The Power Of Editing: Passengers, Rearranged

The Power Of Editing: Passengers, Rearranged

I recently came across a video essay from Nerdwriter that asks the question ‘is it possible to make Passengers better with some minor changes?’

If you weren’t aware, Passengers is a 2016 sci-fi film about a spacecraft transporting thousands of people when a malfunction in its sleep chambers awakens two passengers 90 years early. It’s an interesting premise reminding me of another sci-fi film, Pandorum, which has crew waking up onboard a spaceship with no memory of their identity or mission.

The video essay discusses how Passengers writes itself into a corner with the original script, leaving the last act of the film without any real tension or suspense, even requiring a new plot device to keep things moving. However, rearranging the footage and changing the point of view character alters the dramatic structure, injecting intrigue and mystery right from the start. The essay argues that editing it this way creates a more engaging viewer experience as well as a less predictable story, and I found it difficult to disagree.

Video below. Spoilers ahead, obviously.

After seeing how a simple idea could have such a huge effect on the story of the film, I began questioning if a lot of my own writing could be improved by switching up the point of view character or reordering the events shown.

As a general rule I choose the point of view character by figuring out who has the most to lose. In the case of Passengers, you could make arguments for either character on that front, but what is clear is that each character’s point of view tells a different kind of story, even going so far as to switch up the genre of the work. So arguably, the decision then becomes even more important.

It’s an interesting concept to experiment with. Maybe that space opera story you’re writing becomes a romantic comedy when seen from another character’s perspective, or that coming of age story turns into a disquieting mystery thriller. Looking back over my own work, I quickly found the possibilities spiralling.

So next time you’re bored by a book or a film, try giving some thought as to whether the story could be better told from another character’s viewpoint. Like the video says, you can learn just as much from films that don’t work as those that do.


“PASSENGERS” image by Jennifer Lawrence Films licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Creating Stories Inside Twitter’s New 280 Character Limit

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In light of Twitter recently doubling the text limit of a post on its service, Electric Literature held a contest in which they asked for 280-character short stories.

From Hemingway’s widespread six word stories to time travellers bickering on a forum about killing Hitler, I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing flash fiction (or microfictions, or sudden fiction, or whatever term is trendy today) for its hidden depth and ability to hint at a something larger than itself.

Anyway, some of the entries in the Electric Literature contest were pretty damn good so I thought I’d share a couple of my favourites here.

James Lough, “When We Lost Alphonse”

We worried when Alphonse tried heroin, which exposed him to the world of marijuana, and quickly opened the door to beer, which naturally led him to pretzels and peanuts. Before we could intervene, we found him enmeshed in a group who allegedly ate nothing but vegetables.

Stephen Aubrey, “Cohabitation”

Our first night living together, we took in that puppy howling outside the door. An auspice, I thought. But we’d never done this before. We didn’t know how small things can grow, what little space we can be left to live in. We were not the sort to abandon something until we were.

You can check out the rest of the winners (complete with illustrations) at the Electric Literature site.

They’re all well put together, each one making me more excited to give the constricted format a whirl myself. It’s said creativity comes from setting limits after all. Just look at superheroes for an example: Superman wouldn’t be a very interesting character if he had no weaknesses whatsoever, he needs those constraints to create an interesting story.

So how about you, feeling inspired by the 280 character limit? Or do you hate having to create within artificial boundaries? Either way, let me know what you think in the comments.


“Twitter” image by juliusbulius licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Switching Books And Finishing A Trilogy

After spending last weekend in Cromer, mostly enjoying the peace and quiet on the beach, I came back with my creative batteries recharged and ready to write. Unfortunately, getting some distance from the second draft of my novel, Crawlers, made me realise there were some pretty big problems with the story. Rather than try and fix the issues now, I’ve decided to put the manuscript aside for a bit and instead finish Zenith Rising, the last book in my apocalyptic Fielding Series.

I’ve had the book planned out for years now, and it’s way past time to wrap up the trilogy. From three act structure and the hero’s journey to dialogue and character development, I cut my teeth as a writer working on these books. I learned more than I could possibly have guessed starting out, and I’m looking forward to finishing the series and moving onto exciting new projects as a better writer.

I’m planning to finish Zenith Rising before the end of the year. It shouldn’t be too hard (hah, I always say that) since I have 90% of the book planned out already. So if it’s quiet around here, it’s because I’m putting in the time to write and release a book in two months. I’m making an effort not to completely fall off the radar, so I’ve been a bit more active over on twitter lately. If you want to follow my ramblings over there you can find me @GavinZanker.

In other news, here are a few things I liked today:

Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, dishes out some of his rules of writing (http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-41670890)

Bill Burr on The Tim Ferris show explaining how he knew he made it (https://twitter.com/tferriss/status/921014548546641920)

Robert Webb’s “How Not To Be A Boy” which I started on the train the other day. It had me laughing out loud like a pillock. Especially loved the metaphors he throws around. (https://twitter.com/arobertwebb/status/840183569066655747)


Zenith Rising image designed by Gavin Zanker using licensed copyright imagery.