Summary of this month’s movie:
Here come the spoilers! A group of best friends (Mikey, Data, Mouth, and Chunk) who call themselves the Goonies are spending one last day together because their homes are being foreclosed on so a country club can buy the property cheap. In rummaging through their things, they come across a 1632 doubloon and an old map that supposedly leads to the treasure of local legend pirate One-Eyed Willy. The kids figure out that there's a point on the map that coincides with an abandoned restaurant and decide they have to find the treasure as a last-ditch chance to save their homes. The kids sneak out, followed by Mikey's older brother Brand and his friends Andi and Stef. But it turns out the derelict restaurant is a hideout of the dysfunctional Fratelli crime family. The kids are taken hostage but find a tunnel in the basement and follow it, all but Chunk, who leaves to alert the police. He flags down a car to go to the sheriff's station, but it's the Fratellis. They imprison and interrogate Chunk until he reveals where the Goonies have gone. When the Fratelli's leave, Chunk is left behind with the family's other brother, Sloth, who they have also imprisoned. He and Chunk become friends. Sloth frees both of them, and Chunk calls the sheriff, who thinks it's a prank. Chunk and Sloth follow the trail of the criminals. Meanwhile, the others evade several deadly booby traps along the tunnels, while barely staying ahead of the Fratellis. They finally find Willy's pirate ship, which is indeed filled with treasure, and start filling their pockets. But the Fratellis show up and take the loot. When Chunk and Sloth arrive and distract the Fratellis, the Goonies jump overboard and swim to safety. The Fratellis trigger another booby trap, which causes the grotto to cave in. Everyone barely escapes. They all emerge on the beach, where the Goonies reunite with their families and the police. The Fratellis are arrested, but Chunk prevents Sloth from also being taken and invites Sloth to live with him, which Sloth accepts. Just as Mikey's father is about to sign the foreclosure papers, they discover that there was still one small bag of gems the Fratellis hadn't taken. Mikey's father triumphantly rips up the papers, declaring that they have enough money to negate the foreclosure. As the Goonies are recounting their adventure to the disbelieving press and police, the pirate ship, having broken free of the grotto, sails off majestically in the distance.
Jeni: Okay, so it has become a thing with people who know me that, as a child of the 80s, I had never seen The Goonies. I don’t know how this happened, and yes, clearly my whole childhood was terrible because I didn’t watch this one movie. With that information in mind, this movie was exactly what I was expecting: a fun 80s’ Speilberg romp with unsupervised misfits going on an adventure. Like Indiana Jones but with kids. What kid doesn’t love the idea of stumbling into an adventure right in their hometown? I was pleasantly surprised that the 80s-ness of it wasn’t too problematic. The girls weren’t too wimpy, and honestly Stef, played by Martha Plimpton, was a whole mood. Character whose job is to make fun of everyone’s bad ideas? So relatable. But I didn’t love the casual fatphobia or the fact that the person with special needs was literally chained up in a basement. The only thing that sort of saved it was that both characters were still fully accepted by the group or protagonists and played a pivotal role in the resolution of the plot. I think what I really liked about this movie–besides baby Sean Astin, who will always be Samwise to me–was that because it is so iconic, I can see how it inspired a lot of other things (ex: Stranger Things and Super 8) and getting to see so many of tropes that are standard in family and middle grade fiction being used in that fairly early context. What did you think?
Carly: So, yeah. I have been avoiding this movie for a while because of a lot of those reasons. Especially as a kid, I really really didn’t like the stuff with Sloth. I appreciate that he’s accepted by them all, but oof. It’s rough to watch. I could get into a whole thing about it, but I think everyone recognizes the problematic nature of it. Not to mention the stuff with Chunk and Data. Oh and the fact that his asthma is basically cured at the end? I think? There was some weird symbolism going on. So I’m going to just move on and focus on the good stuff. It’s a fun movie. There are some confusing bits, like are they all losing their houses? At times it seems like it. The whole adventure itself is just fun though. And I totally want to find a pirate ship and go on a treasure hunt. Also I’m obsessed with all the Rube Goldberg machines. Setting them up every time you want to lock the gate to your yard? Epic. And I thought the kids were wonderful actors. And I loved how they all just yell and talk at once, it’s great. I must say though, my favorite thing was the love between the brothers. Sure they harassed each other a little bit. But they clearly care for each other and love each other and are happy to spend time together. I get sick of the antagonistic sibling relationship we often see in these types of movies. Where the older sibling is just mean or burdened by the younger sibling. What’s something this movie does well that writers can use in their own work?
Jeni: I thought this movie did a great job creating a sense of urgency. They lay out at the beginning that Mikey’s family has to move and this is the friends’ last day all together in their neighborhood and establish how upset the kids all are. And because it’s the 80s, there’s no facetime or texting or even–gasp–email, so they know this is the end of an era for them. So we really get the sense that, whatever happens, this day they spend together is super important, and that foundation does so much to set the tone for the rest of the movie. And then it has all these little details peppered in that show up again at some point, like Mikey needing an inhaler and even the little prologue showing the Fratellis getting the one brother out of jail. I won’t go into everything right this moment, but I think it really does a masterful job of pulling all the little pieces together to show the reader why this story is important and get them engaged in and caring about the plot.
Carly: Okay so, urgency. We’ll be saying that word a lot and it is going to make me want to pee. So let’s dive in so we can hurry it up. Urgency is very important in a story because it creates tension. And as we’ve talked about before, tension is what keeps a reader hooked on your story. We talked about tension in our episode on Alien and I’ll give us a brief rundown now. But basically tension is created through conflict and stakes. Oh hey, two of our favorite words. When something is important to a character and something threatens that important thing, we get tension. It often comes down to fear, the fear of losing something or something changing. And urgency is a way to amp up the stakes and increase the tension. Urgency gives a time limit, in the most basic of ways. In this movie, it is a literal time limit. This is their last day together. They will lose their house. The inevitable is coming. That is urgency. And when the inevitable looms, when we can feel it coming, the tension increases dramatically. If the movie didn’t have this same sense of urgency, if it wasn’t the last day, then we could assume that they would find another way out. They could wait and come back to follow the map when the bad guys are gone. They could go home and hope that their parents get an influx of money. They could even, gasp, go to adults for help! Never mind, that’s crazy talk. That would never make sense. Anyway, urgency is a fantastic tool for increasing your tension and giving the sense that this is the best and possibly only option for your characters. They need to get this done, and they need to get it done now, because soon impending doom will arrive.
Jeni: So, how can writers create urgency in their story? I think the biggest factor might be the GMC, which means goal, motivation, and conflict. In this context regarding GMC, I want to focus on how important it is to specifically lay out the goal and motivation right away. We all know that opening scenes in novels (and movies, to be fair) are so hard to write because there’s so much information you have to get in AND get the plot started AND keep the reader’s attention while also getting them engaged in the story. No big deal. So, I mentioned earlier that the beginning of the movie does a great job of establishing all of that. I think it’s really important to note that the characters don’t even realize in the first scene that they even have the goal of saving the home from foreclosure. No, instead what they establish is that they have a strong desire for things to be different. They wish they didn’t have to leave their home and their friends. So, in terms of writing your opening scene in your novel, you don’t have to start with the full goal right on page one. To establish the goal, we just need to know what it is that the characters want to change, what they wish for but don’t think they can have, as it relates to your main overarching plot goal. This is one reason I often recommend authors not put too much pressure on getting the first scene right in the first draft. You often need to explore the whole story before you can really know how to create this sense of urgency before the story really starts. The next aspect of GMC is about their motivation and then what’s stopping them from accomplishing their goal. So, we see what these kids really want more than anything else is to keep their group together. That’s their motivation, the why behind their goal. And then we layer in multiple conflicts, multiple obstacles that are preventing that. In the beginning, the biggest obstacle is just that they’re a bunch of kids and have no control over any of the financial stuff that’s going on. It wouldn’t even have occurred to them that they might be able to influence the outcome of this situation, and it doesn’t occur to them until circumstances change to make them believe they really might be able to find this treasure. From there, we see other levels of conflict: Brand won’t let them leave, Mikey’s asthma, not knowing if this treasure is even real and definitely not knowing where it is, having the time constraint of the foreclosure happening the next day. It creates this tangled web of conflicts that it’s difficult to see how they can resolve.
Carly: The next thing that urgency needs to be successful is for us to care about the characters and what they care about. We need to feel pain at the idea that they won’t get what they want, As always, if we don’t care about the characters, why would we care about the story? For a sense of urgency to be there, we first need to care about that loss. And to care about that loss, we need to care about the characters. And to be clear, or not really clear but more complex, we care about the characters because of the fear of loss or the need for change. Those fears and needs are universal, even if you’ve never been in the specific situation before, you understand the basic emotion. And that emotion will connect you to the character, and that in turn will make us care about them. Which brings in backstory and interiority. Ah yes, interiority, our favorite word from the last episode. Basically, interiority is all the juicy stuff going on in your character’s head. That is where we will learn the backstory that lends meaning to the stakes. We’ll learn what is at stake and why it matters. It’s not just that the kids will have to move, but that they’ll have to change schools, that they won’t be with their friends anymore. They won’t be able to bike around together or hang out all day anymore. Without that context, we lose a lot of the urgency around the fear of loss. Backstory and interiority are all about that greater context. Readers may not have personally experienced their house going into foreclosure, but given the context and interiority, it’s easy to understand what that feels like. They can imagine the fear of losing your home and the life you’ve built with your friends in your neighborhood. I live down the street from my best friends, and even now with the ability to drive, cell phones, etc. I still fear the day when we aren’t neighbors anymore. Obviously, I don’t have the sense of urgency because who knows when or if it will ever happen. But that is why urgency is so important in your story.We are no longer dealing in hypotheticals. It is definitely happening, and it may be happening now. Oh shoot, we got back into therapy again there. Oops. Anyway, caring about the characters creates a sense of urgency because we don’t want them to lose. The need for them to succeed creates an internal sense of urgency. You basically create a connection to your character and through that connection make the reader feel that anxiety and urgency.
Jeni: We know that the time crunch of this story makes for a lot of urgency. A lot of times this is called a ticking clock, and it just means that there is a finite amount of time that makes it even more difficult to resolve the main conflict. Just adding that ticking clock can make a huge difference in a sense of urgency in a story. In fact, if you are getting feedback that your story doesn’t have enough urgency or tension, this is one of the first elements I’d usually look at. Is the timeline of your story too long? Is there too much downtime that takes away from the sense of importance in the goal being met? Obviously that’s not the only element to consider regarding your story’s timeline, but it’s definitely an important one. Imagine how different this story would have felt if the Goonies had a week or a month or a year instead of less than a day. But that’s only one aspect of a larger element, which is your story’s setting. Other setting details impact the urgency as well. Location is super important. In this case, it has to be believable that this pirate treasure could have gone undetected all this time, so the somewhat isolated smalltown setting makes sense. And it also adds to the urgency by having restricted resources. These kids can’t count on someone finding them if they get into trouble, whereas in a more populated area, it might be easier to get help. There’s no public transportation in this town, and the areas they’re exploring aren’t really intended for people to be in, so it creates the sense of physical danger. In other words, the location creates obstacles of its own for the characters’ goals. So that’s not to say you couldn’t have a story with a similar plot that’s set in a big city; you’d just need to consider what conflicts are created by that setting instead. Just like I mentioned before about your timeline making a difference to the urgency, interrogate your location as well. What are the opportunities for the location to cause problems for your characters? Take manmade elements into account, as well as natural elements. Think about the culture of the location and its rules. In what ways will that work against your characters to prevent them from reaching their goals?
Carly: Ooo yes, setting is super important. Another way to amp up the urgency is to keep adding pressure with new conflicts that result from previous actions. These are my favorite conflicts, I must say. We’ve talked before about stories being a push and pull between character actions and the world responding to them. Conflicts that arise from choices your characters make are the best ones. It’s not to say they are creating destruction or everything is their fault or they made bad choices. But choices have consequences, and the world should respond to that. So in this movie we have the ticking clock and isolated setting as Jeni put it. That ticking clock and the isolation create fewer options for the characters. They can’t just leave and come back later. Because of that, they make some big decisions. They decide to run past the murderers and keep searching for the treasure in an obviously life-threatening situation. Oof that is a decision to make. And because they do this, the bad guys come after them. Because they choose to not climb up the well, they end up nearly flattened by booby traps. The further these kids go into the tunnels, the more danger they are in. They continually make choices that amp up the urgency and build the tension. You want to keep piling that on as your characters get closer to achieving their goal. Throughout the book you want to feel the tension rising because of the urgency. Time is passing, the plot is moving forward and we are quite literally running out of words before your character can achieve their goal. It’s like reading a book and feeling that there is half a centimeter of pages left and knowing that they haven’t solved their problem yet. That creates a very real sense of urgency. As the end of the story looms you want to keep upping the tension and the fear of not achieving their goal. It should be a steady rise in tension before it all finally breaks.
Jeni: When it comes to urgency, remember the reader needs breaks from high tension. So, while you want to maintain the overall sense of urgency, you also need to have some time where your characters aren’t in constant danger of failure. This can come in the form of small wins, lulls in the action where the characters can process what’s happening, travel sequences, focusing more on subplots, or forcing your character to attend to their physical needs like sleeping or, in the case of this movie, a long sequence where they all have to pee. These are also the times where you’ll want to work in any comic relief moments, romance, or other emotions as well, so you’re not pulling focus from the urgency in high-tension scenes. That scene where they’re deciding who’s going to pee where would hit a lot different if it happened in the middle of trying to escape from the Fratellis. So you want to shoot for nice peaks and valleys in the urgency to give your characters and your reader a chance to catch their breath and prepare for the next big conflict.