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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » storytelling that "Wowed" you

   
Author Topic: storytelling that "Wowed" you
robertq
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I’ve been pondering lately when storytellers have ‘wowed’ me with their prowess. It’s very hard to define, but I can give examples. Here are some of my mine, from fiction, movies and TV.

I’m curious about other members’ examples.

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The Sixth Sense (film) I was wowed by the ending and my having to completely re-interpret the scenes with the boy and the wife. Like many people, I watched it a second time to make sure the director hadn’t cheated (he didn’t.) This is similar to the First Harry Potter, when Snape appears to be trying to Kill Harry, and it turns out to be Quirrel.
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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban (novel and film) when Ron’s pet rat turns out to have been a villain in-hiding throughout the previous two novels.
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Silence of the Lambs (film). There is a parallel action sequence in which scene in which Starling has been sent to investigate a low priority lead, meanwhile her boss and a SWAT team are going to the house of the ‘hot’ lead. We see an agent disguised as a flower delivery man approach a house while SWAT members move into place. The agent presses the doorbell. We see a close up of a doorbell ringing. Buffalo Bill meanwhile is arguing with the Senator’s daughter in the pit. He hears the doorbell. The agent rings again. Again a close up of the doorbell. Bill approached the door, opens it – and it’s Starling. We see the Swat men burst into the abandoned house. Starling’s boss realizes he’s made a mistake and mutters, “Clarisse.”
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Babylon-5, “The Inquisitor” (TV show) A man in vaguely Victorian dress arrives at Babylon-5 to test Sheridan and Delinn. He has been sent by the Vorlons to see if they are truly capable of rescuing the galaxy from the forces of the Shadows. He is loathed by moral corruption he sees in the bar area of B-5. He is a frightening and ruthless man. During the course of the inquisition, we learn he was removed from earth, specifically London in the 19the century, by the Vorlons for his inquisitorial task. In the end, Sheridan and Delinn pass the test and he states that the Vorlons will now allow him to die. That Sheriden and Delinn shall be known as benefactors to humanity, whereas, he will remain known only by one name: Jack.
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Miami Vice, “Forgive Us Our Debts” (TV show) Crocket struggles to get a pardon for a killer (Hackman) whom he put on death row. Once the pardon is received, Hackman then admits that the new evidence was staged. Crockett has helped to free a guilty man.

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X-Files, “Aubrey” (TV show)

In Aubrey, Missouri Detective BJ Morrow tells Lt. Brian Tillman, whom she's having an affair with, that she's pregnant. He requests she meet him at a motel later that night. While waiting for him she has a vision that leads her to a field where she digs up the remains of an FBI agent.

Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) head to Aubrey to investigate. The body was that of agent Sam Cheney, who was investigating three murders in Aubrey in 1942 with partner Sam Ledbetter, both of whom disappeared. The agents find discrepancies in BJ's story but Tillman defends her. Mulder tells Scully of the case the agents were investigating, which involved three women raped and murdered with the word 'SISTER' slashed on their chest.

Discovering similar cuts on Cheney's chest the autopsy reveals it to spell 'BROTHER'. BJ admits her affair and pregnancy to Scully.

Tillman reveals that a new murder has occurred where a woman had the word 'SISTER' slashed on her chest. BJ claims to have seen the victim in her dreams. She tells the agents of her vision, involving a man with a rash on his face and a monument that Mulder recognizes as the Trylon and Perisphere from the 1939 Worlds Fair. Searching mug shot photos, BJ recognizes the man from her dream as Harry Cokely, who was arrested for raping a woman named Linda Thibedeaux and slashing 'SISTER' on her chest.

Scully believes that BJ recognized the case since her father was a cop and may have discussed it. The agents visit Cokely, now released and requiring an oxygen machine. Cokely insists he was at his home when the murder occurred.

BJ awakens from a nightmare covered in blood, the word 'SISTER' slashed into her chest. She sees a young Cokely in the mirror. She heads to a basement and tears away the floorboards, revealing a body within that is revealed to be Ledbetter's.

Cokely is arrested, who denies attacking her. Scully tells Mulder that blood on the latest victim belonged to Cokely. The agents visit Linda Thibedeaux who describes the rape in the 1940s and shows the agents a photo of her at the 1939 Worlds Fair. She reveals that the rape resulted in a child, which she put up for adoption. The FBI tracks down the child, which was BJ's father.

Mulder believes that BJ is the killer. At that moment BJ attacks Thibedeaux, but stops when she sees 'SISTER' on her chest. After seeing Linda Thibedeaux, the agents head to Cokely's house, believing he'll be her next victim. BJ cuts Cokely's respirator and attacks him with a razor. When the agents arrive BJ attacks Mulder but when Cokely dies she stops. BJ is placed in Shamrock Women's Prison Psychiatric Ward where she is put on suicide watch after attempting to abort her baby

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The X-Files, “Humbug” (TV show)

For sheer comedic, offbeat grandiosity, I like this episode.

The episode opens with the killing of the "Alligator Man," the latest in a series of killings which match no known patterns. Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) are sent to the town of Gibsonton, Florida to investigate the string of killings.

Mulder's supernatural focus for the episode is the Fiji Mermaid, a sideshow attraction that first appeared in the mid-1800s. During their investigation, Mulder and Scully shift their suspicion around three of the inhabitants of the city, "The Conundrum", a geek who never talks and will "eat anything", "Dr. Blockhead", a "body manipulator" (a "block head" who can drive nails up his nose, as well as a master escape artist), and "Jim Jim, the Dogface Boy", a former performer who later became the local sheriff.
During their investigation, Scully points out to Mulder that the both of them have been wrongly suspicious of many of the "circus freaks" in town simply because of their abnormalities, which could be considered racial profiling of a sort.

The supposed "Fiji Mermaid" ends up being Leonard, the underdeveloped fetus in fetu twin of Lanny (Vincent Schiavelli). Leonard is capable of exiting and then returning into Lanny's body. Lanny mournfully suggests that the motivation behind his brother's attacks is that he is seeking a new brother, as a replacement for the alcoholic Lanny, by attempting to burrow into their side. Lanny later dies from an unrelated drinking problem which severely damaged his liver, and Scully says that his autopsy revealed many differences in the arrangement of his blood system, esophagus, etc. which were almost umbilical in nature.

After Leonard disconnects from Lanny for the final time, he is chased by Mulder and Scully into a circus funhouse, where their attempts to catch him prove fruitless. Mulder and Scully chase Leonard outside, but before they can track him down he disappears. Mulder and Scully immediately observe "The Conundrum" lying on the ground. It is strongly suggested that Leonard attacked "The Conundrum", who ironically ended up eating Lanny's twin.

The episode ends with Dr. Blockhead philosophically commenting to Scully about how what the future really has to worry about isn't abnormal circus freaks like the inhabitants of Gibsonton, but instead everyone turning into people that look like Mulder: buttoned-down suit-and-tie wearing office drones with no individuality. Meanwhile, Mulder observes "The Conundrum" in a state of discomfort, leading Mulder to question him about it. The Conundrum replies that the cause of his discomfort is "Probably something I ate," uttering his first line in the show and leaving confused looks on Mulder and Scully's faces.

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Star Trek: Next Generation “The Defector”

When the Enterprise's sensors detect an incoming craft traversing the Neutral Zone for Federation space, the Enterprise moves to intercept. The ship's Romulan occupant requests asylum as he is being pursued by a Romulan Warbird. Both ships cross the Neutral Zone but the Warbird engages its cloaking device and heads back for Romulan space when the Enterprise begins protecting the other ship.

The sole occupant of the Romulan vessel is beamed aboard, identifying himself as Sub-Lieutenant Setal, an insignificant logistics clerk who acquired information about a top secret Romulan installation being crafted on the planet Nelvana III, capable of sustaining a fleet of Warbirds. Skeptical, Picard assigns Geordi La Forge to dissect the Romulan vessel, though it auto-destructs before he can do this.

Picard gets word from Starfleet Command that the Romulan government demands Setal's return. Geordi analyzes the vessels' earlier pursuit and reports that the Warbird had purposely slowed down to avoid capturing its target, suggesting an elaborate Romulan hoax. Commander Data launches a probe for any possible signs of a Romulan incursion, but no hard evidence can be gathered without physically crossing the Neutral Zone, thereby violating the Federation/Romulan treaty.

Setal asks Data to arrange a meeting with Picard, not as Sub-Lieutenant Setal, but as Admiral Jarok, an esteemed Romulan officer who led a vicious campaign against Federation outposts. Jarok dismisses his notoriety as a waste of time, urging Picard to enter the Nelvana system. Picard refuses and gives Jarok an ultimatum: give the Federation the knowledge it needs to justify crossing the Neutral Zone, or end the investigation and damn him as a traitor. Realizing that Picard will stand his ground, Jarok gives Picard full cooperation, including tactical information on the Romulan fleet. With this knowledge, the Enterprise crosses the Neutral Zone to investigate Nelvana III.
Upon arrival, the crew discover that Nelvana III is devoid of any Romulan presence. Jarok is in disbelief and Picard suggests that the Romulans have been manipulating Jarok himself to test his loyalties. Before the Enterprise can leave, two Romulan Warbirds decloak and blockade their advance. When Romulan Commander Tomalak demands the return of Jarok, as well as the surrender of the Enterprise, Picard has Worf transmit a message from the Enterprise. Seconds later, three Klingon Birds of Prey de-cloak in a pincer formation around the Romulan Warbirds. It is revealed that Picard had previously asked Worf to request a partnership for this particular mission. The two Warbirds retreat, and the Enterprise heads back with the Klingons across the Neutral Zone.

With no possibility of ever returning home or seeing his family again, Jarok commits suicide. Commander Riker discovers a note that Jarok had left to his family, explaining his actions and the reasons for making his decision. Picard proclaims that if more men with the courage of Admiral Jarok step forward to make a change for the better, the day would come when they would be able to carry his message home.
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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Duet”

A Kobheerian freighter requests permission to dock at Deep Space 9, stating that one of its passengers requires treatment for a condition known as Kalla-Nohra. Dr. Bashir is not familiar with the condition, but Major Kira recognizes it and informs Sisko that the only place to contract Kalla-Nohra was a mining accident at a particularly brutal labor camp called Gallitepp. As Kira helped liberate the camp at the end of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, she asks to greet the passenger personally.

Upon arriving in Sickbay, Kira discovers that Bashir's new patient is not Bajoran but Cardassian. She has the man arrested as a war criminal, only to find his name, Aamin Marritza, is not listed for any crimes. Sisko sees no option but to let Marritza go, yet Kira is adamant—Marritza is Cardassian who was present at Gallitepp, she insists, which is reason enough—and details the condition of the labor camp when she liberated it. Sisko decides to investigate further.

Further suspicions arise when Marritza claims he has never been to Bajor, an obvious lie as Bashir's medical test confirms that the man has Kalla-Nohra. Citing a conflict of interest, Sisko asks Kira to remove herself from the case, but her emotional plea convinces him to let her stay on it. When she interrogates Marritza, he claims that, while he did serve at Gallitepp, he was only a file clerk. He maintains the atrocities the Bajorans believe occurred at Gallitep were an illusion meant to keep other Bajorans in fear of the Cardassians.

An investigation corroborates Marritza's story, forcing Kira to cope with the possibility he may go free. A photograph from Gallitepp, however, reveals that the man being held is not Aamin Marritza but rather Gul Darhe'el, the "Butcher of Gallitepp" who reportedly murdered thousands of innocent Bajorans. The prisoner responds arrogantly when confronted with this information; not only does he admit he is Darhe'el, but he boasts that "My word, my every glance was law! And the verdict was always the same: guilty." Kira is visibly shaken.
As the episode progresses, Darhe'el lets slip the name of Kira's resistance cell during the occupation—information far too obscure for him to know. Other inconsistencies in his story begin to stand out, and the crew learns that "Darhe'el" has been disguising himself via cosmetic surgery - leading Kira to realize that the prisoner wanted not only to be caught but to be recognized as Darhe'el. Security chief Odo discovers that the real Darhe'el died five years prior and realizes the man he is holding is in fact Marritza, Darhe'el's clerk. Kira confronts the prisoner, whose guise begins to falter:

“ I am alive. I will always be alive! It's Marritza who's dead! Marritza, who was good for nothing but cowering under his bunk and weeping like a woman. Who every night covered his ears because he couldn't bear to hear the screaming... for mercy... of the Bajorans... ”

Marritza breaks down as he speaks, branding himself a coward. He begs Kira to prosecute him, insisting that Cardassia must be forced to admit its wrongdoings and that he is as guilty for remaining silent as Darhe'el was for committing the atrocities. Kira releases him, insisting that another murder is not the answer, but as Marritza is about to depart from the station, he is stabbed and killed by a drunken Bajoran. When Kira demands to know why, the Bajoran echoes her own earlier sentiment: being a Cardassian is reason enough. "No," Kira realizes, "it's not."
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Back to the Future (Film)

I liked the series of ‘endings.’ Marty arrived too late to save Doc Brown form being shot, but Doc Brown took precautions, so he’s Okay. Marty wakes up at home, goes into the living room and his family is transformed, Marty finds a new truck in the garage for him, then Doc Brown arrives from the future.
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Well, there are a lots of ‘twists’ in my examples, where things seem to be one way, but are not.

Anyway, anyone out there have your own examples?


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Robert Nowall
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Currently I'm in awe of the Pixar movies and their ability to tell a story---somehow they all seem to move along and move me in a way nothing else around does.

Other things? I've got going on fifty years of things I've read or seen or listened to, too much to sift through at one sitting. I'll have to get back to you on that...


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MrsBrown
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A for effort This is too much data for me to wade through. Usually discussion about a particular work (book or movie) is posted in the Discussing Published Hooks & Books area. But it sounds like you may be investigating what works and what doesn’t in storytelling. That is a very individual matter, and the answer can tell each of us what story elements get us excited and motivated in our own writing.

So I’d suggest, go through your list again (any of us can do this for our own favorites list) and look for common threads. Perhaps it is the unexpected twist; what makes a twist work or not work?

For me, I like a character who has great power (magical, political, whatever), especially where he starts out powerless. I also like coming of age stories, perhaps again because someone changes from insignificant to significant through his growth, adventures, accomplishments, etc. The 1995 movie “Joseph” (about the Biblical patriarch) is my current favorite example, on both counts.


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robertq
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Ah, Pixar! Yes, you're right Robert. Especially the Toy Story series is excellent. I like number 2 very much.
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billawaboy
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It's interesting to read screenplays before watching a movie...the best I have read recently is Juno by Diablo Cody. Reading her next one, Jennifer's Body, was better than watching the movie. David Mamet's screenplays are generally very engaging. Interestingly, I've tried reading Tarantino's work before watching the movie, but it doesn't read well. So much depends on visual style and delivery.

Anyway here are actual books that wowed me. There aren't really very many that make me go WOW.

Most recently (a few years ago) Perfume: The Story of a Murderer I remember 'wowed' me. But it's a translation, so I don't know what to think. Suskind's one hit wonder.

Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad. Sure it's not technically fiction, it's travel writing, but this is travel writing that's better than most fiction I've read.


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Teraen
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I know not everyone is a fan of the series, but I really liked the way the ending was developped in Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule. I was very surprised by the way he resolved the main character's main conflict, and it all wrapped up in a satisfying manner. The author basically set up a barrier to the character and his deepest desire. (He loves a woman but it is impossible to be with her.) But by the end, the character resolves the issue. It is the best example I know of where the author most successfully put an obstacle between the character and his wants, and I think that contributed to how satisfying the ending was...
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Meredith
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I liked WIZARD'S FIRST RULE. It was the rest of the series that lost my interest, following the same formula book after book (after book). And I think there were several good twists in that first book--Richard figuring out how to love Kahlan, Richard turning out to be the new Lord Rahl.

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited July 11, 2010).]


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Owasm
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Not speculative fiction, but I really enjoyed reading Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin stories. Lots of little secondary story arcs shooting their way in and out throughout the stories set against lots of action. Stories you could really escape into.

The characters were more complex than the competitors, Horatio Hornblower and the Sharpe novels.


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DRaney
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Meredith... ditto the whole comment. The 'kick' I got out of WFRule kept me going all the way through the series. I enjoyed the first three or four of that series, through Richards time with the Sisters and a little beyond. The rest left sort of a blurry spot in my recollection banks.

Just read these 4 books and got a pretty good Wow from each;
OS Card - Enders Game & Enders Shadow. Bean totally ROCKS!
Jim Butcher - Dead Beat & White Night. Super-cool wizard-sleuth, Harry Dresden!

I have been reading through; 2007 Nebula Awards Showcase, edited by Mike Resnick. Worth the read if just to see what is rising to the top.


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Meredith
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quote:
Not speculative fiction, but I really enjoyed reading Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin stories. Lots of little secondary story arcs shooting their way in and out throughout the stories set against lots of action. Stories you could really escape into.
The characters were more complex than the competitors, Horatio Hornblower and the Sharpe novels.

Ha! I read all the Aubrey stories, too. And Hornblower.

(Told you I was an adventure junkie in my youth.)


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Robert Nowall
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It wasn't storytelling per se, but I was emotionally moved by a chance rehearing of Rossini's William Tell Overture, particularly the final segment. (Never heard the opera it's the overture to, just the overture itself.)
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DRaney
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Well I got a couple of major WOWs so I thought I would share!

Octavia Butler - Wild Seed, 1980. I thought this one of the best fantasy stories in a long time. I read it on recommendation of OSCard in his book; ('How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy'2001/paperback).

C.J. Cherryh - The Dreamstone. (Weis/Hickman present Treasures of Fantasy pg 289, 1997... Short Story-1979)
Definitely Great fantasy! A dark tale of interaction between faeries and men. She finds an amazing 'voice' with which to tell the tale.


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Brad R Torgersen
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Chris Bunch & Allan Cole: The STEN series.
Chris Bunch & Allan Cole: "A Reckoning For Kings."
Larry Niven: "N-Space" and "Playgrounds of the Mind."
Kim Stanley Robinson: The Mars Trilogy.
Vernor Vinge: "A Fire Upon The Deep" and "A Deepness In The Sky."

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