Certain Things You Do and Don’t Do In Stories

John Goodman and Paul Reiser in One Night at McCool's.
John Goodman and Paul Reiser in One Night at McCool’s.

While I didn’t (and still don’t) think much of the movie One Night at McCool’s, I found the review I did of it a decade or so ago intriguing because of what I wrote about how stories work. I don’t think I’m quite as dogmatic about it today as I was then, but generally I still agree with what I wrote.

Audiences have certain expectations and when they are not met, you either have to have a very good, well thought out reason for not meeting them or else suffer the consequences of people finding nothing worth a damn in your film.

(That is a way of saying you will have made a bad movie. Another example of this is 2002’s People I Know.)

Stories have arcs. Here’s how Wikipedia puts it: “The purpose of a story arc is to move a character or a situation from one state to another; in other words, to effect change.”

If you have no arc – read “change” – you have no story. And no one wants to see that:

One Night at McCool’s (2001)

I hate to be prissy about it, but I think there are certain things you do and don’t do in stories. And I think you often find artists struggling with this. There is a tension between what artists want to say in order to reveal truth in their work, and what structure and genre demand … (Read more)

Something about nothing – Seinfeld

The other day I received my most recent Amazon order – the box set of Seinfeld, seasons 1 through 3. It’s all dressed up in unneccesary unnecessary hoo-hah (playing cards, salt & pepper shakers etc.), and I could live without them. Normally, I wouldn’t have bought this kind of edition.

However … in this case I did because included in this set was a script (“The Big Salad”) and I really wanted to see what a script from a show like Seinfeld would be like.

(I suppose it would have been cheaper and easier to simply go to the site, Seinfeld Scripts.)

What strikes me most about it is how minimalist it is. It’s almost exclusively the dialogue – few, if any, stage directions. Those that are there are quite … umm, terse I suppose you’d call them.

The point here, I think, is the simplicity.

And watching the shows on the DVDs, the simplicity comes through and is, to a large extent, what makes the shows work. Yes, it’s funny. But that is partly because nothing gets in the way of the lines and how they are delivered.

(Cross-posted on .)