A New Appreciation For Bill & Ted

The writers of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure made good use of humor. Although the film lacked critical acclaim, it resonated with children of the ’80s, largely due to effective use of inside jokes.

Until I began writing mystery novels, I didn’t appreciate just how effective one particular joke really was.

A brief summary to bring everyone up to speed:

Bill S. Preston, Esq. and “Ted” Theodore Logan are high school students hard pressed to scrape up a decent grade between them. If Bill and Ted fail their history class, Ted’s father will send him to military school, thereby breaking up the guys’ rock band, “Wyld Stallyns.” A futuristic telephone booth/time travel device appears, piloted by a man called Rufus (brilliantly underplayed by George Carlin). Since Wyld Stallyns music forms the foundation of the futuristic Utopia in which Rufus lives, society sent him back to lend its unwary founders the time machine and help them with their history report. Bill and Ted use the machine to kidnap various historical figures, then lose the famous people in the local mall and must round them up in time to present an award-winning history report.

Trust me…it works on film.

There’s a scene near the end of the picture where Bill and Ted are being chased by Ted’s father and risk being late to deliver the critical report. They are outside a police station and completely trapped. At this point, Ted turns to Bill (or maybe the other way around) and says “when this is over, remind me to go back and hide the keys.”

He then ducks behind a bush and emerges, holding a set of keys – which the boys use to free the historical figures from jail and drive them to the school in time to deliver the critical report.

Funny at the time – hilarious since I began writing mystery novels.

No matter how well a writer plots or outlines in advance, there will be moments – sometimes one, more often many – when the writer finds herself thinking “I could totally make this work, if only I had a platypus.”

When this happens in my novels, the draft gets an annotation: *****insert platypus at scene X. In the next pass, the platypus drops in far enough in advance to make it a plausible part of the critical scene.

I consider it a corollary (or possibly an inversion) of the Rule of Chekov’s Gun. Although an author must not place a gun on the stage in Act 1 unless it is fired by Act 3, it’s perfectly permissible to drop an apparently random platypus into the action if you need the beast to find a killer in Act 4 – provided the drop-in happens far enough in advance to make the platypus look natural. (Note: Platypuses are notoriously good at camouflage. You’d be surprised how natural they look in any setting.)

Some writers probably see all the twists and turns from the outset, and never have to perform the emergency platypus drop, but I think more of us fall in category 2 – the “Bill & Ted” types who get 9/10 of the way through a manuscript and find themselves saying, “when this is over….remind me to get a platypus.”

Authors, chime in! Do you see all the bends in advance, or do you find yourself dropping mammals and trees in as needed, and smoothing the wrinkles out later?