I Don’t Care Much About Your Plot, as Long as Your Characters are More Interesting than You, or, Why Tom Robbins is a Drag

Still on the subject of movies today, before I move on to how Tom Robbins disappointed me.

First I have have to report that my wife has the ability to pick out the voice of actress Tea Leoni from the next room — a weird and impressive feat.

I was sitting on the couch Sunday doing important research by watching “Deep Impact,” the other disaster movie from 1998 where rugged astronauts use nukes to break up an earth-smushing asteroid, and Johanna calls from the next room, “Is that Tea Leoni on TV?”

How do you know it’s Tea Leoni?

tea leoni

“It just sounds like Tea Leoni scolding someone.”

You know, that famous, “Tea-Leoni-Scolding-Someone” voice.

Anyway, I wonder if Tea Leoni thought she was going to be in the hit of the summer, and was crushed (ha!)  when “Armageddon” stole her thunder.

That’s happened a lot — two movies will come out at the same time, with the same plot and character types (I still can’t remember which movie was ‘The Illusionist” and which one was “The Prestige.”)

Plot is less important than character, anyway. You need real people fighting against each other (or

against something, like a comet “the size of New York City from the north end of Central Park down to The Battery.”)  Then someone has to change, internally, as a result of the struggle. Lots of movies — and books too — have struggles and change, but just lose me on the “real” aspect. Once I stop hearing the character speaking and instead see the philosophies of the author or director being communicated in dialogue form, then your characters are dead to me.

Still Life With Woodpecker

It’s why I have a hard time reading books by author-philosophers. Tom Robbins comes to mind. I loved “Still Life With Woodpecker” possibly because I read it at exactly the right time (tenth grade). In his story of the renegade bomber Bernard Mickey Wrangle, and his pursuit of the beautiful (and militantly celibate — at least for the first few pages) Princess Leigh-Cheri, Robbins gives us his philosophy of The Outlaw — what it is, and how the Outlaw functions in late-twentieth-century America.

Anyway that book and I connected and is one of the reasons I started thinking about writing as a way to spend my time. But then I tried to read Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and all I could hear , for pages and pages, was not Sissy Hankshaw talking about her huge thumbs. Sissy, and all the people in the book disappeared, and I just heard the author himself droning on about the majesties of sex and body odor, and it felt exactly like walking up to the keg at a party in college at exactly the wrong time, because that guy is there, the one who seems a little older than everybody else and doesn’t seem to be there with anyone, and he may or may not be on mushrooms and he wants to TALK. No, he doesn’t want to talk, on second thought, he wants you to LISTEN until he’s FUCKING DONE. That’s what every other Tom Robbins book I’ve tried to read has become, because his characters weren’t people — just proxies.

Plots on the other hand, you can use those over and over again, and no one will notice or care, as long as your characters really give a crap about something and they are real.

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