'Get Low' on storytelling

  • September 5, 2010
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Movie poster of "Get Low"

If I were teaching a writing class right now, I would require all my students to go see the new movie, Get Low, with Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray and Lucas Black. Sure that’s an all-star cast, but that’s not the reason for my insistence.

For those who study narrative drive, this movie is masterful in its storytelling.

My writing guru, Sol Stein explains in his book, Stein on Writing, that readers (viewers) are like dogs on a trail; they have picked up a scent. It is the writer’s job to keep “the dogs” sniffing by dropping crumbs of information in the unfolding mystery.

Driving the Depression-era fable of Get Low is the question of why Duvall, who is known by the locals as eccentric and mean, became a hermit living alone in his isolated cabin in the Tennessee woods for forty years. Throughout the movie, we get glimpses of the early, defining experience that made him, but we have to wait for the last ten minutes of the film to learn the full story. (The director’s one misstep is the ending; he should have cut the last two minutes, which did not add power to the story.)

“Writers are troublemakers,” Stein writes. “A pyschotherapist tries to relieve stress, strain, and pressure. Writers are not psychotherapists. Their job is to give readers stress, strain and pressure. The fact is that readers who hate those things in life love them in fiction.”

And that is the ‘Get Low’ on storytelling.

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