I saw the movie LEGION today and thought it was a fun popcorn movie with some great action scenes.
There were also a lot of boring parts.
The movie lacked conflict.
And I’m not talking about the Big Conflict between the people trapped in the diner and the hordes of the possessed who want to exterminate them and kill the unborn child (because the child is The One…). Those scenes were creative and suspenseful. They made the movie.
But in-between the big action scenes, the characters have a tendency to speechify to each other. It would have been better — and more interesting — if the writer had thought up ways to deliver those messages not through long stretches of dialogue, but specific actions and moments of conflict among the characters.
I’m not talking Big Conflict, but little conflicts. Subtle conflicts. The conflicts of everyday life.
Conflict generates questions about what will happen next. You can’t just depend on the big central story question (Will these people survive the ‘extermination’? Will the baby be okay?) to maintain suspense and reader interest during that long middle stretch.
The challenge is to take the abstract points you want to make, whether about character or theme, and cast them within concrete, specific actions….that will make your readers curious and worried.
For example, two or three of the characters in the movie talk about being ‘bad’. The teenage girl tells us — tells us, in dialogue — that she was a ‘bad influence’ on her friends. But she never actually does anything bad (except wear a somewhat questionable outfit), so all we have is her word for it. How much more interesting it would have been if she had, say, stolen something early in the movie, and lied about it (conflict)…and then, later on, returned it, as a sign of character growth. Or if she had flirted with the hot guy who is too old for her — and come on to him — and generated some uneasy sexual tension (conflict).
We also learn that Charlie, the pregnant woman, “hates” her baby and tried to get an abortion, except some mysterious force — a “feeling like death” — came over her every time she thought about terminating the pregnancy. We know this because she says so. Couldn’t the writers have thought of some way to show us that supernatural feeling? Maybe Charlie wants or tries to do something that would harm the baby, but that ‘feeling’ won’t let her (conflict), which only deepens her resentment — and she demonstrates that resentment by defying the people around her and being physically reckless (conflict).
Let the reader have the satisfaction of connecting the dots, of making inferences.
Besides, when you rely just on dialogue to deliver theme and emotion, you’re in danger of writing something superficial and melodramatic. And boring. And maybe even hilarious (not in a good way).