Oops!

by Rob Gregory Browne

First, I want to take a moment this morning to offer my condolences to Louise.  As everyone knows by now, she lost her husband to cancer yesterday and I can’t even begin to know what that feels like.  Louise, it’s probably small comfort at the moment, but we’re all thinking about you.  I’m so sorry for your loss.

Those of you who get up at the crack of dawn to read Murderati will note that I’m a little late this morning. Two reasons:  first, I’m working like crazy on a new book and completely lost track of time, date, day of week. Second, my wife and I are gearing up to go to Chicago this weekend.

Why Chicago?  As I said in a previous post, the dream has come true and KISS HER GOODBYE is in the midst of becoming a television series pilot for CBS.  They are in production as we speak, they’re calling it THE LINE, and it stars Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck), Michael Rapaport (Prison Break), Terry Kinney (The Mentalist), Sandrine Holt (24, The L Word), and a host of others.

For those interested in seeing some photos of the shoot in progress, a spectator took these shots and posted them HERE.

So, in other words, I’m just so freakin’ busy and crazy with excitement about visiting the set (not to mention prepping to go), that I didn’t even realize that today was my Murderati day until my wife informed me not ten minutes ago.  Sigh.

As a result, I’m going to repost an oldie.  Feel free to kick me in the ass in the comments.

———-

To use an old cliche:  ideas are a dime a dozen.

Truth is, there aren’t all that many ideas to spare. How many times have we seen the same story over and over again, dressed up in new clothing?

A man is accused of murdering his wife, escapes custody and hunts down the real killer.

A daughter commits suicide but her mother thinks it was murder.

Two young teenagers go on a killing spree.

A house/car/insane asylum/ship/airplane/cave is haunted by ghosts. A man/woman/boy/girl/dog/cat is possessed by evil spirits.

A husband/wife/daughter/son is kidnapped and the spouse/mother/father risks his or her life to save them.

A man and a woman meet, hate each other, fall in love, break apart after a huge misunderstanding and finally get back together again.

That last is the plot of many romance books and countless romantic comedy movies.

And you know what?  It doesn’t matter that these ideas are constantly recycled.  Because, as numerous writers have pointed out in my lifetime, it’s not the idea that counts, but the execution.

Or as The Swallows once sang:

It ain’t the meat it’s the motion
That makes your daddy wanna rock
It ain’t the meat it’s the motion
It’s the movement, it isn’t the stock

For example, let’s take a look at movies. I choose movies over books for the simple reason that a) I love them as much as books (but in a different way); and b) it’s much easier to find people who have all seen the same movie.

If we go back to the romantic comedy example — the meet, fall in love, break up, get back together plot line — we could, as I said, point to just about every romantic comedy ever made.

But which ones do we remember?

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY comes to mind. Not because it’s my daughter’s favorite movie of all time (she can quote entire passages of dialog), but because it was a huge, huge hit for everyone involved and most of us have seen it.

But it also comes to mind for another, all important reason:  it is a beautifully written, beautifully executed movie. 

Harry and Sally meet while they’re on the road to New York. Harry’s very opinionated about women and relationships, Sally’s a picky, high-maintenance girl who thinks he’s a jerk and they part ways not liking each other much.

A few years and a couple of relationships later, they meet again in an airport, wind up sitting together on a plane and Harry once again demonstrates what an opinionated jerk he is — only he’s a little more endearing than he was before.

They part ways, only to meet again a couple years later in a bookstore. Next thing you know they’re hanging out together, become great friends and — unknown to both of them, of course, but obvious as all hell to the audience — they begin falling in love.

In the middle of a personal crisis, they finally succumb to their attraction and sleep together. Only Harry, being afraid of commitment, freaks out a little and Sally, sensing his hesitation gets pissed and they stop seeing each other.

The story continues along the usual romantic comedy path, and the two eventually wind up together after Harry races to a New Year’s Eve party to find Sally. And here is an example of where the execution is so important:

Sally at first rejects him. She’s not his consolation prize. But as people are counting down to the new year around them, Harry, desperately in love and wanting to win her over, goes into a speech naming every quirk that Sally has and how much he loves those quirks and wants to be with her for the rest of his life.

Sally, pissed off, tears in her eyes, just looks at him and says, “Now, you see? It’s just like you, Harry, to make it impossible for me to hate you. And I hate you, Harry. I really hate you.”

And then they kiss.

That, my friends, is genius execution.  And with a movie filled with this kind of execution it’s no wonder that people love it.

It ain’t the meat, it’s the motion that makes your daddy wanna rock.

So what are your favorite examples of same old plot but GREAT execution?

17 thoughts on “Oops!

  1. JD Rhoades

    "So what are your favorite examples of same old plot but GREAT execution?"

    Pretty much any one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. The plot: mysterious stranger rides into town and sets the wrong stuff right while sleeping with the beautiful and lonely damsel in distress.

    And the only reason I’m kicking you is because you scared me to death. When I looked at Murderati this morning and didn’t see anything new up, I went."Oh shit was it my week?"

    Congratulations again! Very cool.

    Reply
  2. Judy Wirzberger

    Yippi – doo and good for you. Enjoy the ride! Excitement in the air. Hope your cheeks ache from grinning. Mine do just thinking of you on that plane to Chicago. Look forward to hearing about everything.

    Reply
  3. Allison Davis

    Ok, Rob, now I REALLY have to go buy a television…between Treme (many friends are participating in the production or are in the show) and now this, it just may be time.

    Robert Crais said at one of the many readings, people tell me that detective fiction is overdone, it’s dead, it’s over…and then he laughs and says, but I make a great living doing it and so does Michael Connolly and so does, etc.

    So it’s all about the great writing — the archtypal story is always retold and we actually want to hear it, but we want to hear it well. Me? I love the wounded cop does good story (hence Steve’s Boulevard, or Carol O’Connell’s Mallory) and it always draws me in.

    Reply
  4. Nancy Laughlin

    Excellent news. Congratulations! I hope the pilot does very, very well. It certainly sounds like a good cast. Have a blast watching them shoot.

    Reply
  5. Tom & Mary Lynn

    Shootin’ in Chicago (my home town) just on the edge of spring . . . how many joys can you have at once? Do let us know. May the series be picked up and run for (Dick) Wolf’s years!

    And stop by The Berghof for a sandwich and a bourbon. They have a distillery on-site.

    You’ve reposted a good idea; just because something is old doesn’t mean it can’t be new again. Many of the stories I love are variations – and I see this thanks to Alex – on Robinson Crusoe or The Odyssey.

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    You need to be walking around in a navy blue police t-shirt that says "I WROTE THE BOOK" on the back in big white block letters.

    My favorite movies are THE CONVERSATION, THE COLLECTOR, BLOW-UP, and BEST IN SHOW. I don’t even know how to comment on the themes there.

    Have fun and do a lot of peacock puffing and gloating. Lean over to your airplane seat neighbors and tell them your whole life story up to and through the point of having a TV pilot made out of your book. Then tell the flight attendants. Then the cab driver. Then the bellman and concierge. The people in the elevator. Then all the waiters and bartenders you encounter. Rinse……. and repeat on the way back home.

    ; – }

    Reply
  7. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Rob

    Many congrats! Let’s hope it runs and runs.

    My favourite great execution of a plot you *think* you’ve heard so many times before? THE WINTER OF FRANKIE MACHINE by Don Winslow. Retired hitman called out for One Last Job. Brilliantly done.

    Reply
  8. Karen in Ohio

    Wow, Zoe. Don Winslow is a good friend of my brother-in-law. Small world, eh?

    Rob, best of luck to you. I’ll look forward to seeing your show, thinking positively!

    Reply
  9. BCB

    My work days seem to have the same old plot every day and I’m not sure anyone really needs to hear what I’d consider a great execution in that respect . . . two more days until vacation. I might survive. And so might the boss.

    As JD said, the Reacher books. Also JD Robb’s series.

    Sorry, brain dead. Have a great time in Chicago!

    Reply

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