it.

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