I think we’ve all come across this through different story mediums. That movie that would have been so good . . . if they had actually fleshed out the story. That book that would have been amazing . . . if the author hadn’t become entranced with their character’s ennui. That play that would have been incredible . . . if you could actually hear the players over the music or see their actions through the mood lighting.
Like I wrote above, we’ve all seen this before. I most recently came across this watching Dolittle last night. The concept is there (in fact, it’s not even original): a doctor who can talk to animals. He and his animal friends set off on a voyage to find an antidote to save the queen. Exciting, right?
The talent was there. I mean, it was Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role for Pete’s sake. How could they have failed?
Well, mostly, they did. And I believe it was because they concentrated more on the look of the film, the feel of the film – the aesthetic – than on the actual story of the film. They focused on the quirks of the characters and the funny or clever one-liners, and allowed the actual meat of the story, the interactions between the characters, and any meaningful dialogue get lost in the quirkiness of it all.
I’m not going to harp on Dolittle this entire post. It is what it is, and I did laugh, and it wasn’t an absolute waste of my time. But it did start me thinking about the dangers of allowing your desire for aesthetic to weaken your story.
Aesthetic over Plot
When you place an aesthetic over plot, you start plotting your story around an aesthetic instead of an idea or theme or the inner motivation that caused you to write the story in the first place. This can weaken your overall story in favor of a character’s vibe or personality quirk, or a certain type of setting that’s really cool, but doesn’t actually fit your story.
As an example: the bad boy aesthetic. Your’e writing a romance, and you really want your character’s love interest to be a bad boy – at first. But, your so hung up on the bad boy image that not only is the character not growing or changing throughout the novel, your’e in danger of having your bad boy cross over the line into abuser territory at worst, or having no character growth at best.
I Love A Good Aesthetic
Listen, I am all for a good aesthetic. If you check out my Pinterest you’ll see a plethora of different aesthetics. I love a good bad boy character, and I totally understand the desire for your story to have that “particular vibe” that you were inspired by in other films or books. I get that you want to write scenes with fun one-liners that readers will quote on Instagram or Twitter, or that character that inspires the Tumblr crowd to make picspams galore.
But don’t let that desire overshadow your story. Your story, your three-dimensional, fleshed out character, your structurally sound plot, will be what inspires your readers to quote, remember, and commemorate with fanart.
Your Aesthetic is Not the Plot
There’s nothing wrong with staying true to an aesthetic. There are niche genres that have that southern goth/dark boarding school vibe. Or that frenetic-last-summer-before-highschool aesthetic, or that dark-winter-witchy vibe, or whatever aesthetic or vibe your drawn to. Just remember, aesthetic is not plot. And plot (story) is key.