Recently, I was introduced to this amazing short film. I may have been procrastinating the metric tonne of assignments dumped on my head at the time (incidentally, that’s also my excuse for skipping last week’s post) but it’s something that I really want to share. If you’ve got a bit of time and you want to feel good about life definitely give it a watch.
While there’s no real plot to it, the film celebrates the small moments in life, the ones that often pass without a second glance. And I love that.
One of the images I love the most in that film is one that happens around the 1:12 mark. It’s an old lady making a bed. Something that’s so small and commonplace and yet it’s the moment that truly makes the film for me.
After thinking about it for a while (perhaps when I was supposed to be thinking about assignments and between the unhealthy amount of youtube videos I’ve watched over the past week) I think I’ve worked out why I love the image so much. It’s not the act. The act of making a bed is one of the most boring, routine tasks anyone could do and if I was forced to watch an entire sequence of it there would be no words for my level of frustration.
What appealed to me was the story behind that moment. It’s a single bed so it’s probably not her own. Adding to that impression is the number of cushions that are sitting on the bed. Pretty for decorative purposes but impractical for a day to day thing. Guest bed then. But then why isn’t the guest making it? Maybe because they’re a child? Maybe her grandchild? I could go on for ages with my speculation before I even get to what’s going in the lady’s mind as she performs such an ordinary task.
See, for me, it’s not the action itself that matters. It’s the underlying motivation and the ideas behind it that makes the image for me.
This idea of a moment having significant meaning can have great effect in writing. However, as a video, the moment must always have a story behind it. Forcing readers to sit through an everyday activity such as walking from one place to another, getting dressed or even simply eating a meal without giving them a reason or a story to care is frustrating, not to mention one of the fastest ways to get people with similar attention spans to mine to simply switch off.
The film can get away with it because it does not pause to focus on any one moment, instead showing a series of disconnected images, trying to convey the idea of the moment. Unfortunately, with narrative, that kind of idea would not work, coming off as more of a list than a thing that deserves swelling music. Therefore, narratives must focus on the single moment and create a story from there.
A while ago, a wrote a fanfic with the express goal of having the characters do very little in order to see if I could make it interesting. In order to do it, I had to have the motions mean something more and to put more effort into the context. Essentially, the characters get out of a car, walk into a house and then down a corridor. Thrilling stuff. However, I was able to make it interesting (maybe) by giving the scene some back story. They were walking down a hallway because they were going to see Kai’s grandfather. The conflict lay in the fact that there was a lot of dread associated with that meaning. The two characters dealt with the conflict in a different way, one of them trying to avoid the confrontation and the other putting on a brave face before storming the gates. Thus the walk from the car to the corridor suddenly had a purpose and had meaning. The characters didn’t do much but there was an underlying story that made that action meaningful.
It’s one of my pet peeves when stories descend into boring action without any meaning behind it. For example, I was reading a story the other day that halted in order for the main character to get dressed. There was no real reason for it, apart from, perhaps, giving the author a chance to describe exactly how awesome the outfit was (Unfortunately, due to my inability to picture description all I can tell you was that there was leather and maybe a fishnet something involved in the outfit somewhere).
So instead of getting into the action, I was instead forced to sit through a page or so of someone describing something that I do every day.
Does that mean that that scene necessarily had to be cut? Of course not. But it needed to be made interesting. There needed to be a reason that we were watching the character get dressed. Was she getting dressed for a purpose? Was she doing it slowly? Quickly? Did any of the piece of clothing mean something? Was it difficult to get dressed?
For example, what if the character had been moping around in her pyjamas for the past few days and only now was getting dressed because someone was forcing her to? Then each piece of clothing would be put on with resentment, each layer adding to the seething pit of rage until when she was finally ready, she was in a right mood.
Or, what if she was super excited to go somewhere and she was trying and failing miserably at getting dressed. You know, buttoning up her shirt wrong, trying to pull on socks before falling A over T, that sort of thing. Then her getting dressed would turn into a delay before the payoff. It would make the moment when she actually got to where she wanted to go so much sweeter because of the struggle she had to go through to get there.
I love the idea of the moment. It’s beautiful and it’s compelling. But it’s not the moment or the action itself that makes it that way. Rather, it’s the story behind it, the anticipation of moments to come. That’s what makes the moment for me and that’s what makes the mundane so incredibly special.
Do you have a favourite moment from the video? In general? Do you accept the challenge of writing something mundane in an interesting and compelling way? (You know you want to on that last point).