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Studying Shutter Island

February 25, 2010

I rarely see movies in the theaters at all, let alone the same one twice. But I couldn’t get Shutter Island out of my head, so I went again, this time ready to track every tiny hint dropped along the way. I realized something important: not only does a stunningly well-constructed mystery like Shutter Island present you with clues you read as irrelevant at the time, it presents you with clues you read as something else entirely at the time. A turn of phrase that you think is referring to one thing is later revealed to have an entirely different significance. A lingering camera shot (or descriptive paragraph!) that you think is emphasizing a particular object later becomes important for a completely different focal point. An actor whom you find unsettlingly compelling is later–no, wait, Ben Kingsley is always unsettlingly compelling.

Point being, a twisty tale doesn’t just need clues that hide–it needs clues that misdirect. Now, if only I could have had this lesson reinforced by a slightly less disturbing movie…

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2010 6:40 pm

    I’m also really into the hint dropping and stuff like that, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how people can write start writing something without knowing how it ends. I mean, I understand that people do it, YOU’RE doing it, plenty of people do it, but I couldn’t do it. How can you write something without properly setting it up? I mean, I go back and add things or change things occasionally to properly set up what’s coming, but for the most part, if you’re writing starting from A and don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to set it up? I don’t know. I guess I’m exposing my limitations. But I couldn’t start writing until I figured out how the story would end.

    • February 26, 2010 5:21 pm

      Everyone works differently! I’m probably exposing MY limitations by admitting that I rarely plan very far ahead. Interestingly, though, that approach can make for some great accidental clue-dropping–when even I don’t know what’s about to happen, sometimes the scene can build up its own mystery rather nicely.

  2. jschancellor permalink
    February 26, 2010 12:32 pm

    You know, I realize that I keep saying this, but I truly want you to understand how impressed I am that you’re so young and yet, writing like you’ve been writing for decades. Your blog is the only one I’m subscribed to through email. Seriously. Your blog posts are always chock full of useful, inspirational meditations…which, most writers unfortunately waste space blogging about the weather or their shoes or some other outside thing that isn’t relevant. I have no doubt at all that you’ll go far in your career! Just remember me when you get to that book signing :D I want an autographed copy…

    • February 26, 2010 5:22 pm

      Wow, thank you so much! That really means a lot, particularly as I am a faithful reader of your blog, as well! Trade you autographed copies? :-)

  3. jschancellor permalink
    February 26, 2010 10:44 pm

    Consider it done! :D

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