What bad movies can teach you

I saw my first Mystery Science Theater movie many years ago. Space Mutiny. The idea of watching painfully bad movies may seem absurd, and it’s hard to explain what makes it so fun, but it is. Over the years I grew fond of Joel and Mike and the robots, and I have my preference as to which of the two men is funnier. (Notice how I’m not saying)?

But after watching a few, I also started to realize that many of those bad movies share a few common traits that make them bad, and I’m not talking about the quality of the acting or set pieces or special effects either. I also realized how watching them can help with my writing, by showing me what not to do.

1) Emphasizing the wrong scenes. A lot of bad movies will spend a long time following the characters as they drive from point A to point B, and they don’t use that time to develop the plot or the characters. Or they’ll spend an entire scene with the characters at a dance club while an entire song is played by the band, who are likely friends of the director. Again, there’s no plot development taking place.

Every scene in a book should serve a purpose, and that purpose shouldn’t be “because I wrote it, damn it, and it took forever.”

2) Continuity errors. Continuity errors come about when the director doesn’t care about correcting the mistakes made in filming. Now, many if not most movies have a small continuity error or two. Maybe the actor was holding the gun in his left hand and then suddenly it’s in his right. Or a piece of jewelry keeps flitting in and out of a scene. Those are easy to overlook with weeks of filming and numerous passes at editing. I’m talking the big, obvious continuity errors, like the characters running around in the daytime one minute and night the next. Or entire scenes that make no sense together. Those are hard to miss if you actually go over the film, and it tells me the director doesn’t care about getting even the big things right.

Even the most diehard outliner needs to make a pass over the book to make sure they haven’t made continuity mistakes.

3) Nonsensical plots. Not every MST3K movie shown has a nonsensical plot. Some would actually be decent if the entire movie were better. But most of the time, the movie makes no sense. A monster movie with a monster that never appears until about five minutes from the end. A science fiction movie with a random vampire scene in the middle of it.

“Ooh, ooh, wouldn’t it be cool if…” is not the way to plot a book. Everything has to be there for a reason. Save your awesome ninja unicorn zombies for a new series.


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