Don’t Tell the Truth

The truth is usually pretty dull. When people write a story based on the truth, they often try to cram so many facts into the story that have no relevance that the story suffers as a result.

Back in 1985, I worked as an extra in a bad Vietnam War movie called “The Hanoi Hilton.” The basic story behind “The Hanoi Hilton” was that an Air Force pilot is shot down and becomes the first American prisoner of war in the Vietnamese prison nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton. Then the rest of the story is simply a parade of unrelated events that actually happened at the Hanoi Hilton.

Unfortunately, this parade of actual events is boring because they serve no purpose to the story, which is nothing more than the hero sitting around, waiting for the war to end. In case you’ve never seen this movie, this is the reason because it’s so boring that it’s not worth seeing.

Yet, too many movies based on real stories try to cram in the facts without regard to how they affect the story. In “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” the screenwriter crammed in almost every true fact about the wild events that actually occurred with the military’s obsession with psychic research. Yet, all of these disconnected facts also serve no purpose in aiding the story, which is why “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was a good idea executed poorly.

Before trying to cram every possible fact into a story, first create a compelling story. Then use the facts that support that story and toss out any that do not.

Truth is boring. Movies are simply the illusion of truth so make sure you create a compelling illusion with your screenplay rather than slavishly lock yourself into telling the truth just for the sake of using every possible fact around you. A good story selectively uses facts. Ask yourself what’s more entertaining, reading an encyclopedia or reading a novel? The novel reveals fewer facts, but it’s designed to entertain. An encyclopedia is loaded with facts, but the facts are unrelated to one another, so reading them sequentially is dull and boring.

Use facts as much as possible, but make sure your story comes first. In a UFO movie called “Fire in the Sky,” the screenwriter closely followed the actual events until the end, which was actually fairly mundane in real life. To avoid showing such a boring ending, the screenwriter created a more terrifying ending that strayed far from the actual events, but created a more interesting story, and that’s all that really matters.

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