February 2, 2012
Someone once told me that interesting stories start like this:
- Establish what “normal” looks like in your world. If your story is set in present-day New York, you can do that quickly, during the opening credits. If your story is set in Middle Earth, it takes a lot longer.
- Break the routine. Frodo has to leave the shire. This is when the story really starts, and why you’re watching it. Today is different.
The remake of the classic 80s series, Miami Vice (2006), fails at number 2. For the whole film, two undercover vice squad detectives go undercover to bust a vice gang. Sure there’s fast cars, guns, all that, but it could of been so much better.
About fifteen minutes into the movie, Sonny and Ricardo (the protagonists) are talking to an informer by the side of the motorway. The informer walks in front of a truck and dies right in front of the detectives. In any real police force they would have immediately been put on sick leave, with counselling. That’s a break in the routine, and that’s the movie I want to see.
You could make it very dark. One of them goes back to work in a few days, leaves the story. The other, the focus, stays on sick leave. He realises he’s spent his whole live at work, often pretending to be someone else. No family, no friends, no community, no interests, and a very uncertain sense of identity. He mows his lawn. He slowly falls apart.
But it needn’t be dark. Our hero mows the lawn, and gets to know the lives of people on his street. He gets caught up in an intrigue that uses his elite vice-squadding skills. Something much below his usual level of investigation, but something that matters to this community. Maybe the old ladies’ house is going to be foreclosed by the bank. Whatever the plot device is, it allows our protagonist to change, to gain a new perspective on life.
A gardener going undercover to bust a crime ring is an interesting story. An undercover cop going undercover, isn’t. Stories are interesting when they change the people in them.