Sunday, August 7, 2011

In Which "Jaws" Teaches Me About Writing

he movie "Jaws" is one of my favorite movies. Not one that I like to watch over and over, but one that I watch intensely, about once every two years. It is my technical learning movie, and I learn something new about storytelling, every time I watch it.

Of course there are the classic things that Hitchcock taught us, which is the unseen monster is scarier than the seen monster. There are the things that English class taught us about symbolism, like Quint is really Captain Ahab. There is the classic "Don't put a gun on the mantel in scene one, unless you are going to use it in scene three". Only in this case, the gun is an exploding canister of air.

One of my favorite things in this movie is how a character will never do something, until he does (or doesn't). Brody will never go in the water, until he has to. Brody's character grows and lives. Quint will never put on a life jacket. He doesn't and he dies. (Though to be honest, putting on the life jacket wouldn't have saved him.)

In my new WiP, I'm trying to figure out what Penny will never do. Penny will never give up. Of course, that means that eventually, she will have to give up. And doing so will make her a better person. The bad guy will also never give up. That will lead to his undoing.

I'm still in the drafting/noodling stage, so this may change, but right now, it feels right.

I also love the placement of back story in this movie. When Quint finally reveals why he hates sharks so much, it's close enough to the encounter with the shark to make it memorable. If he'd revealed his story earlier, his refusal to put on a life jacket wouldn't be as meaningful. What if they'd shown Quint's story in a "prologue" at the beginning of the movie and then put "40 years later" at the start of the movie. How would that have changed the movie? I think it would have given Quint's story less impact. I hope I learn to time the placement of back story based on this movie.


  1. Interesting thought. It's actually something that I have to consider with my writing as well...



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