Modern TV shows and movies are giving us all ADD. Books, too, to a certain extent. Somebody’s cell phone is always ringing, interrupting every scene. Nobody ever finishes a conversation or has that long difficult moment that might lead to a resolution or revelation. It’s driving me nuts. Yes, some people are always staring at their phones in real life, and I LOVE my smart phone, but I don’t want it in my fiction.
I have been bingeing on “Jane the Virgin,” a Netflix series about a young woman who was accidentally inseminated with this guy Rafael’s sperm and subsequently falls in love with Rafael. Things get complicated. There seems to be all kinds of crime at the hotel Rafael manages. Jane has just met her biological father, who happens to be a big star of Spanish language telenovelas. And more I can’t tell without spoiling the plot. The whole show is a spoof on telenovelas, with lots of melodrama, romance, murders, and anguished reactions by an off-screen narrator. I’m really enjoying it, but I wish everybody would turn their phones off. They ring every couple minutes. The characters constantly interrupt the scenes, saying “I have to take this” or “I have to go.”
One of my writing mentors preached that telephone calls were death to a dramatic scene, but now everybody’s on the phone in books, TV and movies. Always the ring, the text, the email, which takes precedence over whatever else is happening. It seems like lazy writing. Why not find a more interesting way to move a scene along or to convey information? Back in the olden days, on Bonanza or Little House in the Prairie, a rider would come roaring up on his horse to share important news: The cavalry is coming! Johnson’s barn is on fire! The barn might be ashes by the time anyone gets there, but the delay adds to the drama. Can you picture John Wayne talking on a cell phone? Don’t shoot. I have to take this call. Remember Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate” racing to stop Elaine’s wedding. We’re holding our breath as he runs as fast as he can, and she’s walking down the aisle, and then we hear him hollering “Elaine! I love you!” You can’t get that kind of drama with a cell phone.
Then again, remember way back to “Sorry, Wrong Number?” I know, I’m old. That spooky movie would have been great with cell phones because it was all about telephone calls.
In real life, sometimes smart phones are a blessing. A few weeks ago, when the area was coated in ice and driving was treacherous, it was good to be able to text friends to warn them to stay home. Last week when Highway 20 was closed due to a problem at the railroad crossing, I was glad to get the message. Certainly, if somebody wants to tell me I won a prize, I will welcome a call. But today’s writers are overdoing it with the cell phones. Let the characters on the screen talk to each other. Save the interruptions for important stuff. The barn is on fire. The bad guy is on his way. There’s a bomb in the limo. Otherwise, let’s just talk or operate in silence for a while. Can we do that?
It has been quiet for two minutes. Text me.