I was watching a documentary called “The Achievers” which is about fans of the movie “The Big Lebowski.”
There are events out together that are called Lebowski Fests where fans get together have costume contests, recite lines from the movie and generally just bond with each other, all around a movie which did really poorly at the box office, but then went on to become a ‘cult classic.’
So why am I talking about The Big Lebowski and Lebowski Fest? Well, number one, the Coen brothers are masters at what they do. They write character based movies that people either love or hate. Either one is okay with me, as eliciting emotions is what writing is all about. Love and hate are strong emotions. No one wants someone to be indifferent about their work. There is enough ennui in the word.
But the real reason (number two, if you are keeping track) is a tidbit; a throw-away line in the documentary. This is paraphrased, but basically someone said that Coen brothers movies are all about “someone having a problem and solving it in a horribly bad wrong way.” And off you go.
So think about that for a second. The character relationships are hugely important. When I do improv, I was taught that the best scenes are about two or more characters who are somewhere (doesn’t matter where) and they have a real connection, a relationship, and the background ends up being just that. The characters aren’t talking about their cutlery if they are in a kitchen (unless the cutlery is just a metaphor for how they feel about each other – maybe one is sharp and one is dull?)
The scene, the background, is just a setting. The relationship is what makes you care, but the plot is about a problem.
A problem can be something simple. Your mother hates me and it impacts our relationship.
How do you solve this problem?
a) You sit with your mother-in-law and have a discussion and try to hash out your differences. Boring (but likely in the real world).
b) You divorce your wife, so you lose the MIL problem.
c) You buy your MIL an around the world vacation and arrange a rendezvous with a foreign lover, so she moves to Paris and becomes a seldom dealt with fly in your marriage ointment. While in Paris she gets kidnapped by the lover’s incensed ex-mistress, and you have to go rescue her and realize she is an interesting person. You fell in love with her and divorce your wife and now you have a DIL who hates you.
I don’t know that that plot really works, but the point is, you have a problem that is solved in a way that is abnormal and then the solution drives the movie (or the book.)
What drives your writing? What is the plot point or points that sets your book apart? What makes your voice something that people want to revisit?
I don’t know how the Coen brothers do it, but this little piece certainly got me to thinking. Hope it does the same to you.
Happy bowling, my little Lebowski urban achievers!
Behind the scenes look at the Coen brothers and the Big Lebowski here. (affiliate link. thanks for clicking)