Friday, October 3, 2014

B-Movie Lessons: The Horrors of Spider Island and What You *Really* Want to Write About

After a long weekend full of football recently, I found myself craving a bad movie.  (Not that football isn't in many ways like a bad movie--except that the Mr. doesn't appreciate my witty quips when the involve the combination of his team and the term "butterfingers.")  So I cued up The Horrors of Spider Island.

First, let's clear one thing up. This is your spider:


Now then.  That's done.

It's not an uncommon phenomenon that crappy B-movies from the 1950s and 60s were thinly veiled covers for showing scintillating (for the time) images and suggestive (for the time) racy scenes.  Horrors is a prime example--the premise is that a troupe of "dancers" (ahem--they didn't cast the ballet dancer in the opening scene, just saying) is stranded on a remote island when their plane crashes en route to Singapore.  Said island is infested with giant spiders whose bite, inexplicably, turns people into were-spiders.


You don't see much of the giant spiders.  But you sure see a lot of scantily clad ladies.

Movies like this were released to dive theaters and drive-ins, where the point was often not watching the movie but sneaking some make-out time with one's significant other.

So, despite the name of the film and the occasional shot of a giant spider (work with me, let's pretend it actually looks like a spider rather than a bat puppet with extraneous legs), the movie is really about....


scantily clad ladies.

So bringing this back around to writing.

There are those times when it becomes abundantly clear that the story being told isn't REALLY what the book is about. This is a danger with any novel--writers have something to say, and sometimes that itch to *say* something comes at the expense of story.  There's a time when saying more than the story is a fine choice, masterful, even--when the sci-fi novel is a projection of current fears about technology, when the historical fiction piece is a commentary on current gender roles.  But this feels organic and natural--the story still takes precedence.  It's through the story that the larger elements take shape.

Sometimes, however, it feels like a pesky plot is intruding on the real reason for writing the story, like a giant spider at an otherwise enjoyable beach party.

Or perhaps the spy story is starting to take a backseat to the romantic subplot. Maybe the historical research in your novel is shaping up to take over the story itself.  Perhaps the romantic storyline is morphing into a family drama.  Sometimes a story starts with one premise but adopts others.  It pays to stop and examine--what is the purpose of this piece of writing?  I started out writing an espionage novel--am I still doing that?  Do I still want to be doing that?  I started out researching 19th century French Canadian mourning dress for a two-page section of my historical novel--I now have half a thesis on this topic.  Do I need to redirect this information into something else?

Every novel has a central theme and a main story arc.  Plenty of variation exists within those rules, but when the central theme is muddied or the main story arc splinters, it's time to re-evaluate.

Unless you like giant spider beach parties.  I won't judge.

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