In 1889 Anton Chekhov wrote this in his letter to a friend: “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it”.
Indeed, if something is not used in the story, it should be thrown out. Often it is about decorative epithets, adverbs, but sometimes the whole subplots and secondary characters are redundant and just swamp the story into dullness. Cut that fat away from your story, unless you want to place a red herring in, a piece of misleading information deliberately included to distract the reader’s attention, a technique often used in mystery and suspense stories.
Last weekend I went to see a comedy called This Means War starring the belle Reese Witherspoon and two beaus, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, who manage to deliver good performance considering a rather preposterous setting: two CIA ops running after the same girl.
The main heroine, Lauren, has a cool profession: she does crush tests on various products. As the story develops we forget about it, but then her professionally skills suddenly become handy in the end, they save her life, but I won’t say how, because you may want to kill me for spoiling the film for you (okay, I’ll give you a hint, – Radiohead has a song about it on the OK Computer album). lol
Although this film is a hilarious comedy, it is still driven by a lot of conflict like any good fiction. The villain disappears in the beginning and returns in the end, yet it’s hard to keep the audience interested throughout the film just by corny jokes. So, the two male characters fight and ruin each other’s dates with Lauren, but that’s not enough. The heroine’s best friend, Trish, fills the conflict gap by ill-advising Lauren about how she should be dealing with the guys. Trish is similar to Dori from Finding Nemo, she means good, but her advices often defy common sense. A well-meaning friend who always gets the main protagonist in trouble is one of the best story-building techniques and it never fails to entertain the audience.
I like films like that, simple and unpretentious, but well-crafted and hugely enjoyable. See you in the cinema!