A Shocking Lack of Story

It’s everywhere. Last night I watched part of “On the Lot” again with my daughter. The contestants’ assignment: make a 1 minute comedy. The ones that got the rave reviews were the ones that were not only good filmmakers, but good storytellers. Several had no story at all. None. The judges were quite severe on this flaw.

I wish those judges had been around for the making of Pirates of the Caribbean 3. I wasted 3 hours and $7 on a movie with no plot. Just familiar characters doing familiar things but without real goals or direction. I hated it.

But before I point fingers, I have to say it is a weak point in my own writing. Over the years I’ve learned some things. I can use active verbs and vivid words. I can show instead of tell. Characterization and dialogue are becoming easier. But my story—my plot—is often weak. So I’ve been studying this weekend. I pulled out all the writing books on my shelf and read and took notes on everything relating to story structure and plot.

One quote I found particularly encouraging came from Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction. “It’s probable that your impulse to write has little to do with the desire or the skill to work out a plot. On the contrary, you want to write because you are sensitive. You have something to say that does not answer the question, What happened next? You share . . . a sense of the injustice, the absurdity, and the beauty of the world; and you want to register your protest, your laughter, and your affirmation. Yet readers still want to wonder what happened next, and unless you make them wonder, they will not turn the page. You must master plot, because no matter how profound or illuminating your vision of the world may be, you cannot convey it to those who do not read you.”

So I’m encouraged to learn to tell a story well, to make sure the plot is as strong as the other aspects of my writing. It’s something I’ll have to work at, but I believe it’s an attainable goal.

4 comments on “A Shocking Lack of Story

  1. But back to the topic of your post…

    Yes, the lack of plot is a common disease. Burroway’s quote is insightful. Sometimes we feel the message we want to convey or the feelings we want to explore put us above the need for a plot. It’s painful to be brought back to earth!

  2. Pirates of the Caribbean? Isn’t that a ride at the Disney complex? When did they make a movie out of it?
    Wow, I’ve got to get out more often. Is Gone With The Wind still showing?
    (PS–My daughter and son-in-law saw it this weekend and loved it.)

  3. I’m as big a pirate fan as the next girl–and Johnny Depp fan, too (have been for 20 years) but I just can’t go there on #3. WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD. How could Will and Elizabeth go from being so angry with each other to getting married with nothing in between except pirate fighting? And Calypso and Davy Jones seemed just kind of thrown in there. And all those weird scenes with multiple Captain Jacks didn’t move the story forward, either! Sorry. Loved the first one. Liked the second. Hated the third.

  4. Oh, D’Ann, D’Ann, D’Ann. How could you knock my Pirates? Yes, I agree that Pirates 2 had no story, just a set up (sorry, my hyphen key stopped working yesterday along with a handful of other keys) for #3, but 3 has merit, I thought. Motivation, some convuluted conspirizing, which made it funny and confusing, but the plot kept me wondering what would happen next. and i liked the twist at the end.
    knocking my pirates. Oh, D’Ann. I mean, it’s johnny depp, for goodness sakes! 😉

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