So finally I’m commencing a novel. I want it to be like letting a genie out of a magic bottle.
However, I don’t want to resort to a misuse of magic in all my plot turns; there is still a need for good set ups and lead in and I would like some originality. This is where I can learn a great deal from ‘arm chair critics’, or ‘ readers.’
Lately my whole family, the arm chair critics I know best, have been having trouble with some of the writing on television. We see brilliant concepts in shows like Doctor Who and Once Upon a Time – the season beginnings and finales of both these shows have been extremely well written.
However, the journey to reach these finales this season has had a litany of poor writing. One of the major gripes from my family of armchair critics has been that characters change too quickly, or are not allowed to retain growth to something different. They are quickly back to what they began as ‘ good’, ‘evil’.
They just keep playing with us a little too much. Rumplestiltskin, that complex figure, courts darkness but is ever protective of the ones he loves, until it involves his own fate and then suddenly doesn’t care at all about death – finally courage?? The Evil Queen in Once Upon a Time was on the path to truly changing to a pathway for good due to her love for Henry. Yet, she went back to being bad at what seemed the drop of a hat, the death of a mother she thought who never loved her who turned out to love her.
We were really starting to believe she could change, but the writers took that away, only to bring back her potential goodness in a massive hurry in the finale. Does torture and a stealing of your option for destruction of everyone you hate really create a back flip as quick as that?
The whole fatal flaw thing can simply be overdone. The effect of change, return to status quo, is to make us feel a lack of progression. To feel that the same scene is replayed over and over again.
Don’t get my children started on Snow White/Mary Margaret and Prince Charming in the modern day! Mary Margaret the tortured murderess is difficult to take. In the past well she’s highly admirable for her ability to see the goodness in everyone. Is it progression for her to want to murder someone or a regression? Where do you go with a ‘perfect’ character? Do you have to corrupt her?
As viewers/readers we want progression, a new path, not just a stuck in the groove plot/broken record character. So often this season Once Upon a Time sub-plots had this feeling. This is despite the borrowing and transformation of a large number of popular culture stories. Lately it has even felt like Mulder and Scully have started running around in the plot.
What is left in Once Upon a Time when you remove all the layers of intertextuality? Mind you some of my favourite shows, like Get Smart, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeanie don’t have much progression, but the humour is the broken record, and you can predict the plot every time but have a rollicking time arriving to the same point each time.
In other kinds of television, such as Doctor Who or Once Upon a Time, this does not work as well because they are also trying to excite us with the new, their predictability is the unpredictable – the predictable becomes the twist in the plot. Yet if it’s there just for the sake of it, without an internal common sense naturally arising from previous events the viewer feels cheated.
The thing is television writers can’t know that the dynamics of their plot will take a certain course in a season. Viewers will side with certain characters and take on their cause. They have already set the ball in motion and can’t respond to the viewer’s alliances. The thing is some actors can make an awful character on paper have humanity, this may be the intention of the writer, but it might be that they believe you will never truly trust them. They can’t fully predict your response.
Another complaint is that the plot is just too full of surprises, that the magical or scientific, adventure vehicle doesn’t have enough coherency or there are too many coincidences. Doctor Who did have some amazing connections throughout it’s plot this season, and did seem to do it a whole lot better than Once Upon a Time. The thread of the Impossible Girl and the curious Doctor who can’t solve her mystery, was clearly there, and understandable in the finale.
By comparison this season Once Upon a Time had so many twists and way too many story lines as to seem contrived too much even for fairytales. He’s a stranger, looking for his father, no he’s not looking for his father, oh no there is a bigger employer outside it all. As for Doctor Who the jury is still out on the quality of some of the acting. This season has seen some wooden acting, and a feeling of going through the motions despite the interesting storylines. Is this the actors or the writing?
Is there enough in the script and the stories? Are there simply too many things packed into each episode leaving little room for character development?
One show’s writers doing it well are those Person of Interest. With a small cast of regular characters who progress, but well written regulars and guests the plot and characters seem to be gently but interestingly progressing, even the machine! This is by far my favourite show from a writing view point, but also from the characters and acting point of view too.
There are just enough twists and turns, the character development is subtle, understated, not like a sea saw that will make you sick!
I have been down this novel writing road before, but it was a swift free write journey for one month of Nanowrimo and ended up at the bottom of an electronic drawer. Not this time.
This time as well as keeping in mind the armchair critics, I have a different approach, and from an overall treatment of my novel have begun with key motifs free writes (meditations on key symbols of the novel) to thinking about structure and then onto research, google is great for that but also research from people.
Then my journey for writing the novel will begin. No doubt there will be some going back into the cycle, of reflecting, research, creating and checking the world of the novel makes sense and is consistent.
So from magically imagining a plot out of an empty bottle, armchair critics and google I think this novel writing is going to be quite a ride and despite some annoying writing I will keep watching Doctor Who and Once Upon a Time hoping for much better writing next season. I am so glad Person of Interest has been renewed for another season.
(c) June Perkins