Saturday, April 28, 2018

What Writers Need to Make Danger Interesting

I'm a mom, so my spectrum of TV and movie pleasures range from Moana with my kiddo (and hey, even without my him) to The Handmaid's Tale (definitely without my kiddo). Both of these are full of danger appropriate for their target audience, but I noticed a big difference in my response to those dangers.

Let's talk about that Moana scene where Moanna and Maui fight the coconut pirates. (Don't worry, I won't spoil anything major in this post.) Moana is one of my favorite Disney movies, but I have to be honest with you...I barely know what happens in this scene. Every time this scene plays, my eyes glaze over and my mind wanders to anything else. That's because in my first time watching, I already knew they'd make it out of this jumble okay. Even though Moana and Maui were wildly outnumbered, the unfair fight didn't feel impossible. I didn't feel their fear, which is fair (tongue twister!) because this movie is for kids. But still, the writers could have upped Moana and Maui's disadvantage to increase the tension and conflict. Otherwise, an action scene can have as many explosions as it wants, but the danger still feels shallow.

Now let's shift gears and talk about The Handmaid's Tale. In the premier of season two, June faces a danger that had me completely enraptured. A fire in my own apartment couldn't have ripped me away from this scene. Like, I knew she would make it out okay because the rest of the show needs her, but I couldn't rationalize the fear and tension away because THERE WAS NO FREAKING WAY OUT. June didn't just have odds; she had impossible odds. I could feel that she knew there was no way out of this one, that this was the end for her because I was up close and could see the staunch fear in her eyes and the tremble in her lips.

Play appropriately to your audience, of course, but never give your characters a way out. Make us doubt our instinct that they'll make it. Get us up close and personal with the character's own fear. And then just when we think it's all over, throw a curve ball and wow us with a plot twist or a character that uses their mind, strength, and resourcefulness to overcome impossible odds.

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