Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Motive, Backstory, and Foreshadowing – What I Learned After Watching Coyote County Loser

Yesterday, my critique group watched a cute little movie titled Coyote County Loser. Sometimes these smaller works (aka, not backed by a multi-million dollar ad campaign) aren’t worth the plastic it’s burned on. But this one was a pleasant surprise.

I had not heard of the actors who played the main characters before, Nikki Boyer and Beau Clark, but their acting skills, along with the rest of the supporting cast, made this film very watchable.

Here is the synopsis from the movie’s website:

Can losers find love? Southwest desert radio station K-RAP is struggling to pay the bills when radio jock Jack Proctor (Beau Clark) zooms through Coyote County on his way to LA to take the gig of a lifetime. But the deal stalls, so Jack temps on-air work for K-RAP. Dr. Lauren Hartford (Nikki Boyer), local on-air relationship expert, gets under Jack’s skin by questioning his love advice — so Jack initiates a high stakes contest to find Coyote County’s biggest loser and help him woo the county’s most unattainable woman. Before this battle-of-the-sexes is over, Jack and Lauren will learn love is for losers after all.

After the movie, we discussed what worked and what didn’t.

  • Dr. Lauren Hartford, (the heroine) had motives that drove her character. There was a reason why she used car analogies for her love advice. There was a reason why she didn’t believe in romance and following your heart. There was a reason she could give advice, yet stay unemotionally detached. These reasons weren’t told in the first fifteen minutes of the movie. The audience simply watched her stick to her convictions until the end of the second act where she revealed why she believed what she believed.
    Authors: The lesson for us here is that we don’t need to reveal every tiny detail of a person’s life in the first chapter. We don’t need to create a prologue so the reader gets where the character is coming from. It was so much fun to watch this movie and wonder what made Dr. Lauren tick. And then, we were not disappointed when she opened up and let her true heart be known. Much like meeting someone in real life, we don’t spill our entire history until we trust them enough with it. Hmm. Could real life be our template for writing?
  • Every supporting character had a backstory. And each of these characters comprised the town, a little desert hamlet somewhere near Roswell, New Mexico. The town, because of these quirky and lovable characters, became a character of it’s own. Their stories became its heartbeat.
    Authors: If you have other people in your story, it’s always good to give them a purpose. You don’t have to delve deep into their backstory, sometimes a hint as to who they are often is all the reader needs to care about them. If I may, I’d like to mention my first book, Merely Players. I had a walk-on character, a man who offered helicopter rides to victims of a hurricane so they could see their homes and businesses. At first, I had an entire scene where this man dialogues his history: Why did he own this helicopter? Where did he learn to fly? Etc. But, because of word constraints, I had to pair it down to one simple thing. I put a black ball cap on him that had the words, “POW, Never Forget” stitched in white. Now, we know that he was probably a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, and he had seen his fair share of tragedy. Simple. Direct. Effective.
  • The foreshadowing in this movie was subtle for the most part. But an incident kinda stood out. Maggie Hopps, played by veteran actress K Callan, all of a sudden has a weak heart. If this had been introduced somewhere in the first act, it might not have caused my writer instinct to sit up and say, “Oh, something’s going to happen to her.” This was, perhaps, the only flimsy part I had seen in the entire movie. It didn’t ruin the experience, but as an arm-chair director, I think I would have fixed that.
  • Authors: Foreshadowing is an art in itself. Read books and watch movies to study the ins and outs, how it should and shouldn’t be done. I love watching familiar movies because I look for the foreshadowing. What plant do they use to let me know something major is coming up? Do they use it effectively? Do they use one at all or simply surprise the audience? How well does that work?

It’s so important for us as authors to study good works and bad. Oh sure, date night is great, but how much greater could it be if you’re snuggled with your honey-bear and learning your craft at the same time? Ah, bliss.


Paula said...

Hmm . . . you really made me think about the foreshadowing issue. At first I thought it was plenty when they showed her with the weak heart, but I think I see what you mean now. If they'd had her hubby remind her to take her heart pills or something simple in the first act, the whole subplot would have seemed more cohesive . . . what happened with this plot line didn't surprise me at all. I pretty much predicted it by the foreshadowing they did, but it would have been more effective if it had been a little less obvious a little earlier and continued into the other acts. This is a great post. I'm going to link it on fb. Thanks for helping me learn.

Craft Cinema said...

And when her heart issue came up, I remembered the hot tub. What? She shouldn't be in a hot tub with a heart issue, should she? I think this particular thread should have been thought out better. But the rest of the movie rocked!

Donna Reimel Robinson said...

Good thoughts about the movie, Kathy! I'm glad you girls enjoyed it.


Kathy said...

Helpful post! Thanks for sharing. I learned a lot and will pass it on, too.

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