Jump to content


Photo

Idiot Plots and other storytelling fallacies


  • Please log in to reply
66 replies to this topic

#1 SDG

SDG

    Catholic deflector shield

  • Moderator
  • 8,996 posts

Posted 21 July 2009 - 11:36 AM

Split off from the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire thread.

Roger Ebert coined the term "Idiot Plot" to describe a story that wrings feature-length (or novel-length) complications from a situation that at any time could be easily resolved, but is not, not for any obvious or persuasive character-based or plot-level reason, but solely because then there would be no story.

One sub-variation on the Idiot Plot is what could be called the Rube Goldberg Plot fallacy, in which a character conceives a labyrinthine plot (long, involved, complex and with any number of opportunities for failure) to achieve an end that could be achieved much more simply, surely and directly, again without any obvious or persuasive character-based or plot-level reason, but solely to drive the action of a long story.

The evil plot in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire strikes me as a persuasive example of the Rube Goldberg plot fallacy. As I pointed out earlier:

QUOTE (SDG @ Jul 20 2009, 07:28 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
...you've got a confederate inside Hogwarts, you have the ability to make a Portkey and transport Harry anywhere you want. Who says the Portkey has to be an object that Harry will only touch (if at all) after an incredibly complex gauntlet with any number of opportunities for things to go wrong (and even if they go right the whole wizarding world is onto you instantly)?

Why don't we have Harry walking down the corridor in, like, chapter three or so, and Professor Moody sticks his head out of his office door and says, "Harry, can you come here a second? I want to show you something?" And Harry picks up a quill pen or something and boom, no more Harry, and it's hours or days before anyone suspects foul play.

Harris-Stone proposes a possible patch in response to this objection:

QUOTE (Harris-Stone @ Jul 21 2009, 11:46 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
In Harry Potter, Harry is being watched more closely than the reader...who is viewing everything through Harry's mind...might realize. If the fake Moody tried to kidnap Harry that way, I suspect BOTH Dumbledore and Snape would have been on him like a bat out of hell. Magic leaves traces and can be detected. It's just not that easy. And Voldemort doesn't initiate the whole Triwizard tournament. Like the Joker in Batman he just "spins" it to his advantage, using it to misdirect those guarding Harry so they aren't looking the right way when the attack comes. So to me anyway, it remains very plausable within the context of the world that's built.

I'm not convinced. First of all, the fake Moody was caught anyway, and I'm not sure there was any reason to think he wouldn't be. I'm not sure Voldemort would care about that anyway.

The bottom line, for me, is this. The villains' essential challenge was to get Harry to touch an object that was secretly a Portkey. There is just no way that making the object the Goblet of Fire, and then engineering Harry's entry into the Tri-Wizard Tournament and his eventual victory (not to mention survival), would strike anyone attempting to think practically about the problem as anything like a reasonable way of tackling that goal.

OTOH, I don't think that any and every story is equally susceptible to this sort of debunking. Specifically, I don't think that The Lord of the Rings is really seriously challenged by the oft-repeated objection that the Council of Elrond could simply have recruited the Eagles to fly the Ring into Mordor and drop it into the Mountain of Fire.

In this case the objection is easily and obviously answered: Gandalf could not fly the eagles over Mordor because the Eye of Sauron could hardly fail to notice such a violation of his airspace, nor the power of Sauron permit such trespass. He would pull out all the stops, send out the flying Nazgul and any number of other defenses, and the mission would simply fail.

This is a logical conclusion that is entirely consistent with the way that Aragorn and company mount a diversionary attack on Black Gate in order to allow the hobbits to pass unnoticed across the blasted Mordor landscape. If even a couple of unobtrusive hobbits -- quieter and less conspicuous even than Dwarfs -- need a diversion to make their way across the face of Mordor, a fortiori a company of giant Eagles could never fly in plain sight over the mountains of Ephel Duath or Ered Lithui and make their way to the Mountain of Fire. Possibly no diversion in the world would be enough to distract Sauron from that gambit.

To me it seems that Rowling simply didn't think through The Goblet of Fire from Voldemort's point of view. The plot is driven by the dramatic need to supply Harry with adventure and intrigue, not by the plot-level needs of Voldemort. By contrast, obviously Tolkien did think through The Lord of the Rings from the Council's point of view, and contrived a suitably compelling reason for the Council to choose as they did.

That's not to say that the Goblet of Fire problem couldn't be patched. Any number of patches could be devised out of thin air: Perhaps the Portkey has to be the Goblet of Fire because the magic of the Goblet just happens to be uniquely of a sort to mask a Portkey spell, and any other Portkey object on Hogwarts ground would be detected by Dumbledore ... or perhaps the rite to restore Voldemort requires the blood of an enemy that is also a champion who has just won a great victory, even if he was more or less forced into it ... etc., etc.). But the story itself doesn't appear to provide any obvious support to such a theory, the way that Tolkien's story does provide support to the objection to the Eagle plan.

QUOTE (Nezpop @ Jul 21 2009, 08:23 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
And really, couldn't you play this game pretty successfully with any book or film?

I don't think so. A well-crafted story should hold up to scrutiny. Little holes can be easily forgiven; large holes -- the kind where the whole story blows up, even within the rules of the world, if the audience asks one question -- should be patched. If not, they constitute a more or less serious narrative problem.

QUOTE
I think it just is a matter at where one draws the line of suspension of disbelief... man is Batsuit fights crime-okay. Invinicble man from another planet who can fly and punch stuff really hard-a little tougher for some... and so on. smile.gif

I disagree. Suspension of disbelief properly applies to the premise or rules of the sub-created world -- not to the decisions characters make within that world. The whole point of a sub-created world in which men wear batsuits and bullets bounce off aliens is to say "Suppose you had a world like this -- what then?"

The "Suppose" part is where the storyteller has the right to ask for suspension of disbelief; the "What then?" part is where the audience has the right to ask to be persuaded by convincing, consistent thinking-through of implications.

That's why I noted in my Fantastic Four 2 review that I can accept cosmic ray super powers, but not four celebrity superheroes getting bumped to coach on an overbooked flight. The former is merely impossible; the latter is ridiculous. It's like how Chesterton's Father Brown commented in "The Curse of the Golden Cross" that he could more readily accept a story about Gladstone in the last hours of his life being haunted by the ghost of Parnell than a story about Gladstone wearing his hat to meet the Queen of England, slapping her on the back and offering her a cigar. The improbability of the latter is a more serious objection than the mere impossibility of the former.

Other examples of Idiot Plots or Rube Goldberg Plots? Other thoughts?

Edited by SDG, 07 August 2009 - 06:02 AM.


#2 mrmando

mrmando

    Lassie, the Barbarian Musical Thinker

  • Member
  • 3,636 posts

Posted 21 July 2009 - 01:01 PM

There's always Hamlet.

#3 SDG

SDG

    Catholic deflector shield

  • Moderator
  • 8,996 posts

Posted 21 July 2009 - 01:11 PM

QUOTE (mrmando @ Jul 21 2009, 02:01 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
There's always Hamlet.

Can you clarify? You're not talking about the essential device of Hamlet's inaction, are you? Like you wouldn't have a story if Hamlet just acted?

I think most people would agree that's a character-based reason -- ie, the whole premise of Hamlet, what the story is essentially about, is a guy whose character results in agonizing instead of action.

By contrast, Harry Potter is not essentially about a villain whose character requires him to take incredibly labyrinthine approaches to problem-solving.

Edited by SDG, 21 July 2009 - 01:14 PM.


#4 mrmando

mrmando

    Lassie, the Barbarian Musical Thinker

  • Member
  • 3,636 posts

Posted 21 July 2009 - 03:26 PM

Ah, I see what you're driving at. Yes, I was thinking of Hamlet's near-endless vacillation.

Well, doesn't just about every Bond villain have the same problem as Voldemort? I mean, I haven't seen the film of Dr. No, but in the novel the good doctor devises a hellish obstacle course for Bond that involves crawling through an increasingly hot metal pipe, dueling a giant squid, and enduring an entire Frankie & Annette film festival, the object being to see just how far Bond can go before he succumbs. Obviously the doctor could've saved a lot of time & expense by just emptying a Smith & Wesson into Bond when they first met. Would you say that's a character-based or a plot-based flaw?

I am thinking now of Season 5 of 24, which I mentioned over in the 24 thread. Around Episode 16, Jack Bauer comes into possession of a digital recording that incriminates the president in the terrorist plot du jour. Instead of popping the memory card into his government-issued PDA and uploading it to his cronies at CTU, Jack spends several fruitless episodes trying to deliver the recording personally, for no apparent reason.

Edited by mrmando, 21 July 2009 - 03:28 PM.


#5 Cunningham

Cunningham

    Easy, Prescient, Interpersonal. Previously Solishu.

  • Member
  • 1,217 posts

Posted 21 July 2009 - 04:05 PM

QUOTE
Well, doesn't just about every Bond villain have the same problem as Voldemort? I mean, I haven't seen the film of Dr. No, but in the novel the good doctor devises a hellish obstacle course for Bond that involves crawling through an increasingly hot metal pipe, dueling a giant squid, and enduring an entire Frankie & Annette film festival, the object being to see just how far Bond can go before he succumbs. Obviously the doctor could've saved a lot of time & expense by just emptying a Smith & Wesson into Bond when they first met. Would you say that's a character-based or a plot-based flaw?
Funny you mention Bond. Immediately after watching Quantum of Solace, I thought to myself, "His evil scheme is to monopolize the water resources of Bolivia by re-routing their aquifers?" THAT is an idiot plot.

#6 MattPage

MattPage

    Bible Films Geek.

  • Member
  • 4,190 posts

Posted 21 July 2009 - 05:10 PM

Collateral - why not just kill Foxx?

(See COllateral Thread for the other 69 reasons why this film had an idiot plot)

Matt

#7 SDG

SDG

    Catholic deflector shield

  • Moderator
  • 8,996 posts

Posted 21 July 2009 - 05:38 PM

QUOTE (mrmando @ Jul 21 2009, 04:26 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Ah, I see what you're driving at. Yes, I was thinking of Hamlet's near-endless vacillation.

Right. But Hamlet's not vacillating because he's an idiot, he's vacillating because that's his character. An idiot plot is one where the characters have to be idiots in order to avoid solving their problems (but the story isn't a story specifically and deliberately about idiots -- that's different).

QUOTE (mrmando @ Jul 21 2009, 04:26 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Well, doesn't just about every Bond villain have the same problem as Voldemort? I mean, I haven't seen the film of Dr. No, but in the novel the good doctor devises a hellish obstacle course for Bond that involves crawling through an increasingly hot metal pipe, dueling a giant squid, and enduring an entire Frankie & Annette film festival, the object being to see just how far Bond can go before he succumbs. Obviously the doctor could've saved a lot of time & expense by just emptying a Smith & Wesson into Bond when they first met. Would you say that's a character-based or a plot-based flaw?

It's a grey area, but I'd be inclined to give that one the benefit of the doubt. The key issue here is not so much the rationality or non-rationality of the end for which the villain chooses to act, but the rationality or non-rationality of how that end is related to the chosen means. So a sane villain might just kill Bond, but given a crazy one curiously fixated on discovering "how far Bond can go," I'm willing to spot him his torturous gauntlet of metal pipes, giant squids and all. OTOH, give me a villain whose stated goal is not, say, to psych out the hero with head games related to the Tri-Wizard Tournament, but merely to kidnap him by arranging for him to touch a designated enchanted object -- and then have him act toward that end by arbitrarily choosing an object that will unnecessarily require incredibly labyrinthine contrivances to get the hero to touch it, not for any reason that has anything to do with anything we're told or can guess about the villain's psychology, but simply because it makes a better story, and I find that ... unpersuasive.

QUOTE
I am thinking now of Season 5 of 24, which I mentioned over in the 24 thread. Around Episode 16, Jack Bauer comes into possession of a digital recording that incriminates the president in the terrorist plot du jour. Instead of popping the memory card into his government-issued PDA and uploading it to his cronies at CTU, Jack spends several fruitless episodes trying to deliver the recording personally, for no apparent reason.

Yep, that sounds like it fits the bill. On a related note, though it's only an idiot plot twist rather than an idiot plot, I remember an episode of Lois & Clark in which Superman had to fly a 3.5" floppy disc to various locations to install crucial software on certain computers, because -- they specifically told us -- the program on it couldn't be transmitted electronically. Riiight. It's a MAGIC 3.5" floppy! But that's only stupid plotting, not the same as a bona fide Idiot Plot.

#8 mrmando

mrmando

    Lassie, the Barbarian Musical Thinker

  • Member
  • 3,636 posts

Posted 21 July 2009 - 06:00 PM

QUOTE (SDG @ Jul 21 2009, 03:38 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Yep, that sounds like it fits the bill. On a related note, though it's only an idiot plot twist rather than an idiot plot, I remember an episode of Lois & Clark in which Superman had to fly a 3.5" floppy disc to various locations to install crucial software on certain computers, because -- they specifically told us -- the program on it couldn't be transmitted electronically. Riiight. It's a MAGIC 3.5" floppy! But that's only stupid plotting, not the same as a bona fide Idiot Plot.

They should've said the computers in question had modems that maxed out at 9600 baud, and thus it was actually faster for Superman to fly the disk around than to wait for the software to upload over the Internet.

Edited by mrmando, 21 July 2009 - 06:01 PM.


#9 Joel C

Joel C

    Member

  • Member
  • 498 posts

Posted 21 July 2009 - 07:00 PM

As for the Harry Potter plot, it's much simpler than that. In the scene near the end of the film where Voldemort rises from his sickly form back to his former glory, he uses Harry's blood for the necessary mixture to gain his strength, as Harry is the alleged "Enemy" from whom blood is "forcibly taken". Voldemort was setting up Harry to be sent to the graveyard for that specific purpose; if the fake Moody had killed Harry in the story preceding that scene, it would have ruined the whole thing. Voldemort was supposed to kill Harry after gaining his form and strength, but Harry escaped; so naturally, the fake Moody felt it necessary to kill him when he returned (which, of course, he failed to do).

As for why Harry is allowed to live in other stories, it's mostly in regard to Voldemort's ego. He wants to be the one to kill Harry, and it would basically be treason for any of his underlings to take away his greatest desire.

That's my best estimation, and I think it explains it pretty well.

#10 mrmando

mrmando

    Lassie, the Barbarian Musical Thinker

  • Member
  • 3,636 posts

Posted 21 July 2009 - 07:51 PM

No, Joel, SDG's objection is not that the fake Moody doesn't kill Harry, but that there are much simpler ways of getting him to the graveyard.

#11 Crow

Crow

    Alaskan Malamute

  • Member
  • 1,419 posts

Posted 21 July 2009 - 11:05 PM

One can consider many Westerns and action films would have turned out differently if the bad guys could aim a gun properly, or if a six-shooter pistol was unable to shoot more than six bullets.

#12 Harris-Stone

Harris-Stone

    Member

  • Member
  • 83 posts

Posted 22 July 2009 - 12:44 AM

QUOTE (mrmando @ Jul 21 2009, 07:51 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
No, Joel, SDG's objection is not that the fake Moody doesn't kill Harry, but that there are much simpler ways of getting him to the graveyard.


There are at least two ways to object to the plot of the story. One is aesthetic. For example there are plenty of people with good literary taste who simply don't like The Lord of the Rings. (I'm not one of them.) They try to read it because they've heard its good and bog down somewhere. The other is what we're talking about in this thread, that the plot doesn't make sense within its own suppositions. This is a different and more severe criticism.

I believe a close reading of the Harry Potter series argues against Goblet of Fire having an idiotic plot. If one possess no aesthetic objection to a baroque story line, it makes sense. To argue this, we need to look closely at the story. In particular, we need to see it the way the character Voldemort does, since he is the one accussed of excess, "idiotic" action within the plot.

Why doesn't Voldemort order the fake Moody, his "loyal servant" at Hogwarts, to simply kidnap Harry to the graveyard using a portkey without the fuss of the tournament?

To answer this, we must begin with some facts about the Wizarding World, the world of magic.

1) The nature of portkeys. Once the object has been turned into a portkey, it can either go at a particular time or can be set to go when ANYONE touches it. Moody cannot "hand" the portkey to Harry, because as soon as he picked it up, it would take HIM. Harry has to find it. This creates a big risk. What if the wrong person touches the portkey instead? One way around this is to use a Portkey set to go at a particular time. But this is still problematic. If Harry for some reason doesn't hold the portkey and keep holding it before it goes, if he puts it down for any reason, it will go by itself.

2) the nature of distance and communication in the Wizard world. Because of apparating, distance is meaningless. If Harry is taken to the graveyard and Dumbledore has any inkling where Harry he is, he and the order of the Phoneix can arrive there almost within seconds. This is in fact what happens in the next book.

3) the nature of magic. Dark and complex magic is dangerous and unpredictable. One cannot always be assured of the results one expects. One must be prepared for the unexpected. Voldemort cannot feel confident that returning himself to a body will be trivial or easy. He requires complete control over his surroundings if he's going to succeed.

4) The Triwizard Tournament -- once a contestant is entered, they cannot back out. Nor can anyone take them out. Putting ones name in the Goblet of Fire constitutes a binding magical agreement. Once Harry is in the tournament, Dumbledore cannot keep him from participating in the events. It places Harry beyond Dumbledore's control.

4) Dumbledore. The most powerful wizard in the world probably. The only wizard Voldemort fears. What Dumbledore can and cannot do is unknown. Which is probably partly why Voldemort fears him. It is worth noting the Voldemort does not succeed in killing Dumbledore himself and when he "does," he uses an intermediary.

5) Harry Potter -- unknown to Harry and the reader, but revealed eventually in the series -- is very closely guarded by Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix. He is not easy, even for someone at Hogwarts, to get at undetected. Witness what happens in book III when Sirius Black, who believes Harry is in danger, tries to get into Harry's dorm.

With all of the above in mind, let's not step into the shoes of Voldemort at the beginning of Goblet of Fire.

a. He's extremely weak and vulnerable. He barely has a body. He has to be carried like a baby from place to place. If Dumbledore or the Ministry found out where he was, he would be in terrible danger. Therefore, he is very, very afraid. But being Voldemort, he doesn't show it.

b. He prefers to operate in secrecy, keeping his thoughts to himself, when possible working through intermediaries. This has been his modus operendi since boyhood.

c. He is in disgrace, having been defeated by a baby. He needs to prove himself strong... the Dark Lord who knows to regain the shattered allegiance of his followers.

d. He isn't completely sure which followers are still with him.

e. Because of the nature of distance in the wizarding world, the unpredicatability of magic, the unknown but potent powers of Dumbledore, and his own terrible weakness, Voldemort must get Harry to the graveyard with no one realizing he's gone. This is the only secure way to be sure his plan to regain his body, power and followers will work as he intends. This is essential.

So at this point, if you are Voldemort, knowing how closely Harry is being watched, knowing the problems you've already had with him when you yourself were actually in Hogwarts (Book 1). You will not see getting Harry to the graveyard as simple. Nor will you be content ordering a straightforward abduction. Dependent on secrecy as you are, as obssessed with it as your are, you will want to be absolutely sure to bring Harry to you undetected. How can you do this?

The answer is misdirection. Make the circumstances when Harry disappears point to something other than what is actually happening. Confuse your enemy. Make him think you're trying to kill Harry at Hogwarts, when what you're really trying to do is get him away.

Given all of this, the Triwizard tournament perfectly suits Voldemort's purposes.

1) Once Harry is entered, Voldemort can know exactly where Harry will be during the events. Dumbledore cannot protect him as usual, because that would violate the binding magical rules of the tournament.

2) There is every reason, given the danger of the tournament, to believe someone wants to kill Harry. There is no reason to believe someone is using it to spirit Harry away. So the real purpose is concealed, something Voldemort must find most attractive.

3) In the final event, due to its nature, no one knows Harry is gone. So Voldemort can have him without worrying whether the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore at the fore, will come blasting in at any moment.

4) Given the need to protect Harry from whoever is trying to get him via the Tournament, actually gives Moody the latitude to cover his real intentions while trying to set Harry up. By helping Harry, he wins Harry's trust and Dumbledore's so when the time comes, no one including Dumbledore suspects a thing.

A key point is that Voldemort has nothing to do with the Tournament happening. He doesn't go to the length of creating a diversion himself. Rather more elegantly, he takes advantage of the circumstances he finds at hand.

Given the nature of portkeys, ensuring that Harry and only Harry touch one that is lying around somewhere, being certain no one is aware of his absence or suspects Moody's role in it, would be quite difficult. I also suspect Voldemort likes twisting the tournament to his own purposes simply because its one more way to assert that its all about him, to convince himself he is the greatest wizard who ever lived by making a time honored tradition uniquely his own. It appeals to him astheticallly.


I do not see, given the supposition that the Tournament in happening anyway, how Voldemort could find an easy or more elegant way to carry out his objectives. For me, this plot is far from idiotic. Though others are of course free to disagree.

Edited by Harris-Stone, 22 July 2009 - 01:01 AM.


#13 Peter T Chattaway

Peter T Chattaway

    He's fictional, but you can't have everything.

  • Member
  • 29,506 posts

Posted 22 July 2009 - 02:15 AM

Brilliant, Harris-Stone. Absolutely brilliant.

It doesn't affect my own criticisms of the book, of course. But that's another subject altogether. smile.gif

#14 Harris-Stone

Harris-Stone

    Member

  • Member
  • 83 posts

Posted 22 July 2009 - 09:08 AM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Jul 22 2009, 02:15 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Brilliant, Harris-Stone. Absolutely brilliant.

It doesn't affect my own criticisms of the book, of course. But that's another subject altogether. smile.gif


Thanks Peter.

I think it's fair to point out that all of the detail I mentioned was setup by the author for her purposes. Aesthetically, this won't be everyone's cup of tea. But it certainly suits her desire to entertain, and many readers desire to be entertained, to have Harry go through the whole triwizard thing. It's dramatic and even comic when someone who is basically just a high school student trying to get on with being a high school student gets dragged into something way over his head and manages to succeed in spite of his own inabilities amd shortsightedness. Certainly not a traditional hero, but a traditional type of hero. In the Authurinan stories, Percival is the ignorant bumbler who succeeds in getting the Grail, where others, more noble, have failed. He succeeds because of his innocence. A more modern version, who is "innocent" only in being singularly selfish and egotistical, is Inspector Clouseau. Another would be "The Dude" in the Big Lebowski. Where JKR turns things on their head, is that Harry really does turn out to be a more traditional hero by the end of the series. His ignorance and bumbling are because he's still really just a relatively ordinary child, a kind of everyman, albeit one at the center of a huge struggle through no fault or desire of his own. I suppose what JKR has done with Harry, is to synthesize several different traditional types of characters into one role. He becomes a hero; he's a Percival type bumbler, rather selfish, who gets away with it in spite of himself, and he's an Everyman, one without superiour qualitities of intellect or strength who we relate to.

Goblet pushes this contrast to the fore. In that I think JKR does something unique. In the previous novels, Harry is more conventionally heroic, sparing Wormtongue, saving Ginny in the Chamber of Secrets, etc. In Goblet he's Percival, forced into situations over his head and abilities where, until the graveyard, he mostly fails to rise to the occasion. (In the lake, he does try to save everyone, to his own detriment, which is heroic.) In the graveyard, Harry the hero fully returns, choosing to fight and defy Voldemort, instead of beg for his life, in spite of being absolutely outmatched. And in the end of the book, in a piece of brillant writing, Harry is saved by grace.

I think the biggest plot hole in the series is why Dumbledore, who after all knows how important Harry is, who is watching him closely, allows Harry time after time to get himself in so much danger. The worst being in the first book, when he faces Voldemort directly. It's possible Harry evades Dumbledore's watchers and surprises Dumbledore himself with his actions. At any rate, I don't envy the man. Also, I believe JKR has Dumbledore himself address this at some point. The answer being that Harry needs to be allowed to grow if he is to do what he must and become who he must. Smothering him in protection won't accomplish that. As a parent, I can relate to this dilemma!)

Edited by Harris-Stone, 22 July 2009 - 09:32 AM.


#15 David Smedberg

David Smedberg

    Ha! Mush.

  • Member
  • 1,117 posts

Posted 22 July 2009 - 11:07 AM

I still don't buy it, Harris-Stone.


Edited by David Smedberg, 22 July 2009 - 11:13 AM.


#16 pilgrimscrybe

pilgrimscrybe

    Member

  • Member
  • 36 posts

Posted 22 July 2009 - 11:09 AM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Jul 22 2009, 03:15 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Brilliant, Harris-Stone. Absolutely brilliant.


Wow--seconded, heh.

#17 David Smedberg

David Smedberg

    Ha! Mush.

  • Member
  • 1,117 posts

Posted 22 July 2009 - 11:17 AM

I should probably note that none of this has ever occurred to me before... that's just part of my personality: I tend to immerse myself so deeply in the fantasy world of the book that possible objections to either its rules or to the ways its characters behave within them don't surface unless others bring them to light. Goblet of Fire remains my favorite book in the series, largely because of the twist. I received it when I read it as possibly the most perfect piece of popular fiction I had read since Speaker for the Dead; and that's high praise, from me.

#18 SDG

SDG

    Catholic deflector shield

  • Moderator
  • 8,996 posts

Posted 22 July 2009 - 11:21 AM

I agree with Peter that Harris-Stone's reading is, indeed, ingenious, but I'm also with David S. in remaining unconvinced. I won't contest the point further at this time, though. smile.gif

QUOTE (Crow @ Jul 22 2009, 12:05 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
One can consider many Westerns and action films would have turned out differently if the bad guys could aim a gun properly, or if a six-shooter pistol was unable to shoot more than six bullets.

This is a different phenomenon. Good guys shooting better than bad guys can be considered either deus ex machina or genre convention, whichever you like. Either way, it's not the same sort of issue as a plot structure that depends for its complications on obvious solutions being gratuitously ignored (by characters whose inability to see/choose the obvious solution is not otherwise rooted in their essential characterization and motivations or in integral plot/world rules, but only in the writer's convenience). (E.g., no one would say, "Why don't the villains just solve the problem by shooting better?" Obviously they're shooting the best they can.)

QUOTE (David Smedberg @ Jul 22 2009, 12:17 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I should probably note that none of this has ever occurred to me before... that's just part of my personality: I tend to immerse myself so deeply in the fantasy world of the book that possible objections to either its rules or to the ways its characters behave within them don't surface unless others bring them to light.

That is my tendency too, but I have a critic friend who pushes me to think through the story from everyone's point of view and ask "Cui bono?" (who benefits?) regarding plot devices that commend themselves more on the basis of storytelling coolness than plausible character choices. (Why does the giant guard the bridge and challenge all comers? Obviously we all want the hero to have a challenge, but what's in it for the giant?)

FWIW, in the case of the Goblet of Fire objection, it was actually my brother who made the argument and convinced me of its persuasiveness. (I've emailed HS's exhaustive analysis to him ... I'm curious to see what he'll say. smile.gif )

Edited by SDG, 22 July 2009 - 11:23 AM.


#19 Harris-Stone

Harris-Stone

    Member

  • Member
  • 83 posts

Posted 22 July 2009 - 12:34 PM

QUOTE (David Smedberg @ Jul 22 2009, 11:07 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I still don't buy it, Harris-Stone.



A very good point. I'm also like you and SDG, when I'm reading I sink into the story. As an aspiring writer myself though, I also tend to look at from a technical point of view as well, just to see what I can learn about writing, etc. In this case, SDG's objections inspired me to look closer.

In response as to why VOLDEMORT doesn't do what you've rightly pointed out he could do...



SDG, I'm interested what your brother says. I certainly, in spite of this obssessive analysis I've done, could be wrong!

FWIW, my wife feels the following plot point from Order of the Phoenix, the next book, isn't believable.



QUOTE (SDG @ Jul 22 2009, 11:21 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
That is my tendency too, but I have a critic friend who pushes me to think through the story from everyone's point of view and ask "Cui bono?" (who benefits?) regarding plot devices that commend themselves more on the basis of storytelling coolness than plausible character choices. (Why does the giant guard the bridge and challenge all comers? Obviously we all want the hero to have a challenge, but what's in it for the giant?)


That's a great question and analytical tool! smile.gif

Edited by Harris-Stone, 22 July 2009 - 02:39 PM.


#20 MattPage

MattPage

    Bible Films Geek.

  • Member
  • 4,190 posts

Posted 22 July 2009 - 02:16 PM

QUOTE (SDG @ Jul 21 2009, 05:36 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
That's why I noted in my Fantastic Four 2 review that I can accept cosmic ray super powers, but not four celebrity superheroes getting bumped to coach on an overbooked flight. The former is merely impossible; the latter is ridiculous. It's like how Chesterton's Father Brown commented in "The Curse of the Golden Cross" that he could more readily accept a story about Gladstone in the last hours of his life being haunted by the ghost of Parnell than a story about Gladstone wearing his hat to meet the Queen of England, slapping her on the back and offering her a cigar. The improbability of the latter is a more serious objection than the mere impossibility of the former.

The Brown example is clever writing but poor statistics. Something impossible is always less likely to occur than something improbable. Gladstone's child could have been kidnapped and he had been told that if he ever wanted to see his child again he had to...yada yada yada. Likewise, getting bumped to coach? Easy. There's always people who hate celebrities, even superheroes. All it needs is for the bump decision maker to be one of them.

QUOTE (SDG @ Jul 21 2009, 11:38 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
(but the story isn't a story specifically and deliberately about idiots -- that's different).

...or else von Trier's "The Idiots" would be a shoo-in.

QUOTE (mrmando @ Jul 21 2009, 04:26 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Well, doesn't just about every Bond villain have the same problem as Voldemort? I mean, I haven't seen the film of Dr. No, but in the novel the good doctor devises a hellish obstacle course for Bond that involves crawling through an increasingly hot metal pipe, dueling a giant squid, and enduring an entire Frankie & Annette film festival, the object being to see just how far Bond can go before he succumbs. Obviously the doctor could've saved a lot of time & expense by just emptying a Smith & Wesson into Bond when they first met. Would you say that's a character-based or a plot-based flaw?

This is why "Collateral£ is such a good example. Cruise is meant to be a ruthless and efficient contract killer.

It's been so long since I saw "phonebooth" I can't remember why it qualifies, but I'm failry sure that a quick read of that post would remind me.

Also, does the end of Star Wars count? We'll make this whole invincible space station which will be indestructable but for this 2m square panel that will blow the whole thing up if shot. It's obvious enough for the rebels to be able to find after only a fairly brief perusal of the plans, but somehow the empire didn't think it was worth covering up or blocking at any point in the decades long process it would have taken to build the thing from those plans.

Matt

Matt