Practical posts covering the craft of writing and storytelling.

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.

How To Fix Boring Protagonists

How To Fix Boring Protagonists

Over the last week I’ve been steadily planning out Zenith Rising, the final book in my Fielding Trilogy, and figuring out how to tie off all the previous books’ character arcs in satisfying ways. While I was doing this, I came to realise with some creeping dread that my protagonist is one of the least interesting characters in the series. This goes against not only most rules of storytelling but also common sense; if the reader doesn’t connect with the protagonist, there’s little chance of them hanging around for much of the story.

When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter how fantastic or interesting your story is unless you have a compelling, empathetic protagonist or two for the reader to experience it with. You could write the next Game of Thrones epic, but without your Jon Snows and Daenerys Targaryens to keep the plot surging forward, the Song of Ice and Fire is just a history lesson with dragons.

It’s a hard thing to admit I wrote something that was flawed in that respect, especially since I’m selling it as a product. But no book is perfect, and learning from mistakes is the only way to improve. Thankfully, my writing has improved after getting a few novels under my belt and I can now avoid this potential problem in future work. So developing my protagonists with more depth and conflict will be one of my key goals moving forward.

Character Development Resources

There are plenty of resources out there if you’re looking to learn more about this subject, here are a few I’ve found recently:

Chris Fox, Emergency Plot Surgery –

A quick ten minute video where Chris talks about feedback he received from his beta readers and how he used it to improve his protagonist by adding internal conflict, improving dialogue, and making the character more active.

TV Tropes, Character Development –

If you’ve never been to then be warned now: you will tumble into an internet rabbit hole, losing hours before you wake up and realise you spent all morning learning about applied phlebotinum, one-winged angels, and whether androids really do dream.

Writing Excuses Podcast, Three Pronged Character Development –

A legendary podcast for writers, this episode has Brandon Sanderson and company chat about a model for examining characters in which three primary attributes – Competence, Proactivity, and Sympathy – are contrasted.

“Game of Thrones–jon snow daenerys targaryen” image by AQ chu licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Game of Thrones – Evoking Emotion In Storytelling

Game of Thrones - Evoking Emotion In Storytelling

Evoking emotion in a story is not an easy thing to achieve. To be done successfully, it requires knowledge of many basics of storytelling: constructing a scene, transitioning of narrative values, and often how to use people’s knowledge of stories against them. These are things that writers never stop learning and trying to improve upon.

The ever-popular Game of Thrones is a masterclass in all of these fundamentals, as this video from ‘Lessons from the Screenplay’ shows, using the popular Battle of the Bastards as a case study. If you’re looking to improve your writing skill, or maybe just want to understand how Game of Thrones manages to make you shudder with excitement and dread alike, I highly recommend taking a look. It’ll make you appreciate the skill that goes into making Game of Thrones such a powerful story.

In more personal, non-Game of Thrones news, I just finished the first draft of my current project Crawlers, and now it’s time to start editing the word sludge into something worth reading. It’s a relief to have the worst draft down on paper; it’s always painful to force yourself to write badly, but unfortunately it’s pretty much essential to finish something as large as a novel. Speaking from personal experience, if you stop to edit every mistake as you go, you end up stuck polishing pebbles in editing hell for months at a time.

Also, I’ve permanently reduced the price of my first book ‘Forged in the Dawn‘ to $0.99. Hopefully this’ll encourage more people to take a chance on a new series, especially now I’ve released a follow-up. I still plan to write the third and final book in the series later this year. By then I’ll consider setting up some paperbacks for sale. Kindles are fantastic, but nothing beats the feel of holding a physical book in your hands.

“emotions” image by TelmaSDS licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.