I went to the drive-in this past weekend (yes, we have a drive-in! It's awesome!) to see Pirates of the Caribbean: World's End. We had seen Dead Man's Chest the year before, so we thought it was fitting.
The movie was awful. It was made tolerable by quantities of Jack Sparrow's favorite beverage. Parts of it were certainly entertaining, but we kept asking each other, "What just happened?" and declaring "I don't understand what's going on!"*
I don't normally delve into the world of film (not my expertise), but the third film brought something to mind that I wanted to explore: the power of good storytelling. Good storytelling (visually or verbally) is more than just shiny flashy pretty things and catchy words. It requires a coherent narrative. And that coherent narrative was something that the third Pirates film was lacking. The first film was fun, had a fun story, and was thoroughly entertaining. The second and third? A ploy for more money because the structure broke down somewhere in the second one.
Let us compare it to another famous series: Harry Potter. It comes easily to mind because for one, I'm rereading them, and for another, they are one of the bestselling series of all time. Each novel has a self-contained narrative arc, but the series works together to form a whole, coherent narrative. Little things that showed up in one book return later. J.K. Rowling doesn't just randomly spring twists on her reader; she carefully sets them up so that the reader says to herself, "Ah! I remember Mrs. Figg now! That's why she's there!" Rowling is clever with her storytelling, and she is a master of the art of storytelling.
When creating a good story, remember: you can't just spring things randomly on your viewer/reader--if you want to surprise them really well, you set it up before hand so that the surprise is even better because the evidence was right under their noses. And it doesn't come from nowhere and entail the characters acting in ways that the reader/viewer doesn't expect.
*What was up with the random wedding in the middle of the battle? And how many times did each character double-cross the other characters? And WHY did Calypso turn into a bunch of crabs?