john cusack

personal ads

I’ve been writing all day, and I’m pooped. However, I wanted to point to PBW’s post on personal ads for your characters.

As she points out, it is a revealing and fun way to figure some things out about the people populating your work, but personal ads often figure into storylines more directly. PPW mentioned Desperately Seeking Susan, but there’s also Sea of Love (not nearly as much fun as DSS), and more recently the very regrettable Must Love Dogs (why, John Cusack? why?) I know there are others but they aren’t coming to mind.

I believe there may also be collections of short stories that start with personal ads. Or if not, I dreamed it and I should probably put that project on my list of books to write down the line. Certainly I’ve read some personal ads that scream STORY. There are a number of books out there which provide a selection of the quirkiest such ads, for example:

Bitter, unsuccessful middle aged loser wallowing in an unending sea of inert drooping loneliness looking for 24 year old needy leech-like hanger-on to abuse with dull stories, tired sex and Herb Alpert albums.

To be truthful, this is not an exercise that works for me and my characters. I can’t imagine John Dodge or Julia Darrow putting a personal out there. Same for Angie or any of the major characters in TTTT. Except maybe Patty Cake, but that would be far too easy.

plot twists

My love of plot has been established, certainly, but permit me to say a few words about the intellectual delights of the plot that twists. I’m going to talk about film here for just a minute.

The trick to making a convoluted or complex plot work is (I think) pacing. You’ve got to keep things moving quickly enough to keep the viewer (or reader) running at an easy jog, too intrigued to give up, but breathless. I have been thinking about this since we watched Identity on DVD yesterday (John Cusack leads a great cast, well worth seeing), and trying to put together a short list of movies that have (for lack of a better term) a corkscrew plot that ends up someplace you don’t see coming.

The obvious film in this category is The Sixth Sense. I have never run into anyone who went into the movie unprepared, and guessed the twist (at least, nobody I believed). The same is true of M. Night Shyamalan’s next movie, Unbreakable (which I liked better than The Sixth Sense, but I’m pretty much alone in that camp.) Other movies which raised the confounding of expectations to an art form include Arlington Road, 12 Monkeys, Brazil, and The Usual Suspects (although TUS is flawed by an shift in POV toward the end that is, really, a cheat). Having said this, I realize that the twists in all these movies all have something in common, in that not one of them has what you’d call an uplifting or happy ending. I expect some people might disagree with me about Unbreakable, but I do find that ending rather dark. Running around Philadelphia wearing a rain slicker while you’re being pelted with humanity’s worst thoughts, well. It just doesn’t strike me as a happy career choice.

[digression] It’s no coincidence that the Mathematician loves these movies, as he always roots for the Dark Forces. In fact, we’ve had an argument going for years about Brazil, in which he says the ending is a happy one and I insist it is absolutely the opposite of happy: a man driven insane by torture is not my idea of a good time. But, sez the Mathematician, he’s finally where he wants to be. I don’t know, maybe this is a mathematician vs non-mathematician view of things. [/digression]

Writing this I come to a realization: for me, the test of a really well done corkscrew plot is the fact that I am forced not only to accept the inevitability, but to embrace a Bad Ending as the only possible and true resolution. And more than that: I kinda like it.