Sunday, May 24, 2009

Pale Writer

Last night, in a vain attempt to distract myself from thinking about ABNA, I watched Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider" on TMC. It was made in the 80s, but I'd never seen it. Yet as I watched, I got the feeling that maybe I had seen it and had forgotten. I started paying close attention to the story's arc -- which wasn't easy, since the movie was interrupted every 90 seconds or so by four or five minutes of commercials.

Anyway, the arc as I see it:

Mysterious stranger rides in. Bullies in town causing trouble. Sexual tension between stranger and good man's wife/intended. Offspring of good man's wife/intended infatuated with stranger, threatening relationship with parent. Violent incident forces mysterious stranger to dust off his six-shooter. Blows away the bad guys. Rides off, with good man's wife/intended's offspring calling after him.

After the final commercial... I mean, credits... rolled, I realized that I had seen the movie before. But it was called "Shane." It starred Alan Ladd. And it was made in 1953.

I'm not criticizing Clint Eastwood. (Hey, I've seen Dirty Harry.. I'm not stupid.) I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. My point is that the movie reinforced for me the challenge of putting new twists into a plot.

Case in point: I groaned out loud when I saw another Eastwood film, Gran Torino. The hero is a Korean war veteran who forms a friendship with a teenager. The hero of my novel, Bill Warrington's Last Chance, which by the way I finished writing well before Gran Torino hit the theaters, is a Korean war veteran who bonds with his teen-aged granddaughter.

We are all pale writers. (No, I could not resist that pun. Sorry.) Our blank pages come alive on the shoulders of myth and archetypes. Our challenge as writers is give them creative twists, to make the old stories new. So that when readers finish our books, we can hear them calling out, "Shane! Come back, Shane!"

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