It all started innocently enough. My best friend and I were looking for shows to watch on HBO. As we scrolled through the list, we saw How to Be Single. A movie with Rebel Wilson? We were in! How could it be anything but good? Well, we were gravely disappointed. By the end of the film, we were confused and kind of resentful.
Why did this happen and how can you prevent it? I give you five reasons below.
1. Too Many Characters
Based on the movie poster, you would think the story is evenly divided between Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, and Leslie Mann. The film really focuses on Dakota Johnson with Rebel Wilson and Leslie Mann as side characters. I have absolutely NO IDEA why Alison Brie is in the film. I literally do not see a purpose for her character. She doesn't even interact with the main cast. Dakota Johnson also dates tons of men, but I feel like I got to know none of them. The movie seemed to concerned with including as many famous actors as possible at the cost of characterization.
Your take-away: It is better to focus on a few characters and develop them well. Remember, it is all about quality, not quantity.
2. Lazy Time Jumps
The movie jumped a couple months ahead. All. The. Time. Why? Basically because the movie suffered from too many characters. Instead of taking the time to show the trajectory of one of Dakota Johnson's relationships, the film just jumps from the start to the end of the relationship. As a result, I don't care about the characters or the fact that they were together.
Your take-away: Avoid time jumps. If you must use one, make sure you are not doing it because of lazy writing (i.e. not wanting to write certain scenes, have too many characters, etc.)
3. A Confused Message
I have no idea what the message of this movie is. It literally tells (via voiceover) you that it is awesome to be single, but it is not a state you want to really stay in. Then it tells you that you should enjoy being single while you can because it is pretty much the best thing ever. Why the heck would you not want to stay single if it is the best thing ever? This is not a case of a movie being nuanced; this is a case where a movie is confused.
Your take-away: Have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve before you write. You don't need a clear message (i.e. being single is really awesome), but at least have a clear sense of your character arc and how your conflicts are resolved.
4. Uninteresting Characters
I do not care about a single character. Okay, one character, but she is a little girl. How can you not care about children? I am not a monster. Still, most of these characters are supposed to be attracting tons of people, and I kept asking myself why. I could not tell you anything really about the personalities of any of the characters. It took me halfway through the movie to know what Dakota's character did for a living. Also, in case you haven't noticed, I am not using any of the characters' names. Because I don't remember them! Again, I think this was a result of too many characters.
Your take-away: Your characters don't have to be sympathetic, but please make them interesting. If your character is supposed to be attractive to a lot of women, he better be charismatic. Even if your character is supposed to be boring, make sure the reader at least feels bad for the poor bore.
5. Muddled Plotting
You cannot predict what happens next in the movie. And not in a good way. Since the characters are grossly underdeveloped, they are completely erratic. I think this is a function of the writers not knowing what the characters want and not outlining the plot. Everything that happens seems completely whimsical and not realistic (and not in a fun Manic Pixie Dream Girl kind of way).
Your take-away: Outline your novel and develop your characters before you write. Confusing plots are a function of the writer not planning in advance. Planning=clarity.
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