Breaking conventions

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  • Breaking conventions

    I was very surprised to find I enjoyed the 21 Jump Street remake and one of the things I liked about it was how it addressed and also avoided conventions. It's not the only film to do so nor the most cutting-edge but it presented a light bulb moment because for a long while I couldn't understand why my characters and plots were seen as cliched.

    Anyhoo, I now find it much easier to create new and unique characters and storylines. Certain genres make it easier. Pour moi, indie-crime is wide open for all sorts of bizarre-ities, as is comedy, but whenever I turn to horror, specifically contained, slasher and possession, I find it very hard to break out of the cliches. Is it just me or are these sub-genres limiting by default?

    It's easy to have a crime-thriller and replace the done-to-death workaholic detective with 3 ex-wives with a gay stutterer. I see story lines that can be wide open - the guy can get the girl, the criminal can get away with it, there can be double crosses or not. But in horror, the psycho-stalker film has to start with small incidents the protag isn't aware before building to a climactic one-on-one showdown, the possession film has to show slowly degrading behaviour culminating in an exorcism and of course, the phone lines have to be down/no mobile signal. Slasher psychos with stutters and OCD don't seem to wash somehow, nor merrily catching taxis as they chase their prey around.

  • #2
    Re: Breaking conventions

    IMO, it's about fully understanding convention -- how they work and why work -- before breaking them knowingly to create an altogether different result that still works and is fulfilling to the audience.

    With regards to horror, two examples I can think of is THE HILLS HAVE EYES and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Typically, cannibal/slasher flicks have our group of protagonists picked off as the helplessly try to escape. But in THHE, the protagonists fight back, and soon it's the Cannibals being hunted and picked off one-by-one.

    Ditto to LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT where the preyed become the predators.

    To me, the topic of cliches and conventions is all about managing audience's expectations and trying to give them something that feels different, perhaps unexpected, but still makes sense to them.

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    • #3
      Re: Breaking conventions

      Originally posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
      I was very surprised to find I enjoyed the 21 Jump Street remake and one of the things I liked about it was how it addressed and also avoided conventions. It's not the only film to do so nor the most cutting-edge but it presented a light bulb moment because for a long while I couldn't understand why my characters and plots were seen as cliched.

      Anyhoo, I now find it much easier to create new and unique characters and storylines. Certain genres make it easier. Pour moi, indie-crime is wide open for all sorts of bizarre-ities, as is comedy, but whenever I turn to horror, specifically contained, slasher and possession, I find it very hard to break out of the cliches. Is it just me or are these sub-genres limiting by default?

      It's easy to have a crime-thriller and replace the done-to-death workaholic detective with 3 ex-wives with a gay stutterer. I see story lines that can be wide open - the guy can get the girl, the criminal can get away with it, there can be double crosses or not. But in horror, the psycho-stalker film has to start with small incidents the protag isn't aware before building to a climactic one-on-one showdown, the possession film has to show slowly degrading behaviour culminating in an exorcism and of course, the phone lines have to be down/no mobile signal. Slasher psychos with stutters and OCD don't seem to wash somehow, nor merrily catching taxis as they chase their prey around.
      The only reason you think that is because you haven't really thought those stories through.

      There are only forms and conventions in any kind of genre -- no hard and fast rules, beyond the fundamental requirements of narrative structure.

      And a psycho killer with a stutter and OCD -- that kind of describes Norman Bates. And how does Psycho fit into that neat category, of "small incidents" etc?

      Or Audition? Or Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer? Or Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

      You don't have to limited by the conventions of a particular form, unless you choose to be limited by those conventions.

      As for the whole cell phone business -- sure, lots of stories are complicated by the ease with which people can call the police or other people, but the challenge for any writer is to take what seems to be a disadvantage and turn it on its head.

      I always remember those beats in the original Terminator when the cop tells Sarah Connor -- just stay there in the night club where there are lots of people. You'll be safe. Nobody will do anything there. And the Terminator comes in and just shoots everybody. And then later. Don't worry, Sarah, you're here in the police station, surrounded by thirty cops. You'll be perfectly safe. That didn't work out so well either.

      So sure, your character has a cell phone. You can either take the easy way out and just place them in that convenient, "screenwriter's" dead zone -- or let them have their cell phones and use them -- but build your story in such a way that having them and using them won't help.

      NMS

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