An excerpt from my script review for The Zookeeper’s Wife which will be available 04/10/17:

2.) Plot Stability

Near Miss

Just what the name implies, this is where you put your character into a dangerous situation, usually one that will halt the plot dead in its tracks, but just at the last moment she finds a way out.

This technique is good to use, because it builds tension and advances the plot.

The mistake you have to avoid, however, is not overusing this device, because your character CANNOT constantly cheat danger and come out of it unscathed.

A good example is from Episode One, when the Jedi are leaving the Gungan City and traveling through the planet’s core. The same “bigger fish” argument used twice in a row? Never feeling like the characters are in trouble? You can’t have an entire movie of situations like that…

After a while your audience will stop worrying about your characters in dire situations. If they just assume the hero will escape, you haven’t done your job as a writer.

Unfortunately for this script, and probably the book, Antonina flies too close to the sun, but never gets burned, and her wings are always operational after.

Here’s an arbitrary list to illustrate my point.

The Armory – Here’s my BIGGEST complaint. The Nazis decide to use the zoo’s storage for their munitions, but only guard it at night? This bugged THE SHIT out of me. Forget for a moment that it allows the Jewish refugees to come out of hiding at night, eating, dancing, and partying like it’s 1899, but the Nazi Army is just going to leave stores of ammunition unguarded in a city they’re occupying?

That’s just absurd.

Bombing – Germany drops bombs on Warsaw, mainly the bridges, which the zoo is close to and gets hit. Fortunately, none of our main characters are injured, nor any of the most desirable fauna inside.

European Bison – The Nazis occupy the city, and Heck comes to tell Antonina he’s taking the most unique of all the animals for “safe keeping” back to Germany. Not once does he ask where her husband, Jan is. Bombs have just fallen, the city’s being occupied, wouldn’t Jan be protecting his family AND the zoo he’s in charge of? Meh, Heck accepts whatever reason Antonina gives him, regardless of how silly it sounds.

The Housekeeper – She comes in the morning, and leaves by 1pm. Between those times it’s all Anne Frank up in the Zoo Villa. Unfortunately, the number of smuggled refugees is growing too fast, and Antonina has to let her go. But will she be a housekeeper scorned?!

In the very next scene the Gestapo shows up and hauls Jan away. Uh-oh, the housekeeper sold them out! …Oh, but she didn’t. Jan’s brought to the governor’s house because someone released snakes and the whole thing becomes some sort of lame gags as he shares a chuckle with the Nazis.

Dr. Ziegler – Another random Nazi official shows up to “see the bug collection” in the basement. He notices the hopscotch drawing on the floor that seems out of place, and hints he knows Jan’s up to something. So he takes him to the Ghetto, and into the labor building.

But is Jan in trouble? No, don’t be silly. He’s given a free pass to escort Jews RIGHT OUT OF THE GHETTO, and no one wonders when they don’t come back?

Fox Farm – So Jan and Antonina have been keeping the zoo open under the guise of a pig farm, that allows them to house and transfer refugees to safety, but Heck shows up saying he’s closing the pig farm down! (Because pigs can’t last the winter, apparently? Pigs are hearty fucking creatures, but whatever.)

So “oh no” they’ll be ruined right? Wrong, because the Nazis are instead going to raise foxes on zoo grounds! For the furs that will be used in coats for the Eastern Front of course! Everyone knows foxes grow instantly and the zoo would house a couple hundred maybe? That’s plenty of fur for thousands of soldiers.

And the farmer that’s there to raise those foxes shows up one night wanting to stay in the villa. But nighttime is when the refugees eat and socialize, so how will this work? Fox Man discovers them, but don’t worry, he’s super chill.

Phew, another disaster averted.

Parties – One way the refugees are smuggled out of the zoo, but no one wonders about it? I get initially, because Jan is liquoring them up, but at the end the resistance fighters take control of the city, and Nazi soldiers show up at the zoo and find…a party? It’s a near miss because the Jewish folks are upstairs when they shouldn’t be, but he can’t tell these folks are Jewish just by looking at them.

Okay, I get that, but NO ONE’S going to question why these people are celebrating when the city is under siege from within? Especially when you’re the occupying force and unsure who is friend or foe?

The Ending – Holy shit. Heck’s been head over heels for Antonina the entire story, and he finally discovers she’s been using him. He’s pissed.

So pissed that he shows up with a gaggle of soldiers and he kills…no one? Takes Rhys behind the shed and shoots…a rooster that just happened to be conveniently placed even though everyone’s starving in Warsaw?

Oh, and the fucking icing on the cake. After being shot IN THE NECK, of course Jan’s alive at the end. Bruised, but still alive…ridiculous.

And there were more examples, but despite a noble “based on” story, the incidents used to build plot just became too silly.

Remember, two or three “near misses” maybe in your own writing, but sooner or later you need to throw your characters in the deep end forcing them to sink or swim.

That kind of tension makes for good stories.

(Personally, I’d like a list of the “fact vs. fiction” for this story. I get that it’s based on, but how much artistic license was taken with Antonina, Jan, and Heck?)

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