Of Colombiana, Contagion, and Miracles…

Attention by ✿S∂kuR∂ ✿
Attention, a photo by ✿S∂kuR∂ ✿ on Flickr.

If you are interested in something, you will focus on it, and if you focus attention on anything, it is likely that you will become interested in it.
Many of the things we find interesting are not so by nature, but because we took the trouble of paying attention to them
.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

 

I saw two movies this weekend. Contagion, for the first time, and Colombiana for the 2nd.

Viewing a movie for the second time, much like reading a book, allows the opportunity to evaluate and inspect what either makes the story work, or remain vibrant in your mind, or the memories of its plot and characters, if you can recall them, slink into the recesses of the forgotten.

I was not excited at the thought of seeing Colombiana a second time.

Yet now as I write, I realize my hesitation came not from the quality of the movie itself, but quite the opposite.

The story of a young woman, who in losing her parents to a villainous killing at the age of 9, then seeking revenge, Colombiana is clearly a character driven story.

Contagion on the other hand, involves many characters whose roles work to tell the story of not a person, but rather display the effect of a rapidly mutating virus gone wild in its activity of infecting and killing people who catch it.

A plot-driven film, Contagion shows what happens when protagonist of a story is not the or a character, but rather the central event or occurrence that topples the first in a string of dominoes, with each domino that falls giving rise to an episode.

Movies like Contagion offer much in the way of enticing viewers through the star casts they employ. With Academy Award Winners Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, and top drawing actors Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, and Sanaa Lathan, Contagion presents as a movie-goer’s delight.

And yet the most riveting stories, those whose actions and occurrences move us to tears, anger or sheer silence rest upon a plot of that flows out of character.

More specifically, the best stories turn on a plot driven by the internal conflict of its central character.

Cataleya Restrepo, played by Zoe Saldana of Avatar, sets about killing those who murdered her parents.

But in so doing she not only encounters greater losses, but also destroys any hope of creating for herself what those who killed her parents stole–Cataleya’s family.

Even the name, Cataleya, which is the Genus name for over 100 species of orchids grown across the Caribbean and South America establishes the protagonist around which the story swirls.

Colombiana , like all good stories involves relationships, interactions that through the events of the movie reveal the protagonist’s personality–their strengths, weaknesses, hopes, dreams, and the ultimate devastations they experience in either abandoning their goal, or achieving it.

Writers experience a story or journey each time we craft a novel or story and see it through the various phases of editing, re-writing and re-fining.

Revising sits at the very heart of crafting engaging and entertaining fiction.

The relationship we have with the protagonist of our stories, when examined reveals a story all its own.

Unlike movies that possess the ability to create highly stimulating images that can mask a lack of story, or offer the possibility of incredible special effects that when stripped away leave the hard truth of a story that lacks energy and verve, fiction–words on the printed page–have but one time-proven way of holding the reader’s attention.

A character with whom the reader can identify and for whom the reader holds concern about her or his survival.

Mystery writer, Elizabeth George suggests the best stories center on a character for whom the plot has landed them in a pickle of a jam that drives the reader to turn each page to learn about their welfare.

We want to know.

And out of this need to know the fate of the main character we read.

And we feel.

We emote, which according to Aristotle forms the ultimate purpose of watching drama.

Catharsis.

While over-the-top movie scenes can bring us to the brink of what feels like an emotion, a pseudo-feeling, the words of a story either move us to turn the next page, or instill regret in having purchased the book.

The most engaging fiction turns on a dime of relationships, that of the character with her or himself in the larger conundrum of interactions with others.

Conflict rising from the depths of the intra-personal churning in the ocean of the interpersonal always makes for steamy drama.

And then there is the layer on which we engage and interact with our characters, embodiments and personifications of aspects of ourselves, those we have met and our evolution as a person in the grist mill of interactions held the web of relationships that shape our lives and define us as a person.

Analysis of these can lead to a lifetime of writing.

Which makes me wonder just why writers choose to bring their stories alive with a cast of characters, neither one central to the story, when so much of ourselves and who we are as a person cries out to be heard?

It’s certainly easier and requires less time to write a story from the eyes of more than one character.

Like the movie that employs a string of parallel lives, a novel that presents its story through an ensemble cast of lives offers much in the way of action and happenings, but most often leaves little time and room for the reader to sink into the lives of a character.

Fiction has but two basic plots,” John Gardner says. “A person goes on a journey. Or a new person comes to town.”

The first reveals itself as the basic plot of character-driven stories.

The latter leaves room for choice.

Is the person who comes to town the protagonist?

Or is it the town?

In this way the author as creator gets to play god.

As the all pervading force fr0m whose imagination the story springs we choose the object of our focus–ourselves, and/or the various aspects of our personality, or the events that have rendered us as we are.

What movie did you last see?

What book did you last read?

Where do you place your focus as a writer?

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”
Albert Einstein

To this I submit, “Are you the miracle? Or is it all that has happened in your life?”

Life experience suggests that a little of both go into creating what we call the unexplained luck of moments and persons we encounter and become in those moments.

What grips our attention as an author depends as much on who we are as the events that have shaped our lives.

 

 

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