Thursday, August 4, 2016

Talking to the Human Heart

Authors and tv producers need to stay focused on a few basic principles that sometimes seem to get shuffled aside in the excitement. I don't know why. Maybe spending so much time trying to get the plot to work causes folks to lose track of the fact that The_Story_Is_About_The_Character(s). It isn't about the plot. If the story is about the plot, then what you are writing is a news broadcast. Or a history book.

The reader/audience needs to understand the characters. Protagonists need to be sympathetic. The reader/audience doesn't always have to agree with them, they don't even have to like the protagonist. But they have to be able to think 'there but for the grace of my deity goes I'. They need to understand how the protagonist got into this mess, and have a feeling for how they might try to get out of it if it was them. Antagonists need to stay human. They can be vile, miserable spawns of (fill in the blank) but they need to be comprehensible. And it doesn't hurt if they can be made a touch sympathetic too. Like a murdering thief who started snitching bread and fruit from vendors in the marketplace to feed his baby sister, and never learned how to stop stealing. Something like that.

What gripes me all out of proportion is when the book's author, or a show's producer, lets the plot dictate that, say, the protagonist must behave in a way that is A) a notable departure from their previously established behavior patterns, and B) yanks my sympathy away and makes me suddenly start to dislike or disdain a character that I had previously started to cheer for.

Case in point. A show I watched a while back. It was one of those stockpiled shows where you save up and watch the whole series all at once over snacks. Anyway, there were multiple protagonists. One of them was a woman who had been dragged away from her home and family because of a deus ex machina that doesn't have anything to do with this rant. She had spent two seasons displaying honor, dignity, courage, and loyalty to her people, her family, her husband, and her lost child that she missed terribly. Suddenly, in the third season, she says what the hell and starts sleeping with three different men, telling one of them that the time she spent with her half grown kid was in the past and it was time to move on.

Now, there are several things wrong with that. I won't go into all of them. Hopefully anyone reading this will see exactly what I mean, and if you don't I can't help. I watched a few more episodes just to see if maybe she was drugged, or an imposter, or possessed by an alien, or maybe she went crazy from the stress. But no, she was completely sane and cold-blooded.

Oddly, the series was canceled after that season. I can't imagine why.
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