THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MARCH 12th 2015
This month has been an orgasmic cinematic experience for me. There was a bit of a misstep when I went ahead and watched Focus (Do. Not. Advise) but I hit the lotto with Kingsman. I liked it. A lot. I liked it a lot being the hugest understatement in the world as I watched this nifty-tongue-in-cheek homage to the James Bond movies of yesteryear THREE times.
Have had a look? Well, you’re welcome!
I was interested in this movie for two reasons: Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson. With Colin Firth as an action man and Samuel L. Jackson as a villain, there were only four words I was capable of uttering, “Take. All. My. Money.”
The thing about watching a movie for the second time, when you aren’t concerned with the plot twists and turns, (assuming that there were any: refer to Focus), is you are able to delve into the plot more intricately. I’m not sure I learned anything new plot wise but things were certainly reinforced. I’m going to share the top five things I’ve learned from my extended love affair with Kingsman: The Secret Service.
- No Scene Wasting Allowed
Scene wasting may be more jarring in screen plays than in a novel but it is still pretty damn obvious. It is sometimes tempting to write fluffer scenes, which do not advance the plot or character development in order to hit the word count. Hell, I’ve recently had the questionable pleasure of going through some of my writings from 3rd form (9th grade) and cringed at the time and effort I put into describing the exact shade of my lead character’s toe polish. If you’ve read “Sail With Me” and found scenes like that please tell me now so I can pull the novella ASAP! Kingsman did a very good job of making every scene important. Each conversation eventually had a payoff, even the scenes that didn’t feel like set up for one. For instance, in the first third of the movie the lead character “Egsy” steals a car and seems all set to evade the police when he crashes as he swerves to avoid hitting a stray dog. Egsy’s love of dogs becomes an important sticking point later in the movie. There was even a scene in the first third where a news anchor reports that Iggy Azalea had been missing after some award show or the next. This was something that I didn’t pay any attention to the first time around but I, belatedly, realized that it was foreshadowing.My first drafts are always written seat of the pants but I’ve come away from Kingsman acknowledging that I should be very conscious even then about whether or not the scene I am working on serves any useful purpose.
The Basic Tenets of Plot are Forever
Plot is all about cause and effect. It doesn’t sound fancy but I think as writers we can all agree that this is what a good plot basically comes down to. It is what motivates the characters to action and these motivations must be plausible enough for readers to accept. My favourite self-help plotting book to date is the “Plot & Structure” by James Scott-Bell. It is a part of the Write Great Fiction series, which I am enamored with generally but this book has been like a lover to me. I’ve got the Kindle version and contemplated several times ordering myself a physical copy so that I can write and highlight my way to heaven. The book adds all the bells and whistles needed to properly engage the “tools in your toolbox” but if you strip everything away, Bell teaches about cause and effect. Kingsman was a case study in cause and effect. It was very easy to see what pushed most characters into doing the things they did. Sometimes it was outward forces and other times the “cause” came from character growth.There were two times when Egsy had to make the choice as to whether or not he would, I guess, go and be a hero. The first time was in the first third of the movie when his back was against the wall (literally) and the second time was in the final third when it was easy to see that the choice he made had a lot to do with his character growth during the course of the movie. I remember the first time watched Kingsman there was a particular scene where I recalled the famous plot advice about the importance of conflict, “Put your characters in a tree and then throw rocks at them.”
I think this movie wins in this particular plot category just for reminding me about the importance of “throwing rocks” at my characters.
- Be real to your reality
From the start of Kingsman (or I guess from the time you realized it was directed by Matthew Vaughn) it was obvious that the movie was not going to take itself too seriously. It was a nod to James Bond and other spy films but it was never going to be the serious spy movie. Definitely not with a villain who dressed like Russell Simmons. However, that was okay. From the get go you knew the level of suspension of reality required and because without taking itself to seriously, it was real to its reality, it was easy for moviegoers to go along with it. Writers sometimes forget that suspension of reality isn’t only important when writing Fantasy or Science Fiction. It may be just as handy in Contemporary Romance. The key is knowing how far you can push it but I’ve realized that YOU set the tone of your novel, you decide what readers may be willing to overlook from the way you set up your plot in the first third.
4. Pay attention to characterization
Kingsman had a variety of character types and though I won’t pretend that characterization was this movie’s strongest point, I learned a bit at any rate. There were quite a few cardboard cut out characters. I used to think that cardboard cut-out characters were something to avoid at all costs but I learned from this movie that sometimes they do work. Top of these caricatures was Egsy’s abusive stepfather, his mother and then “posh” guys from Kingsman academy. I think Egsy’s stepfather and his mother were way too cardboard but the “posh” guys from Kingsman were well done. I swear as soon as these guys appeared on screen I thought “stereotypical public school boys” and then every word out of their mouth made me chuckle and cringe simultaneously. Effect achieved. I heard Hugo Taylor has been trying to break into acting, if he’d had a bit role in that posh gang I’d have died as these guys seemed straight out of Made in Chelsea.Other characters were however more nuanced. Egsy despite his tough talking, crime filled exterior watched “My Fair Lady” which I found awesome. However, the most nuanced character of them all was Richard Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson’s character). Here was a villain who genuinely believed he was doing the right thing. It made me sympathize with him. He also had some interesting villain-esque tendencies like his aversion to blood. Any book on writing would implore you to make rich and colourful characters but this movie drove it home. Rich and colourful characters were important to the movie but are arguably even more so in novels as the average reader spends more time in your characters’ company than they would watching a movie.
5. Colin Firth can still get the business
I’ve wanted to give Colin Firth “the business” before I knew what “the business” was. I first watched him as Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice when I was nine and I’ve had the most major crush on him since. It was awesome seeing him in a new kickass role.
I could try to pretend that this has something to do with writing… but it doesn’t… except that my lead characters should be inescapably, undeniably, irrevocably charming and sexy!
I love finding writing lessons and inspiration in the oddest places. Maybe I should pay more attention to movies now. Stephen King said that if you are to be a writer you most be a reader. I guess, I should add moviegoer to my toolbox as well.