Story, simplicity and wormholes

Paramount Pictures / Warner Bros / Legendary Pictures

Paramount Pictures / Warner Bros / Legendary Pictures

I saw “Interstellar” with one of my sons last week. Up until the last 30 minutes I thought it was one of the best movies I’d ever seen. But the ending made my head explode.

Here’s a good line from a review I stumbled upon by Bob Bloom of the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier: “The movie is complex and maddening, filled with concepts over the heads of most mere mortals, yet grounded in barely enough humanity to stimulate our senses.”

A good test of whether a story works for a mass audience is: How simply can you boil it down? Most good stories involve a sympathetic character who wants something and has to overcome obstacles to get it. Without giving too much away, here’s how “Interstellar” boils down:

Earth is in trouble. An astronaut gets chosen to help find a new home planet, but he has to leave his kids behind. The rest of the movie involves his struggle to return. And a lot of astrophysics.

This is a useful exercise with any story we write, to be sure readers can decipher it quickly. Headline writers do this for a living.

Taken to ridiculous extremes, this also becomes a fun party game. See if you can guess these movies from their oversimplified plots:

  1. Bored kid who forgot his coat wants some candy. Many die.
  2. A short guy gets sent to return some jewelry and finds adventure along the way.
  3. A powerful but unhappy man misses his self-propelled snow vehicle.
  4. Elderly man who worries about the weather takes extreme measures.
  5. Brash young man accidentally kills a goose, but gets over it.



Answers below.









Movie plot answers:


  1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  2. Lord of the Rings
  3. Citizen Kane
  4. Noah
  5. Top Gun


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