A failure in story structure

Take a look at the video below.

 

Can you tell me what’s wrong with the video? No? Well I’ll tell you. I was not impressed. Maybe it’s because I’m an emotionless robot but the video failed to hit that sentimental mark. The idea was there, but when it came to executing the idea, it fell flat.

“But Zareth,” you say, “This video is about a 13-year-old boy sacrificing his childhood to run the household while still scoring top marks in a nation-wide examination! And it has a piano driven background music! How is this not sentimental? Stop being such a cold-hearted asshole.”

True… it has all the makings of a sentimental video, but still…

Let’s analyse the video, shall we?

 

Beginning

So the video begins with a voiceover from the 13-year-old teen. He proclaims that basketball was his first love. With that, the protagonist of the story (and his ‘first love’) is established.

 

OBSTACLE!!!Shit just got realThe obstacle is also introduced early in the video. So now we’ve got a hero (13-year-old teen), his first love (basketball) and an obstacle (his mom’s stroke) preventing him from being united with his love.

Classic hero storytelling structure. But we’re still missing something. Something that adds a bit of a spice. Something, or more accurately, someone who is a counterpart to the hero. That’s right, we need a motherfucking villain. Enter the dragon.

 

VillainA coach so evil that he is willing to kill 13-year-old boys who miss basketball practices. A coach so evil that our hero has a thousand yard stare from the many painful memories. Well, those memories will be painful when your coach is this guy:

 

Coach

Image credit to FailedCritics.com

“Do you know how to bounce the ball? Do you fucking know how to fucking bounce the ball??? ANSWER ME!”

Now we have our hero, his first love, his obstacle and the villain. All of which are established within twenty seconds of the video. So far so good. The question now is how will our hero overcome all the adversity to be reunited with his one, true love (i.e. playing basketball so that he doesn’t get killed by Terence Fletcher)?

The next few scenes are montages of our hero grocery shopping, buying lunch for his disabled mother, and managing the household finances. In the voiceover, the hero said that he “had to learn to run the family”. At least we’ve now established that our hero is being dragged away from his one, true love by the time-consuming task of taking care of his family at a young age.

We’ve also established that our hero is a filial son, which is the premise of the entire story. It’s also the title of the video.

Which brings us back to the main question, how will our hero overcome this adversity while still keeping his moral core intact (being a filial son)?

This is where the story starts derailing.

After the household montage, the video cuts to a scene showing a new dawn on the horizon:

 

A new dawn. Or is it?Is this it? Is this where they show how our hero overcome his adversity??? Will we get awesome training montages with Terence Fletcher screaming abuses at him? OMIGOSH!

Nope. Trololololol.

Instead it’s another household montage. But what irrationally pissed me off is when the hero said this in the voiceover:

 

WHAT THINGS???WHAT THINGS??? WHAT THINGS??? AND WHAT OTHERS???

To be fair, ‘some things’ implicitly refer to taking care of his mother and running the household. But that was already established in the first 20 to 30 seconds of the video, so why repeat them? I’m more confused by the ‘others’. You mean our hero has more than one love besides basketball? Man, Terence Fletcher is gonna be more than pissed.

 

Coach

Image credit to FailedCritics.com

BASKETBALL IS NOT YOUR FIRST LOVE! IT’S YOUR ONLY LOVE, YOU FUCKING INGRATE!

So after the second household montage, we get another soft-focus shot of the sunlight:

 

Here comes the sun, again.This must be it. It definitely must be it. We just got another sunlight shot, people. It’s coming. The training montage. I can even hear the Rocky music with Terence Fletcher screaming over it.

 

 

 

 

 

Annnnndddd scene:

 

Terence Fletcher can go sit on a basketballWhat.

A homework scene?

But that’s not the weirdest part. No, what’s weird about this scene is that our hero’s friends are pissed that he’s missing training. After introducing the villainous coach at the beginning, I was expecting the basketball coach to kick down the door and drag our hero away from his home.

 

ME ANGRY! ME COACH! ME COACH ANGRY!

Image credit to TwitchFilm.com

RARRRR! THIS IMAGE IS COMPRESSED AS FUCK!

Instead of watching the door get kicked into splinters by a sociopathic coach, we get a bunch of passive aggressive Whatsapp message from some angsty school kids.

By now it’s nearing the end of the video. And we still have not answer the main question of how our hero will overcome the adversity of his mom’s stroke to play basketball again while still remaining filial.

In fact, the question never gets fully answered. Because these are the next couple of scenes:

 

Actually I don't know how to bounce a ballOur hero looking longingly at a basketball game.

 

What's this round thingy?Our hero getting rewarded with a basketball for scoring top marks in the nation-wide examinations.

 

The video wasn't really worth it.And the end scene.

I was also irrationally pissed off by this scene. The problem with this scene is that there’s a huge gap between “Some things became more important than others” and “But I guess it was worth it”. Both sentences are crucial in showing that our hero willing sacrificed his love for basketball because nothing is more important than his mother (Terence Fletcher might dispute that).

Yet, both sentences are separated by more than a minute of filler montages. So when the last line “But I guess it was worth it” appears, it sounds like a non sequitur.

Ultimately, my biggest gripe is, you’ve guessed it, the non-appearance of the coach.

 

I've enough of this bullshit

Image credit to USAToday

Look at those steely blue eyes.

So at the end, I’m not feeling what the video wanted me to feel (i.e. reaching for the tissues). Instead, I’m left with a case of sentimental blue balls (i.e. not reaching for the tissues).

“Now, Zareth,” you say, “it’s easy to criticize another person’s work. I bet you can’t do this. So just shut up and sit down.”

Now don’t get your underwear in a bunch. I’m not mindlessly criticizing this video. The story has a lot of potential. Done well, it could actually be a very heart-wrenching video despite its very common concept.

The problem with the video is that it makes the rookie mistake of trying to squeeze in too much within a short timeframe. There’s something called ‘Chekhov’s gun’. Everything in a short narrative must be essential. So if you introduce a hardass coach, you better be sure that coach makes an appearance. As a result of not keeping the story ‘tight’, the video feels aimless and does not really tug at the heartstrings.

“So, Zareth,” you say, “what could you have done better?”

Well, I would have remove all mention of basketball. (And the two useless shots of the sun).

 

I've enough of this bullshit

Image credit to USAToday

Oh no you fucking didn’t.

“But, but, but”, you stammer, “isn’t basketball central to the story? And Fletcher is making me shit my pants.”

Nope, it’s not. The problem with the video is that there were two competing narratives: basketball and achieving top marks in the nation-wide exams. So either the video concentrates on basketball or on being studious. In this case, the narrative of being studious won. So basketball is out.

 

upset

Image credit to CinemaBlend

Fuck you.

So why did the narrative of being studious won? Well, it’s because there was nothing at stake in the basketball narrative. What do I mean by that? If basketball was central to the story, then there should be more at stake. It means that our hero would have to quit the top national basketball team and lose his basketball scholarship just to take care of his mother. But there was no mention about any of that. So if our hero stops playing basketball, the most he suffers is an abusive physical, emotional, and psychological beating from Fletcher.

 

Abusing people is my passion

Image credit to Ricky’s Film Review

On the other hand, there is everything at stake in the studious narrative. If our hero get top marks in the nation-wide exam, he can get into a good secondary school. And if he gets into a good secondary school, he can receive a stellar academic education. And if he receive a stellar academic education, he can get into a top university, graduate with honours and get a good job. And with that job, he can look after his mother.

If he fails at the nation-wide exam, well, given Singapore’s education system, he’s kinda fucked.

See, not only is there more at stake, it’s also playing to the Singaporean audience’s psyche. And if you read the comments on POSB’s Facebook page about the video, quite a number mention about our hero’s filial piety (and to a certain extent, his academic achievements). Basketball, and sports in general, just does not have a big presence in the Singaporean’s mind.

It seems that basketball was shoehorned into the story. It is as if the writer or filmmaker is embarrassed of showing our hero as some nerd and introduced the basketball motif to make our hero seem less nerdy.

“Maybe it’s not that,” you say, “maybe basketball represent our hero’s childhood and the loss of it.”

Okay, then why even talk about basketball as our hero’s first love or even mention the coach? There’s better ways to do that. Maybe show a shot of our hero watching kids having fun through his bedroom window. It’s a lot more effective than establishing an entire useless backstory about basketball.

In short, the story structure failed. There’s a beginning but no middle (conflict) and no climax (conclusion). Everything just kinda died down.

The video should have just stuck closely to the source story. It was a lot more focused.

Look, I’m not shitting –

 

Shut it

Image credit to Pictureland

Shut your shit spewing mouth.

Thanks Fletcher.

As I was saying, I’m not shitting on the video. With some rewrites, revisions, and attention to the story structure, the video will definitely be a tearjerker. And a good example is this tearjerker ad by NTUC Income:

 

BUT SHE JUST WANTED TO GO TO POLY. Sniffs.

 

upset

Image credit to CinemaBlend

I know, kiddo, I know.

 

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Roof and Rats

I’m currently on STUVAC. Pronounced as stoo-vak, it’s a shortened form for study vacation in USYD. It’s basically one week of cramming and caffeinating for the exams.

Some of my friends take the first part of the oxymoron seriously. They camp outside the library one hour before it’s open to secure the best possible spot, far away from prying eyes and distracting noise. With their trolley bags packed with a carton of energy drinks, baggies of caffeine pills obtained from underground baristas (the pills are later crushed up and snorted), and neatly handwritten, underlined, italicized, bolded, and highlighted notes weighing 20kg for each subject (the poor trees), these people mean business. Vacation? That’s for the weak.

They are also the same people who are dragged out from the library screaming and hyperventilating five minutes after closing time.

Then you have the people who prefer to focus on the second part of the oxymoron. You never see them in the library. In fact, they’ll make sure that during the one week of STUVAC, under the pain of study pressure, not set foot onto the campus. Unless they have an exam scheduled on that day. Even then, some are so dedicated that they don’t even bother turning up. Rumour has it that these dedicated people book the first flight out of Sydney the moment the semester ends.

When it comes to crunch time, you see these people either staring into space, resigned to their death sentences, or begging the over-caffeinated people for a single morsel of useless answer.

The first group calls these people lazy bums, or losers who would never amount to anything. The second group will tell them to *beep* *beep* and take a chill pill. Not very good advice since the first group are already overdosed on caffeine pills. But then, maybe the first group of people will pop anything into their mouth that looks like a pill. Otherwise, how the hell do they stay still and shut up during the exams?

There is no third group. There is no in-between. Choose a side and take up your position. Embrace the yin-yang of STUVAC. Otherwise the oxymoron that is STUVAC will cease to exist and USYD will collapse like a house of cards.

Guess which side I’m on.

Talking about collapsing like a house of cards, the one week of non-stop rain in Sydney has wrecked havoc at my place. My kitchen is now a walking deathtrap.

 

Rainwater has been leaking through the roof and eating away at the thin cardboard masquerading as my kitchen ceiling. This is not the first time it happened. The kitchen roof has a tendency of leaking during thunderstorms. I called the landlord a couple of times to fix it, and thankfully, he swung by to patch up the roof. The last time he came over, he added a wooden beam to hold up the other end of the ceiling. But this is the worst so far. I mean, there’s a hole in my kitchen ceiling! And it looks like it’s about to split in half any moment soon.

 

Looks like Mr. Landlord has to come back and patch up the roof again.

 

So after snapping a few photos to prove that my housemates and I were not the ones who decided to take apart the kitchen ceiling just for the heck of it, I was looking through my old photos when I saw this:

 

I took these sometime last year. Apparently Pan and Bentley decided that sleeping perpendicular to the hammock was a very good idea. While Bentley looks comfortable, I was amazed that Pan could still sleep even though three-quarters of his body was dangling out of the hammock. But it’s normal though. Rats sleep in the most odd positions. And they looked so peaceful.

There were also a couple of other photos of Pan and Bentley. These pictures were pretty hilarious. I mean, the pictures are not hilarious themselves, but what took place was quite amusing. I’ll tell the story below (now with digital pictures!). But before I proceed with the story, I’ll need to tell you a bit of back-story to establish the context.

I was in my room when I realized I hadn’t seen Pan and Bentley. They weren’t in the cage since I let them out for a bit of playtime. Usually they were on the bed running around. But I hadn’t seen them for the past 15 minutes, which, in rat-time, is equivalent to about an hour or so.

I found that a bit odd, so I called out their names. Knowing Pan would just ignore me (as usual), I waited for Bentley to come running to me. Yet, after three seconds, even Bentley was a no-show. Hmm, that’s weird.

So I lifted up my blanket and saw this:

 

Pan and Bentley just had a butt-sniffing fest. Kidding. They were just sleeping. Like I said, rats sleep in odd positions.

So I was taking photos and just annoying the hell out Pan and Bentley when this happened:

 

Pan, in his typical “ignore Zareth” mode, just burrowed deeper into the blanket. Meanwhile, Bentley glared at me if to say:

“MAN, can’t a rat get some rest here? Seriously, cut us some slack. Be a champ and put the blanket where it originally was.”

I decided to repay Bentley for the times he jumped on my face when I was sleeping. So I continued to take more photos. Then five seconds later, this happened:

 

Pan dug deeper into the blanket. According to his logic, if he can’t see me, I can’t see him. And if I can’t see him, I won’t bother him. Well, he was just a few milimetres from achieving that goal. Meanwhile, frustrated with me, Bentley shot me an unhappy look as if to say:

“Screw this, I don’t need to take anymore bullshit.” Then he just upped and walked back to the cage. Where he lay perpendicular to the hammock and sulked.

I just laughed.

I miss my rats.