More on Some Reading and Writing

A week ago, I read Nick Hornby’s screenplay for An Education, the new film starring Carey Mulligan and Peter Saarsgard.

I liked it, I was entertained by the screenplay, and I’m looking forward to seeing the film at some nebulous point in the future, and… Well, there’s a but.

The “but” is that it suffers from the typical Hornby third act problems.

I went back and read through the screenplay last night. As I mentioned, it’s short, and I breezed through it in about half an hour this time. I wanted to see if my hunch was correct. And it was.

I like Hornby’s work, though I confess that I’ve not read his three most recent novels — A Long Way Down, Slam, and Juliet, Naked. (The first two I have, the third I do not.) High Fidelty was very good, About a Boy was near excellent, and How to Be Good was a bit muddled and underwhelming. I think I prefer his essays to his fiction; I love Fever Pitch, and I’ve enjoyed Songbook and The Polysyllabic Spree.

I’ve noticed in Hornby’s work that his endings are generally soft. Either the book just stops (High Fidelity) or the final act feels like a different story entirely (About a Boy). Either way, Hornby seems to have some difficulty in bringing his stories to an effective close.

That’s what was nagging at me about An Education. No, Hornby hasn’t solved his typical third act problems here. Rather, this is a prime example of the problem.

The first two thirds of the story is a generally light, comedic affair. The final act is dramatic, even tragic. The point where everything changes? It involves a banana.

There’s a major element, one that explains everything, that’s introduced with about fifteen pages left. It’s not something you know is there. It’s not even something you suspect. There’s no foreshadowing that this event will happen, that this character will appear on the stage. Yet, without that element, the story doesn’t work.

And that’s what bugs me. I’d be more satisfied if that element were at least hinted at, much earlier. We don’t even get the impression that a character is being evasive. Just that he’s shady.


At times, I wish I could write like a normal person. From first word to last, straight through.

I can. Sometimes.

But this short story is more like…

Well, it’s like I’m building something with LEGO. I have the idea, I can see a vague shape, and I keep trying out different pieces, seeing if they fit.

What I have now is a mass of scribbles that I need to sort out into something coherent.

I may tackle that tonight. Or I may watch Merlin. I haven’t decided yet.

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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