Thursday, March 25, 2010

People Will Talk III – Howard Hawks: Plot is Dead

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

Some people have gone so far as to relegate plot to the background or abandon it entirely. Director, Howard Hawks, interviewed in Peter Bogdanovich’s Who The Devil Made It, Ballantine, 1997, p. 356, said:
I...decided that audiences were getting tired of plots and, as you know, Rio Bravo and Hatari! have very little in the way of plot - more characterization and the fun of just telling a story. And it worked out very well. People seem to like it better than the other way. I don’t mean that if a great story comes along you shouldn’t do it, but I think the average plot is pretty time-worn. TV has come in and they have used so many thousands of plots that people are getting tired of them. They’re a little too inclined to say - if you lay down a plot - “Oh, I’ve seen this before.” They lose interest. But if you keep them from knowing what the plot is you have a chance of holding their interest. And it leads to characters who motivate your story: it’s because the character believes a situation happens, not because you write it to happen.
This observation bothered me for a long time because I kept wanting to say, “No, I don’t want plot to be dead. I, as a writer, need it!” But I realized that it was merely dead for Hawks. As we have seen since he said those words, plots have continued to work and even flourish. But it is true that writers have their work cut out for them: they need to know what’s been done, and they need to find ways to make their writing fresh. # 
Lee A. Matthias
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