We all know the tale of chicken licken - hit on the head by an acorn the chicken believes the sky is falling and wants to tell the king. It may sound simple but that's actually a pretty high stakes story. Okay, so we, as readers know the sky isn't really falling but it doesn't matter. Chicken Licken believes it's the end of the world and that's the important thing.
As writers we are always being told about the importance of high stakes. Whatever your story is about there must be conflict, it must be convincing and we have to make the reader care about the consequences or it just doesn't work.
Now I'm going to have to talk about the film I watched last night. Skyfall, the latest James Bond and I'm going to issue a spoiler alert. If you haven't seen the film and you don't want to know the ending do not keep reading!
Okay then, to be clear I am not a huge Bond fan. I've watched some of the films and I generally think they're quite good for a Saturday night action fest and usually make enjoyable viewing as Bond saves the world once again. Skyfall is no different. A fast paced, action packed film in the usual Bond style. (Although Adele's theme song is stonkingly good!)
But, I have huge issues with the low stakes in this plot. It starts off with the bad guy getting hold of a list of secret agents and threatening to reveal them. This is good. But then the plot meanders onto a new path whereby the bad guy is doing all this just to get his revenge on "M" who betrayed him many years ago.
This is a problem for me because to be frank who really cares if M dies? Yes, I know it's Judi Dench but let's face it she's a grumpy old cow in these films and nobody likes her much. It doesn't help her case that at the beginning of the film she gives an order that leads to Bond being shot.
So, therefore I have to wonder why large numbers of other people should die to keep her alive? Why should James Bond risk everything (including his Aston martin for heavens sake!) just to prevent her being killed? In all previous films he's shown little regard for her and now we're expected to believe he'd do anything to save her! I'm afraid I believed nothing of the sort and if I don't believe he cares why should we as an audience give a flying fig?
Still, I was prepared to go along with it. For the most part it was enjoyable and exciting and I would probably have been quite happy if not for the ending.
In my opinion the ending made this plot a completely pointless exercise ( much like the film "The Perfect Storm" which made me lose the will to live frankly). Yes, you've guessed it, after all the stunts and explosions, death and destruction the bad guy dies. Unfortunately so does "M".
Yes, they spend the whole film trying to save her and then she dies at the end.
She dies at the end.
If this had been written as a plot for a childrens or YA novel I'm fairly sure it would have been thrown out the door. The stakes are low, the consequences small, no one really cares one way or another and the ending sucks.
A masterclass on how not to write a plot perhaps?