Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Well-Crafted Plot

One of my favorite things to do when I watch a fictional movie or television show is to try to guess how the story is going to play out. Many storylines are highly predictable. Consequently, I am often bored by shows (unless, of course, it has a sappy ending and I am in the mood for sappy!). In my opinion, the best programs are the ones where the plot is understandable but very twisted.

For example, the movie The Illusionist, starring Ed Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Jessica Biel is a wonderfully twisted, unpredictable sort of plot. (*Spoiler Alert*) A gifted magician/illusionist, played by Norton, is about to be arrested by the chief inspector (Giamatti) for producing the "ghost" of a murdered duchess (Biel), consequently stirring up civil unrest. You then go back in time to learn the illusionist had met and fallen in love with the duchess when they were young but were separated because of their differences in social standing. The young duchess does try to run away from her rank with the illusionist, but they are caught. Years later, they meet again when he has become a famous entertainer and she is the consort of the crown prince. Their plan to run away together goes off course once again when she is murdered by the drunken prince after telling him she is leaving. The illusionist begins a new show where he conjures up what seem to be spirits of the dead, including that of the duchess. This enrages the crown prince who orders the illusionist arrested because of the questions her appearance brings up in the minds of the people about her murder. When the inspector goes to actually arrest the illusionist, the illusionist is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.  In the meantime, the inspector follows up many different leads in his quest for knowledge and truth.  He has unwittingly come up with all the right answers, but fails to put them together until after the crown prince kills himself rather than face arrest for plotting to overthrow his father. It is at this point the illusionist shows the inspector his cards in their entirety. The duchess's murder was faked in order to save her from marrying the prince and to expose the prince's plot of illegitimately take over control of the kingdom, allowing the illusionist and the countess the freedom to finally be together.

Any good writer must take the time to carefully plot his/her course, lest the detective/audience put the clues together too soon and spoil the end of the story. Any good spy knows if he reveals his hand too soon it could lead to his demise. The Illusionist is a very well-crafted plot because the same information can represent many things. The truth is always present, but it is always open to interpretation.

In the story of our world, the "poop" is about to hit the fan. Just because we think we know how it is going to all play out doesn't mean we actually do. Be open to all the information. In the well-crafted plot, truth is not always what it would seem. Don't let your learned biases trap you in ignorance. Realize the evidence has not all played out yet and is still open to interpretation. The story is still unfolding. Don't make the mistake of forming a conclusion before all the evidence is in.


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