Sweat the Small Stuff

WritingIn a piece called “One Wrong Move,” John Austin at Fresh Pulp Magazine brought up an important point about storytelling while discussing the film White House Down.

I won’t tell you what scene brought out this epiphany, but here is what John says about it:

… It takes very little to destroy something like a film.  That one moment in “White House Down” made me regret the preceding 90 minutes.  I felt stupid.  I felt like the people who made the film were making fun of me.  To my mind it was like they were saying “hey, let’s make this film with decent dialogue, great action, get the viewers hooked on it, and then make them eat a giant shit sandwich with this one sequence.”

I completely empathize with this “Aww, why’d you have to do that?” moment. However, we shouldn’t take this merely as a warning, but also an opportunity. It may be proverbial that any tool for good can be turned to evil, but the reverse is also true.

If One Wrong Move can spoil a story, then One Right Move can make it.

One well-done aspect of a story can really send its overall quality soaring. My favorite example is an acting choice made by Bill Nighy while playing Davy Jones.* When Sparrow maneuvers Jones into trading other people’s souls for his own, Jack asserts: “Now we’re just just haggling over price.” In response, Jones simply repeats the critical word, “Price?” and makes a plopping sound with a puff of air through his lips.

For me, that single sound—signifying both that he dismisses Jack’s self-congratulatory cleverness and yet is considering the offer—simply made the character of Jones. It was relaxed, unpretentious, and hinted at casual malice without being melodramatic.

Keeping in mind that the small stuff really can make or break a story can dramatically improve your chances of editing out your One Wrong Move … and saving your right ones.


* You’d think this trilogy is the only story I ever want to comment on, but I comment about it a lot because I believe its complexity and depth as story are massively under-appreciated.

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