You know when you watch/read/listen to an interview with an author and someone inevitably asks how they can start writing? They’re answer is always to read.
Read, read, read.
They’re partly right, but let’s not forget that writers should also write.
Write, write, write.
But reading is important. Vital, in fact. Not just reading; consuming stories. It doesn’t have to just be books you’re consuming; TV shows, films, documentaries and podcasts all work as well.
So, how do you become a writer?
You must consume stories, and then practise writing.
That’s all there is to it (cue maniacal laughing fading into the distance).
Every month I’ll be taking a story I’ve consumed and breaking it down to look at one or more specific elements that got me thinking about storytelling and how we can improve our own stories.
This month, it’s A Quiet Place.
A film I only watched because A) I adore Emily Blunt with all of my being, and B) I recently listened to her interview on the SmartLess podcast where she talked about how her husband, John Krasinski, wrote the script for A Quiet Place (after she suggested he did) and how after reading it, she asked to play his wife.
I am not good with horror films. The only horror I will ever watch, read or listen to are stories with supernatural, paranormal or extra-terrestrial elements.
A Quiet Place is a sci-fi horror, but to be honest the main horrific parts are all jump elements. It meant that I was tense throughout the film, and my poor dog was tense with me, watching me, wondering what was wrong!
From here onwards, disclaimer: You’re on the edge of the introduction. Here there be spoilers…
A Quiet Place tells the simple story of an Earth that has been invaded by aliens that have all-body armour and incredibly sensitive hearing. They’re blind, but that doesn’t matter because they can hear you. The only way to survive is to stay silent.
We follow a family living silently, probably helped by the fact that their eldest child is deaf and the family know ASL (American Sign Language) which makes communication a lot easier. They’re living on an isolated farm in the U.S., and after the harrowing death of their youngest, the wife/mother (Emily Blunt) is pregnant again.
Let chaos ensue.
It’s a good set up. How on earth do you survive in a world where you must stay silent if you’re giving birth without midwives or pain relief?
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What if you burp suddenly? What if you sneeze?
WHAT IF YOU SNEEZE?!
Despite the silence of the film, the characters are developed surprisingly well. When studied, this is done through the simplicity of the story and the setting. We don’t need to hear them talking to know who they are – we can see the daughter’s hearing aid (which doesn’t work), we saw the youngest get killed and therefore know that the daughter must blame herself, we know that the father is excellent at keeping his family alive (due to all of the physical evidence: the sand marking the pathways around the farm to keep their footsteps silent, the CCTV cameras, the notes and clippings he’s collected trying to find a way out of all this).
The film itself is powerful. Immediately the family are plunged into grief, hope is created by the promise of a new life, and there’s the sacrifices made by the father to keep his family safe.
I found myself crying my eyes out, but I’m still not sure if the crying was worth it. A parent killing themselves to save their children is always going to open the floodgates and have you reaching for the tissues.
Sometimes the simplest and most obvious plot points are necessary. Sometimes they’re just the easy way out.
Let’s get to the ending.
You see, it turns out that high-pitch radio waves are too much for the aliens. It hurts them, leaves them discombobulated and vulnerable. They open up their faces (to expose their ears and mouth) and Emily Blunt’s character shoots them in the face.
I have so many questions.
Presumably when these aliens first landed, the military attacked them and found their natural armour too much to get through.
But considering the aliens have to open up their armour to hear and to eat, did no one try shooting them when they were vulnerable?
Had no one read or watched The Hobbit? Or Star Wars? Or know Greek mythology and go for the really obvious Achilles heel?
Honestly, the first time we saw an alien opening its face to listen, my initial reaction was SHOOT IT IN THE EAR!
And when the military were attacking them, presumably throwing everything they had at these aliens because otherwise humans will go extinct, they didn’t once use a bomb or explosive that…whistles? They didn’t once use radio signals that might have gone wrong and high pitched?
After I watched A Quiet Place, I padded through my house to get ready for bed, knocking things over and realising just how quickly I would die if those aliens did invade.
And I got to thinking about all the other alien invasion films that I’ve seen.
I do love an alien invasion film.
The answer to being rid of the aliens is always a simple one, just as in A Quiet Place. But it’s not always the most obvious, which is important.
In War of the Worlds, the common cold brings down the aliens. Which is sort of genius. It works logically and examples of common, mild viruses killing thousands thanks to an invasion can be seen throughout human history.
In Independence Day (love that film!), the virus idea is taken to another level. The military can’t get through the aliens’ shields. By breaking into the mothership in disguise and exposing its workings to a computer virus, they’re able to bring the shields down and defeat the aliens.
A Quiet Place reminded me more of Signs, due to how problematic it felt. Aliens invade a planet that is seventy percent water when, it turns out, water burns their skin. The aliens are fought back by a family by glasses of water being smashed against the attacking alien.
Which suggests that it didn’t rain once when the aliens invaded. None fell into a swimming pool. None came accidentally in contact with a hose or sprinkler. None of them went to the beach…
Which led me to Mars Attacks. Good old Mars Attacks.
The aliens have landed, they can’t be stopped, until someone plays Tom Jones loudly through a speaker and the aliens’ heads explode.
Now that’s genius.
What about Attack the Block? Easily one of my favourite alien films ever thanks to its beautiful depiction of aliens and fantastic political messages (it also launched the career of the brilliant John Boyega). The aliens are essentially killed by clever thinking and fire, and by a group of teenagers, which is incredibly simple but the key here is that it happens all in one night. The military don’t even get a chance to be involved.
What could have been done differently?
A Quiet Place was an okay film. It wasn’t bad but neither was it great.
It could have been great.
The concept was interesting, but it needed tightening up. The ending ripped me out of the story. Because if no one had thought of trying this tactic against the aliens until now, then maybe humans deserved to go extinct.
If you’ve watched A Quiet Place, what would you have done differently?
Personally, I would have made more of that nail on the stairs. Both me and my husband spent the second half of the film believing it would harm an alien at some point. But no, it just stabs Emily Blunt when she could really do without it and allows her to create a bloody footprint path for her husband to follow.
That nail could have been the key to everything.
Perhaps aliens don’t have heavy armour on the souls of their feet (why would the military check there?) and are deathly allergic to iron when it is consumed or in their blood. Or perhaps it’s rust, rather than iron.
Maybe Emily Blunt’s human blood on the nail would burn the alien’s armour.
The other biggest change I would have made was to centre more on their eldest child, the deaf daughter. She was the key to killing an alien, but she could have been so much more. In a world where being silent can save your life, perhaps you need to follow the people who live in silence, or a form of silence.
It was wonderful to have aspects of the film from her point of view, but I wanted more.
I wanted more from the whole film.
Next time you’re consuming a story and it’s just not doing it for you, take a step back and think about what you would have done differently.
Let the ideas flow. Get creative.
You never know, you might find something you want to write about.