Writing and Shit – part 27 – Come on, that’s just not realistic



Oh dear. It’s like Mr But has taken over the section titles. He’s making a bid for total power.

Mr But has more to say. I’m going to let him speak for as long as he wants:

You’re taking examples from Hollywood movies – The Karate Kid and Rocky – that are already all about fighting. The stories I want to tell are nothing like this. I know you’ve said that these kind of power struggles can equally take place in a nunnery, but you’re forcing a kind of unsubtle version of human relationships onto us. We’re not Hollywood. Most of life – perhaps all of life – is nothing like that at all. People generally get on quite well with one another. It’s just that they face difficulties in trying to be happy or find love or stay healthy. Those are the kinds of story I want to tell – not these exaggerated muscle-fests. The example you gave of the two brothers at school. That would never happen. Changes that big in who people really are out there in the world just don’t take place. It’s a fantasy, not reality.

Some stories, I agree, are wish fulfilment. They are comforting tales of victory against the odds that we can enjoy because we like seeing bullies beaten and justice done.


What I’m trying to do, in perhaps an exaggerated way, is guide you away from writing non-scenes in non-stories.

Hollywood is the most successful and influential storytelling industry in human history. We exist, as storytellers, within a world where people’s expectation of what makes a good story is influenced by movies. And yet, at the same time, the most typical conversation you’ll overhear when you come out of a movie adapted from a book is that the movie wasn’t as good as the book.

Hollywood has a tendency toward telling the strongest story – that is, as I’ve defined it, the story that involves the greatest zap of story energy. And the story energy comes from the most radical shift in power relations within the shortest space of time.

(I haven’t yet talked specifically about reversals, but I will soon.)

Hollywood’s desire to tell stories involving the most radical shift in power relations means that it ends up telling and retelling the same story just with bigger and bigger special effects.


Q: Is it more exciting, from Hollywood’s point of view, for what is in peril to be one person in a car or thirty people in a bus?

A: Thirty people in a bus.

Q: Is it more exciting, after you’ve already had thirty people in a bus in peril, to have another thirty people in peril in a bus or three hundred people in a small Californian town.

A: Small Californian town.

Q: Is it more exciting to have the small town, or the whole of L.A.?

A: Well, L.A., obviously.

Q: The whole of L.A. or the whole of America?

A: Might as well have America.

Q: The whole of America or the whole world? (Represented by well-known national icons such as the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal.)

A: The Whole World, and every building that’s ever appeared inside a snow-globe.

This is why Hollywood’s stories are so often about saving everyone on the planet from total annihilation.

Exercise: Think about this: What is the highest number of people you’ve put at risk, or killed off, in one of your stories? One or a billion or nine billion? Or more? Does this answer tell you anything about the genre you’re writing in? Would escalation, or de-escalation, have moved your story into another genre?


Hollywood is generally more modest, though, than comics. In a comic like The Silver Surfer, it is often about saving everything in existence from total annihilation. In a recent run all worlds everywhere were destroyed then recreated from the mind of a single person.

Similarly, Doctor Who has escalated to the extent that the whole universe, past and future, is regularly what’s at stake. Though thrilling the first time, there’s no going beyond this – and the tone has become unremittingly hysterical. After you’ve saved the universe, everything else is an anticlimax.

Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, adapting a comic (The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin, and pencilled by George Pérez and Ron Lim), has changed Hollywood’s stakes to something more comic-like. Half of all living beings killed, then saved. Still not as many as Matt Smith’s Doctor Who brought back.

So, Mr But, I agree with you entirely about Hollywood not being realistic.

It’s mostly to do with –


Which can now be fulfilled.

One thought on “Writing and Shit – part 27 – Come on, that’s just not realistic

  1. Pingback: Writing and Shit – part 26 – Scenes | tobylitt

Comments are closed.