Monday, June 01, 2020

The Stand at Paxton County

I've watched more movies in the last 90 days than in any other time in my life.

I read once that you watch tv (or in this case movies) with the same part of your brain that you use to worry, so watching tv is indeed therapeutic.

I don't know if it is true; it feels true, and that passes for truth these days all too often.

But I digress.

Last night Netflix offered up The Stand at Paxton County.
Horses, lady heroes, cowboys.
You bet, I'm in.

And yes, I enjoyed it.
Not enough horses, not enough cowboys, but still interesting.

In a nutshell:
A military veteran comes home to find her father harassed by a sheriff intent to confiscate the livestock on their ranch under shady pretenses.

But overall, disappointing.
The question then is why?

I thought about this because why something doesn't work is often the best guide for making sure things do work.

**Spoiler Alerts follow**

1. The antagonist is the county vet, and she's costumed like Anna Wintour. When was the last time you saw a vet in anything other than heavy duty work clothes? Large animal vet I mean. It was instantly jarring.

2. The county vet is so one dimensional she might as well be named Snidely Whiplash and have "hiss" in the captions when she comes on screen.

3. No real resolution to the plot. Yes, the vet is stymied, and her henchmen in crime are killed but she herself is not carted off to the hoosegow.

4. The deputy sheriff, who has been carefully portrayed as a bit of a dimwit (a piece of business about not understanding how to make change is pretty funny, and pretty brilliant) gets promoted to sheriff. That's violating the world building of the piece, and for that I want to smack the writers (or whomever) around.

Have you found a book with problems to be useful in "what not to do" in your own writing?


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Too many times to mention. Although, I will admit, it happens in television writing more than with the novels I consume. My daughter and I often find we can guess exactly what will happen in a show in less than 3 minutes - movie, episodic show, or something in between - that is how we know the writing is lazy.

The difference is this does not always kill a show - good acting, well-drawn characters etc can redeem a predictable plot. If the writing is just bad (last seasons of GoT) nothing can help. The same is true in a novel. Even if the writing is simply lazy, it kills it for me. And I try, mind you, TRY, to learn from these things. I don't always succeed.

So far, Janet's best advice has been to get distance between you and your last draft before you fix it or call It done. I try. I do try. But sometimes I get impatient.

Kitty said...

My first pet peeve is breaking up a running conversation with totally unnecessary stuff like characters' inner thoughts, characters' reactions and location description. If the writer considers those things germane for the reader's understanding of the story, then for the reader's sake structure the conversation in blocks so we don't lose momentum. Most of the time I couldn't care less for characters' inner thoughts, characters' reactions and location description.

Speaking of horses... I've been caring for my 4-y-o granddaughter. Yesterday she referred to her toy horse's saddle as a booster seat.

P.S. LONGMIRE (on Netflix) is the best western ever. We have it on DVDs and we've watched it several times over. Just sayin'...

S.D.King said...’re killing us here with those contest results.....just saying...👀

CynthiaMc said...

We watched The Sons of Katie Elder this weekend. Not bad. Dean Martin makes a pretty good cowboy and I love John Wayne.

The whole first part of the movie was the town singing Katie's praises and berating her no-good sons (who returned for her funeral). I wish we had seen Katie in action. It's hard to care about someone if you haven't seen them and Katie just wasn't real to me.

nightsmusic said...

If I'm reading a book like that, I usually don't finish it. It's not worth my time. Same thing with movies. Sometimes, I'll continue reading a book where I spotted the whodunit or whatever the problem is, because the characters are wonderfully written.

On a happy note, I have hanging planters on my front porch and a red finch has laid her eggs in one of them. I listen to their song with the front door open. It makes me smile :)

C. Dan Castro said...

I’ve read novels and seen episodic TV where there’s a key question: for example, which nation slaughtered all a U.S facility’s researchers in the opening pages to steal an invaluable technology? You get to the end, and the author says (through the action, characters, etc.) it doesn’t matter who’s behind it, because ANY nation would have done the same thing.

Maybe so, but I still want to know who did it IN THIS PARTICULAR WORK I JUST SPENT HOURS AND HOURS OF MY TIME ON!!!

It’s about making promises to your reader (or viewer). If you don’t fulfill them, you risk disappointing your reader/viewer.

John Davis Frain said...

I've read more novels during the 90 days of this pandemic than I've read in any 90-day stretch of my life, and I do have a couple examples. I'm sure I do. But it's Monday. Ugh. The day job! I can only think about work. (Hisssssssssss)

I'll stop back by on my way home for a nightcap, see if anyone's hanging out on the porch...

NLiu said...

I stop reading the moment I stop caring about the main character - though if that's late in the book and the premise is really good I might carry on to answer the Big Question.

How to make people care about the characters is the real question though. I've read somewhere they need to save a cat (gotta love that book!) though in the novel I read this week the MC started off knitting a jumper and that worked for me.

PAH said...

This question is so tricky.

Why? Because more often than not, I find these sorts of issues in things that are WILDLY successful (especially in film, but also in literature). For example, SW: The Force Awakens ... the entire plot hinged on them needing a missing piece of a map to find Luke ... in space. IN SPACE. All you need are coordinates. There is no "take a left at Hoth, then go 10 lightyears, if you hit the Dagobah system you've gone too far."

So, the real question is ... when do plot holes / little annoyances matter and when can they be overlooked? Personally, if the characters are good enough, you can get away with a lot more.

RE: Longmire on Netflix. I couldn't finish the pilot. But I had listened to 3 of the books before watching it and ... nope. I just couldn't do it. If I had not listened to the books first, I probably would have enjoyed it.

roadkills-r-us said...

I hope so. I hate bad story telling. I loathe one-dimensional characters. Between bad books, movies, and life (we have not watched much more than an hour of tv a year since 1980), I really hope I’ve learned a lot of what not to do.

Matt Adams said...

I thought Station Eleven was an example of that -- a lot of build up to something that really went nowhere. Same thing with South of Broad, from my favorite author, Pat Conroy. And I'm betting at the end of the day, whenever he can make himself do it, we'll be saying the same thng about whatever George RR Martin's final two end up being.

Regarding westerns, y'all are wrong. The best Western series ever is Justified. If you haven't seen it, sit back and enjoy a magnificent hero, a collection of great bad guys, a great great great antagonist and snappy dialogue and plotting. Just a wonderful show.

Craig F said...

I think I have progressed, at least as a reader. A great many of the books I enjoyed last millennium come up short when I try to re-read them.

The best western ever on TV was Firefly, followed closely by Justified.

Neither of them take place in the American west, but they are westerns anyway.

About that contest... I need something to applaud, still.

nightsmusic said...

Matt Adams, if you loved Justified and haven't seen A Perfect Getaway, you need to watch it.

Emma said...

Generally I do learn from why something doesn't work (for me). Which is a weird benchmark because obviously it worked enough to be published or green-lit and produced. For me, I need to feel the truth in the characters. If the characters do things because it fits the plot or the theme of the book and not because a real human would ever do that, I'll stop right there. It's too annoying. But if the character is real enough, I'll follow along even if the plot is bonkers.

Second pet peeve is when authors get details of things I know very well wrong. A non-native Russian writing about Russians? Better know what you're talking about or the book gets tossed at the wall. Writing about technology? Ditto. Don't get me started on depressed/alcoholic/lonely detectives (not because they don't exist, but because they're just like people in all other professions and usually have families with children) I'd love to see more of a range of detective types in crime fiction.

But if the writing is spectacular, I can forgive all of the above.

C. H. Reaver said...

Any resolution of an important plot point that relies on some coincidence (like a last nanosecond rescue) breaks my immersion. It's so clear the writer is creating shortcuts I can't ever take it seriously.

If that's how the events must unfold, it's the hero's job to organize that. Or her sharkly advisor's. Or for the whole population of Carkoon. Not for the goddess of fortune if she isn't one of the characters.

Coincidences that produce more trouble can work, but they can also feel like one of the writer's less elaborate devices to amplify the drama. Anything else that makes me think about the writer and what they're trying to do also goes here. A good story should make the reader feel a lot of things; the author's presence isn't one of them.

Overall, authorial intent, boring or overused tropes, heavy-handed foreshadowing and long-winged writing are the things I noticed the most before I started writing a month ago. Now I gotta chew more thoroughly!

Adele said...

I usually stick with novels even if they're inaccurate or unlikely, because sometimes what I think is a plot hole or an inaccuracy turns out to be wholly understandable when I've read to the end.

I'm sensitive to word usage, though: if the detective in a cosy mystery gazes through mullioned panes in Chapter 3, he better not do it again in Chapter 7. And if an author writes the words "...lovely, long-lost, lambent days of youth" I will indeed chuck the novel across the room, because all I can see in my imagination is an author staying up all night with her thesaurus, looking for another L-word.

I also loathe books that start out as one thing and then switch gears and turn into something else. A recent read started out as a promising exposé of bored rich 30s-era dilettantes, switched to Gothic horror and then turned into a hokey traditional romance - complete with a dark, bearded stranger who steals the heroine's heart and then turns out to be the local laird of the manor, complete with castle. Grrrrr.

Katja said...

I read 1-star reviews for that reason. I read what people didn't like, sometimes they say why, and then I think about my own writing...

BJ Muntain said...

I did that with television shows when I was living with my Mum. (I don't have a television at this time, myself.) She got rather annoyed with me when I shared my observations.

And there is nothing problematic with critiquing a popular show with regards to writing. Even shows and books that are popular can have problems. There are a lot of books out there that are popular just because they get on some book club (like Oprah's, if you were very lucky). Everyone buys it because someone else said to. Then many of the people who buy it will pretend to have read it, but they haven't.

The only thing I remember about the movie Armageddon is the ending. It just made me throw up my arms. Not that Bruce Willis died - the whole movie was set up for him to die. No. It's the goodbye scene with his daughter. He's got something like 10 minutes to save the world - and the goodbyes last 20 minutes. If it were a book, I would have thrown it against the wall and stopped reading. I knew what was going to happen, anyway.