Monster House & Writing Advice

I mentioned in my blog about my niece's visit that we saw--and despised--Monster House. The motion-capture technology they use is cool but the majority of the plot (such that it is) is a huge snore.

 This is too bad, as I think the idea of a house that eats children holds huge entertainment potential. Where did Monster House go wrong?

 They went wrong in that they had an idea but didn't follow through with it.  What's below is copied from my friend Ed's blog  at Side-Show Freaks and is a quote from Gene Wolf:

“When you write a story of your own, you start with a good idea. You work hard because you notice the harder you work, the better the story gets. Then you discovered the story doesn’t have the effect on others that you know it should and you don’t know why. I’m going to tell you – watch my lips.

You didn’t do much with your idea. You unconsciously assumed that because it was such a fine strong, sleek and even potentially dangerous idea, it could run the story by itself.

If I could give you one piece of advice…, it would be this: Think of yourself as a wild beast trainer, and your idea as a big cat in a show; walking out onto stage and saying, “Hey, look at my lion,” isn’t going to cut it. Is your idea going to jump through a hoop of flame? Is it going to climb onto the shoulders of two other ideas and roar?

You’ve got an idea…, and that’s good; now let’s see you put your head in the idea’s mouth.”

In a nutshell, that's what's wrong with Monster House. They had a good idea and thought the story would run itself. It didn't.  

In my writer's group (or any writer's group, for that matter) there's a lot of attention paid to dialogue. Too many writers, me included, get caught up in the details of life. It's like having a phone ring in your novel and your character goes to answer it and the following dialogue ensues:


"Hi, is this Sally?"

"Yes, this is Sally. Who's speaking?"

"Hi Sally, this is Jim. I met you at the party on Friday night..."

"Oh yes. Jim. I remember. Hi, how are you?"

"I'm fine. Listen, I was wondering..."

Okay, now how boring is that to read? Much better to simply say, "Sally was thrilled when Jim called to ask her out." Now we're moving along. But the above is what Monster House did. They TOLD every bit of boring dialogue that yes, does occur in everyday life but which even novice writers know has no place in an actual book or movie. I can't imagine how this film got past the writers/editors/directors/etc. Isn't Spielberg involved in this??

To be fair, while I didn't like the movie as a whole, I did like the characters in it--Chowder's a hoot. And my friend Trisha's son Max who is almost 9 loved it.  I think the movie can appeal to younger kids but it missed the mark at crossing the line and appealing to both kids and adults.