Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Lessons from Robin Hood 2

I was so looking forward to seeing the new Robin Hood film. Gladiator, with the same star and director, had been one of my favourite films of the past decade. A Knight’s Tale, with the same screenwriter, had been another. (Will in Nice Girls Do was very much based on Heath Ledger playing the main character.) It was, for me, a dream team. How could it fail…?

Lessons from Robin Hood: Plausibility

Fantasy is part of the deal when writing fiction, but it needs to be plausible within the world of the story. The real life Commodus wouldn’t have dreamt of fighting with a gladiator, but it’s fine in the film Gladiator because we’ve established that he’s a) bonkers b) obsessed with proving his worth on the battlefield c) jealous of gladiator Maximus. Robin Hood, despite having a legendary figure as the lead character rather than an actual one, just isn’t plausible.

Three examples:

* The yeoman archer is suddenly able to ride a horse, pass as a nobleman and fight as well as any trained knight. In A Knight’s Tale, it’s plausible that Will can do it because he’s been part of a knight’s entourage since a small child. It’s not plausible for Robin to do the same, and even less for his fellow archers.

* Sir Walter greets a perfect stranger and for no apparent reason, invites him to take the place of his dead son. Oh, and by the way, do sleep with my daughter in law. What?

* Later, Robin turns up at the barons’ council – late, but no matter, because those proud noblemen are just longing to listen to some bloke they don’t know and let him be leader.

Because none of it is plausible, it becomes silly. In the Harry Potter books, we know that there isn’t really a parallel wizarding universe, but it’s so meticulously detailed we happily suspend disbelief. Could anyone really sustain a publishing company with travel books for people who didn’t like travelling? I doubt it, but we believe it’s possible in The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. Again, it’s the attention to small details that make us believe.

Characters can’t do stuff just because it’s convenient for you as a writer. It has to be plausible. If you want them to save everybody’s life by swimming through stormy seas, establish early they can swim and make the distance one mile, not five hundred.

Next event - CHESTERFIELD! 10th June, at the library at 7.30 as part of the Derbyshire Lit Fest. (Details on p 49 of the brochure). And then it's Birmingham on the 23rd.


Liz Harris said...

Some really interesting comments about plausibility and continuity, Sarah. They certainly are things to think about.

P.S. I hate Russell Crowe and had decided not to see Robin Hood, even before I'd read your blog.

Liz x

Sarah Duncan said...

Oh dear, I hope I didn't put you off...he's v good in Gladiator. But not so good in this.