writing, writing tips

What I “Learned” about Storytelling from The Room

I’ve been wanting to see The Room for years, ever since I heard it was the Citizen Kane of bad movies. It got so I couldn’t ignore the hype, so I finally watched it the other night. Did it make it into my personal canon of so-bad-they’re good films, joining gems like Ishtar and Showgirls? No. But The Room‘s subversive—at times jaw-dropping—approach to storytelling taught me a lot. Apparently, I’ve been doing it all wrong. Here’s what I learned:

Establishing Characters and Motivations is for Suckers
Traditionally, a story introduces characters and gives them some goals and obstacles, and takes it from there. The Room spits in the face of such traditional narrative. Who is the (26-year-old) teenage boy at the beginning and why does he creepily follow Lisa and Johnny to the bedroom? Why does Lisa lie about Johnny hitting her yet stay with him while continuing an affair with Mark? Why did Denny get involved with buying/selling drugs when Johnny pays his rent and tuition? Who’s that guy we’ve never met before at the party who’s deeply invested in not only Lisa and Johnny’s relationship but the integrity of their friend group??? IT DOESN’T MATTER. The who, the why, these things are irrelevant.

Dangling Plotlines are Your Friend
Are you trying to tell a story people will be able to reasonably follow? Why would you do that? Why not leave people confused and unsatisfied instead? The secret is to introduce story elements… and then abandon them! Or not explain them! Allow The Room to enlighten you. Lisa’s mother “definitely” has cancer! Don’t worry about her, though, because it won’t be mentioned again after it’s revealed. Denny almost gets killed by a drug dealer! Rest easy, we won’t see that baddie again, nor will he be mentioned. Mark shows up at Johnny’s clean-shaven and it’s A Big Deal, but then the boys go outside to play football wearing tuxedos! What does that have to do with anything? Don’t bother your pretty little head about it. Coherent narration is so yesterday.

The Flatter the Dialogue, the Better
If your characters are at risk of sounding too much like real people, consider taking a page out of The Room‘s playbook to remedy that. Have conversations meander and pepper them with phrases like, “I don’t want to talk about it” to ensure zero character development or plot progress. Make sure characters use each others names way too much (“Why, Lisa? Why, Lisa?… I couldn’t go on without you, Lisa”). Add non sequiturs and abrupt segues, like when Johnny decides he no longer wants to discuss work with his friend so he asks him about his sex life. Make sure to repeat bits of key information, like Johnny not getting  his promotion, but for heaven’s sake, don’t offer any context, analysis, or implications in terms of the larger story. Try to start conversations the same way all the time (“Oh hai” being an obvious choice) and give characters a similarly banal way of exiting a scene (“I gotta go”). Still worried your dialogue might be too realistic? When in doubt, interject creepy, inappropriate laughter or chicken noises (“chip-chip-chip-chip-cheep-cheep!”).

Speaking of Repetition, Let’s Talk About Repetition
Got a love scene featured in your story? First, make it as awkward, dull, and unerotic as possible. Next, feature it again a few scenes later, provided it does absolutely nothing to move the story or characters forward. Got a fight scene? Good. Now add another fight scene, between same characters, right after it, only make it longer. Be careful you don’t make the story too exciting, though, so add lots of random dialogue-free scenes where characters repeatedly engage in recreational activities like jogging or football to offset all that heart-pounding action.

It’s Okay if Your Story is Boring and Baffling
In fact, if you follow the tips outlined above, it’s almost guaranteed. And if your story starts slipping into a coherent plot or your characters become too well-developed, just watch The Room and learn.

I gotta go.

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