1) I heart Peggy Carter so, so much.
2) Tony Stark is every bit his father’s son.
3) Edwin Jarvis is the most British butler who ever butled Britishly.
4) Howard Stark has ALL the money.
5) Howard Stark has about the same amount of common sense in regards to his inventions as Mr. Fantastic (and yes, this is a bad thing).
6) Underestimate Peggy Carter at your own peril.
7) How the Black Widow came to be such a competent agent and spy at such a young age.
8) Never put two evil masterminds in the same prison cell.
9) Apparently hypnotism is the same thing as mind control.
10) I want to see a lot more of the adventures of Agent Carter.
I won’t say this series isn’t flawed, but I will say it’s pretty good and I think with a bit more time to work out the kinks, it could be quite excellent.
Edit: I removed the former “9) Peggy loved Steve Rogers not because he was Captain America but because he was a good man” because really, I already knew that.
ComicsAlliance ran a poll over Valentine’s Day for people to vote whether various couples in comics were in “true love” or if it was just a “bad romance.” So here’s who I voted for and why (I didn’t vote for all the options because I didn’t think I knew enough about them to make an informed decision):
1) Superman & Lois Lane – True Love. Why? Well, I know that the relationship hasn’t always been very good, especially back in the days when Lois and Lana Lang were trying to win over the Man of Steel in embarrassing and manipulative ways. He also had moments of super-dickery. But at the crux of the relationship is a meeting of equals. Lois, despite her fragile human nature, is tough and fearless, and Clark, despite all his power, is gentle and sensitive. They complement each other very well.
2) Big Barda and Mr. Miracle – True Love. Chris Sims says it best, but their relationship is one of hardship, sacrifice, and strength. Also, they had the advantage of writers not jerking them around too much for the sake of cheap drama (the Superman/Barda porno comics aside).
3) Gambit and Rogue – Bad Romance. Bad, bad romance. Rogue is fine, if troubled due to her powers, but Gambit’s a terrible person. He’s a thief, a liar, a former Marauder, and that’s just the tip of the bad boy iceberg. I find very little redeeming about Gambit and I think Rogue deserves a relationship with someone who isn’t more broken than she is.
4) Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer – True Love. It should have worked. It was working. But then DC said, “marriage is boring!” and called the whole thing off. If any member of the bat-family could have made a relationship work, it was Kate.
5) Reed Richards and Sue Storm – True Love. Back when I read Fantastic Four regularly, there was a story line in which an old colleague of Reed’s called on him to help her out. She was a very intelligent woman with a few degrees in science and engineering fields. It was obvious before she said anything that she was totally crushing on Reed, even though they were both married. She eventually confessed to Reed she felt she had married someone of inferior intelligence and told him that she should really have married him. Reed’s response? “But I love Sue.” She simply did not understand how Reed, one of the smartest people on the planet, could possibly love Sue, a woman of average intelligence. Reed didn’t explain; he just reiterated that he loved Sue.
6) Harley Quinn and the Joker – Bad Romance! Do I even have to explain why? It’s an abusive relationship and the Joker cares more about how he can use Harley than her feelings.
7) Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy – Bad Romance. Why this relationship is less abusive, Ivy is more concerned with convincing Harley that the Joker is bad for her (and perhaps, by extension, that men are bad for her) than she actually is with Harley. Again, Harley’s in a relationship with someone who wants power over her.
8) Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers – Bad Romance. While Scott Pilgrim vs The World is one of my favorite movies, I feel this relationship is just another iteration of “beauty and the geek” and I think both characters have a bit of growing up to do.
9) Black Canary and Green Arrow – True Love. If Ollie can abstain from being a jerk, that is. I can’t blame him; I blame writers who sacrifice the drama of a functional relationship (like Big Barda and Mr. Miracle) for the cheap drama of a broken one, and goodness knows that like Superman and Lois Lane, these two have suffered for that.
10) Vision and Scarlet Witch – True Love. Although to be fair off to a really rocky start. The Scarlet Witch was actually crushing on Wonder Man, but he rejected her. Vision was created using Wonder Man’s brain patterns, and Wonder Man was dead at the time, so the Scarlet Witch started crushing on him. But it was working until Vision got destroyed and lost his emotions and the Scarlet Witch started going crazy and screwing with reality.
11) Rictor and Shatterstar - Bad Romance. I was reading X-Factor at the time these two started getting together. Rictor was going through a really bad patch in which he had lost and eventually regained his powers. While I think Shatterstar is fine, I think Rictor’s still too messed up to know what he wants or needs.
12) Wally West and Linda Park – True Love. This was another marriage of equals. They supported each other in good times and bad times which is exactly what true love is all about.
13) Shadowcat and Colossus – Bad Romance. I know this is probably against the grain, but I always felt these two were being shoved together by writers than letting any sort of relationship happen through the story. It was as though once together, they were victims of narrative convention that dictated they should always return to each other. Colossus is a pretty messed up guy, and I always thought he needed to be more stable by himself before trying to be in a relationship. Although I object less to this relationship than Shadowcat and Pete Wisdom…
14) Ralph and Sue Dibny – True Love. They were a really good couple. Alas, both were victims of “darker and edgier” and I don’t believe got rebooted into the New 52, probably because they were so cemented as a couple and DC thinks stable relationships are boring.
15) Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson – True Love. To hell with you, Mephisto! True love! Stupid, stupid editorial mandate ruined everything!!! ARGH!!!
Ahem. So, there’s my tribute (late) to Valentine’s Day, a day which commemorates a saint getting his head cut off by the Romans, because you can’t have “romance” without “Romans…”
“Irene Adler Syndrome” is a common affliction to well-written, well-rounded, and as much as I hate the term, strong female characters; specifically, what happens to strong female characters when adapted to other media. In short, they are too often robbed of what makes them good characters and reduced to a lesser role sometimes even what should be their own stories.
I’ve named this problem after one of the most maligned female characters – Irene Adler. If you have not read “A Scandal in Bohemia,” I urge you to do so and have provided a link. It’s a short story and a quick read. But here’s the short, short version – noted adventuress (so the story says) Irene Adler had an affair with the King of Bohemia who dumped her to marry a political equal. The King was afraid Irene would use a picture of them together to ruin his upcoming wedding. The King asked Holmes to steal the picture before this could happen. Irene had thwarted five attempts to steal the picture already, so Holmes thought of a plan to get into Irene’s house and have her show him where the picture was hidden. His plan worked, and he was so confident that he left her house when it would have been too suspicious to stay with every intention of returning in the morning to retrieve the picture. But when he arrives, the house is empty, and Irene is gone, except for a picture of herself and a note explaining exactly how she had out-smarted him.
And there you go. That’s Irene Adler. She wins. She absolutely beats Sherlock Holmes, no ifs, ands, or buts. She may not be entirely right to threaten to blackmail her ex-lover, but let’s not forget the King attempted to rob her five times before he hired Holmes. Irene is not a villain. She’s cheeky, yes, but not a villain. When she says she won’t use the picture to ruin the King’s wedding, he takes her at her word. And yet somehow when this particular story, or this character, gets adapted to other media, she is seldom this awesome. Even Doyle, a very Victorian man, was content to let a woman occasionally get the better of his protagonist (in the third printed story no less and she’s an actress/singer, which is a pretty scandalous profession), but somehow the modern people (mostly men) who often adapt this character just can’t accept that. Poor Irene is often forced to be somehow in love with Sherlock Holmes, even though in the story they didn’t really know each other, and Holmes is not the sort of guy to fall in love (by the author’s own statement). But hey, if there’s a male and a female, there has to be a love story, right? In the recent Sherlock Holmes movie, Irene was reduced from an adventuress to a high-class thief who did outsmart Holmes, kind of, but it also turned out she was being employed by Moriarty, so the implication is that her clever plans came from him. And in the TV series, Sherlock, she’s again a pawn of Moriarty, reduced to a standard damsel in distress, and of course is hopelessly in love with Holmes. And both, of course, are femme fatales, because of course. And I really do not want to get into Irene’s self-identification as a lesbian who then falls in love with a man. The BBC TV adaptation is just a seven-layer cake of unfortunate implications.
It is genuinely distressing to me that the original Irene Adler, as written by a Victorian man well over 100 years ago, was a stronger and more interesting character than pretty much any modern adaptation. How the hell did that happen? Yes, Doyle had her married at the end of the story to show she was safely out of the way (a Victorian thing to do) but other than that, she was extremely progressive for the time. Why does modern media get her so very, very wrong?
Sadly, I think this is because society has not advanced as much as we may hope it has. No doubt classifying Irene as an “adventuress” and actress/singer was Victorian shorthand to denote a woman with a colorful and checkered past but instead of modern updates embracing Irene’s independence and implied sexuality, too many make her character all about sexuality. Hell, in the TV show, she walks into the room naked! The idea is that by not wearing any clothes Holmes won’t be able to read any of her intentions, but let’s just say I find that rationale more than a little suspect. And if the idea is to update the implied sexual past of an “adventuress” and actress/singer, well, why go to the extreme of a dominatrix? I mean, it’s not as though the idea of an actress having a sexual past is outdated. Entire tabloids are dedicated to that very thing. I’ve read a few pieces that argue Irene is being updated as a modern, strong woman, but I simply do not agree. The reason? Because it seems like so many “strong female characters” are femme fatales. It’s an overdone trope. Still, various character changes might have been fine had the conclusion of the original story been maintained – Irene’s victory is complete and unambiguous. But few adaptations maintain that ending.
Holmes himself, a brooding, brilliant, asexual, drug-addict, has been adapted successfully many, many times, including the cocaine habit, which one would think would be dropped for a modern audience (although maybe not so much after the success of Breaking Bad). So the people who adapt Doyle’s stories are more comfortable featuring a manic-depressive, occasionally violent drug-addict (yes, that scene in the first movie where Holmes shot up the wall was something that happened in the stories) as a lead character than a one-off story in which a woman is clever enough to beat him? I argue that the former should be more difficult than the latter, and yet the adaptations do not bear this out.
Irene Adler, unfortunately, is not the only victim of Irene Adler Syndrome. I’ll get to some others at another time. “Scandal in Bohemia” – read it.
So, go get your flu shot. I didn’t, and this week I have a) gotten behind on every project because so far I haven’t made it to work, b) wrapped myself in a blanket only to keep shivering, c) found out the misery of a fever does not increase linearly with each degree but expontentially (i.e., 102 feels a hundred times worse than 100), d) subsisted primarily on water, crackers, and sugar-free cough drops (“cherry” flavor), and e) coughed so hard it hurts to swallow and I can barely talk. I could use this time to binge on The Walking Dead but I think I’m pretty much there. So here are the thoughts from literally fevered brain.
Rubber – I watched a movie about a sentient tire that exploded people’s heads with its psychic powers for no reason. I am not making this up. This was the sort of movie that seemed like a pretentious theater student’s thesis project. Also, when I think of all the ways the world could end, “death by army of sentient, psychic tires” wouldn’t have made my top 100. The other movie option my friends offered was called Blood Glacier about, well, a killer glacier. That movie and Rubber both had higher ratings than Cheerleader Ninjas.
This probably tells you more about how I spend my Saturday nights than perhaps I really want anyone to know…
Agent Carter – still awesome. Watch it. This is a really great example of what a prequel should do for a series. Currently the best prequels I’ve encountered in any media are the ones for Dune. Adequate prequels answer questions you had about the original piece of media, bad prequels answer unimportant questions you didn’t have about the original piece of media, and good prequels answer important questions you didn’t have about the original piece of media. In the “Hobbit” movies, the only bit of information that qualified in that sense was “why did it seem Legolas and Aragorn already knew each other?” Well, Agent Carter answers a very important question about the background of one of the Avengers in a way that makes sense and doesn’t detract from the story being told about Agent Carter.
“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along-Blog” – I haven’t thought about this in a long time, but I came across a review of it and found out the DVD release had an entirely new musical on it appropriately titled, “Commentary! The Musical.” It’s absolutely worth the price of the DVD. There are some other extras and my favorite is the “Evil League of Evil” application videos. I wish I had known about the contest at the time, but some very talented amateurs put together their best shot at joining Bad Horse and the rest and I was entertained, impressed, and somewhat depressed that I lack that kind of talent. Still, well worth the price and highly recommended.
Sorry for skipping Wednesday with no warning. Real life is not conducive to hopefully entertaining and always ranty blog entries. Anyway, on with the show!
“Railroading” is normally a term associated with role-playing games. It refers to a gamemaster who controls the game so closely that the players have no ability to do anything but what the GM wants. This is quite common in particular in modules and in many ways unavoidable. There’s just not a lot of room to improvise in an adventure that’s already been written (one I played was so badly written we the players stopped trying to investigate anything on our own and just waited around for the next clue to come to us, which it did). This is a bigger issue when the GM is creating the world and still doesn’t allow the players any freedom. Granted, having watched an adventure or two go off the rails, as it were, I understand why GMs may do that, but it ruins a lot of the fun of the game. And besides, a good GM can improvise, usually.
So how does this relate to writing? Obviously as the writer, I am in complete control of my world, my characters, and my plot. Usually. When I use the term “railroading” to refer to writing, I’m referring to stories in which the actions of the characters seem to have no bearing on the plot; that is, it seems like the plot is dragging the characters around, not that the characters are driving the story. I mentioned I’m having this problem right now with “Sailor Moon Crystal.” For those of you not familiar with this series right now, or don’t want spoilers, I’ll try to provide an example of what I mean. I’m trying to think of more examples in various media, but I guess I’m lucky in that I’m having trouble thinking of many off-hand. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a decent example in that despite all of Alice’s protests about being in control of her own destiny, she still had a prophecy to fulfill, and when it came down to that, the sword she carried was more important than anything she did. But that’s all I’ve got in mainstream media, so I’ll use a real-life example.
Before Writer G and I went our separate ways, I read a draft of one of his novels. The particulars of the story aren’t terribly important, so I’ll sum up this way: a teenage boy and a teenage girl are chosen by separate gods to fulfill an ancient prophecy or else a bunch of people will die. I don’t care for prophecy myself in fiction because I think many times prophecy serves more as a deus ex machina than a real driver for the story. Writer G, by the way, did just this. Anyway, if the boy and girl in this story succeed, everyone is saved. If they don’t, everyone is screwed. So as the boy and girl go along to find the actual prophecy, they save a couple of villages, are granted miracles by their gods, find the prophecy, have a final battle with their gods, and save everyone.
So why do I use this story as an example of railroading? As I read it, I felt the characters had no choice and their actions didn’t matter. Now, in the best types of stories with prophecies, the characters must go through hardships to get them to the point they can fulfill the prophecy either physically (as in they have to get to the right place) or mentally (as in the character needs to learn something/grow in some way). But this story was not the best type. Specific examples from the story:
a) The main characters did save some villages. However, this had no bearing on the plot or their characters. And if they had failed in fulfilling the prophecy, everyone would have died. But because they succeeded, everyone would have been saved anyway. And no, the characters did not grow through those experiences.
b) When the characters got into trouble, their gods provided exactly the miracle they needed to get out of trouble. Their actions had no bearing on the situation.
c) When the characters needed to get into the main temple to find the prophecy, the main temple was of course guarded by many powerful clerics with powerful magic and they were obviously outmatched. The spirit of the prophecy itself possessed the girl and not only guided her directly to the safe where the prophecy was held, the spirit hid her and the boy from any kind of detection.
d) And when the characters need to get to the place to fulfill the prophecy, which is a long way away from the main temple, the spirit of the prophecy just teleports them to where they need to be.
I could cite some more examples, but I hope that’s enough to illustrate my point. I know that from a meta-perspective all characters are railroaded. The plot goes in one direction and they go in that direction. I just don’t like it when a piece of media feels like the characters are being railroaded. If the characters don’t really have a choice or even the illusion of choice, then it’s hard for me to root for them one way or the other. And this is why “Sailor Moon Crystal” is currently befuddling me. I’ll finish the series, of course, and maybe think differently, and maybe have some more thoughts on railroading (or at least more examples) and how to avoid the appearance of it in writing.
So now, an analysis of the “movie-only subplots.” One of the issues with adding these subplots is that the book didn’t really have subplots. The story is pretty linear and one event moves to the next to the next. This isn’t to say the party’s actions don’t have consequences, but more to say that there’s not a lot of intrigue (it is a children’s book). I suppose there are implied subplots, but were the movies expanded by adding the subplots, or merely drawn out? That’s the question I’m going to try to answer.
[[Remember, the tally for the handling of the actual book’s plot was minus 10 for the creative team]]
0.5) “Concerning Dwarves” – I’m not even sure this qualifies as a subplot but instead an overly long flashback sequence. I’m still including it here. Anyway, I don’t understand what was added to the movie by showing the fall of Erebor. Maybe a few ten second flashbacks to the devestation as the dwarves explain what happened (like how many action/thriller movies flashback to a few critical scenes of the main character’s life to explain why they are cynical/jaded/psychotic/etc.). But 20 minutes? These movies are already long enough. Also, the presence of the wood elves is never explained.
Briefly – minus 10 points to the creative team; five for drawing out already long movies with information that could have been delivered more efficiently and dramatically, and five for creating a gaping plot hole.
1.5) Thorin vs Azog -
a) I will sum up (and it will still probably take too long) – This was obviously one of the longest running subplots in the trilogy. This was not in the book as far as I recall, although how Thorin got his nickname of “Oakenshield” may have been mentioned. From what I gathered from the movie, at some point Thorin’s dad got the bright idea to reclaim Moria since the Lonely Mountain was now 1 Smaug Lane. However, orcs had already taken over/were still there and Azog was the leader, who killed Thorin’s dad so Thorin tried to kill him and only maimed him. Azog swore revenge, which Thorin didn’t know because he thought Azog was dead.
b) What does this subplot add to the trilogy – A lot of warg chases for no reason. There’s a brief confrontation between Azog and Thorin at the end of the first movie that ends with Bilbo saving Thorin before the Eagles ex Machina show up. Azog is so determined to track Thorin down and kill him that he sends a band of orcs to attack the back door of the kingdom of Mirkwood which resulted in zero dwarves killed (althought one was injured) and a whole bunch of dead orcs. Hell, Azog takes Thorin down in like two shots and can’t even be bothered to finish him off. Then Azog is pulled off the chase for… reasons, I guess, leaving DiscountAzog (Bolg) to go kill Thorin. DiscountAzog tracks the dwarves to Laketown and attacks, which results again in zero dwarves killed and a whole bunch of dead orcs. Legolas chases after DiscountAzog so now that’s his nemesis for the remainder of the story for…reasons… I guess. In the last movie, Azog finally shows up again to kill Fili and finally finish off Thorin. This does in fact result in two dwarves killed and a whole bunch of dead orcs. So, between Azog and DiscountAzog we have three dead dwarves and three whole bunches of dead orcs. Then again, the orcish battle strategy appears to be primarily overwhelming numbers.
c) What does this remove – after all, there are so many minutes. This removes Beorn’s hero moment because he does not get to slay the goblin leader. This, to me, also removes any reason to include Beorn.
Briefly – minus another 10 points to the creative team. This whole subplot didn’t seem well thought out to me and I don’t think it added anything I might have missed otherwise. But 3 points to the video game developers for the warg chases.
2) Spoiler Alert! (or, “the Necromancer is Totally Sauron”) –
a) Hints and Allegations – like all of the veiled language to a dark power and the implication that the slaying the dragon and re-taking Erebor was very important in the grand scheme of things. In the first movie, Saruman tells the others on the Council that the dwarves absolutely can’t go back to Erebor. In the second movie in the Bree flashback, Gandalf hints to Thorin that there are forces that would prefer he not try to re-take Erebor. Of course, what this has to actually do with the story is never explained (or, at least, not in a way that was clear to me), especially since Sauron doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the book’s plot except keep Gandalf out of the way for a bit so the Thorin and Co. can actually get some XPs.
b) Time for Back Story! – the events of The Hobbit were subject to the dreaded retcon before “LotR” was published. Initially the author just wrote his children’s story and continued on with his world building. So when he reaches this epic battle over the ring, he realized that there was nothing to really tie it to the first story besides the fact Bilbo had it in his possession. A change was made in the original story to better tie into to “LotR” by making the ring something evil and implying Gandalf kept an eye on Bilbo because of the mysterious ring, but clearly Gandalf didn’t have the slightest suspicion of what it actually was for 60 years! And when he did start to pass his perception checks, while this was glossed over the movies, in “Fellowship” Gandalf spent 17 years researching Bilbo’s ring to research “questions that need answers.” It was in that time he and Aragorn teamed up to go find Gollum and try to figure out how an artifact of unimaginable evil and power that had been lost for centuries (!!) ended up with Bilbo. However, I will grant that in some of the supplemental works, it’s stated that dragons had once upon a time served Sauron’s boss, hence a reasonable fear that Smaug might be talked into working for Sauron.
c) Movie Sign – of course, in the “LotR” movies, no mention was ever made of a necromancer in Mirkwood and there was barely a mention of “that incident with the dragon.” However, the movies in general did a good job showing that the wise powers were generally caught off-guard by the reappearance of Sauron and the realization that the only thing required for evil to conquer the world again was in the pocket of a well-to-do hobbit who used it to hide from bothersome relatives. But if, as the “Hobbit” trilogy portrays, the wise powers already knew Sauron had remanifested, and at considerable strength, this raises the question of why were they so damn unprepared by the time “Fellowship” rolled around.
d) To Sum Up – So what did the expansion of this subplot from a few lines to several scenes do for the movies? Well, the visuals were pretty cool. It was nice to see Elrond get some action time, although I’m curious why he was not shown to be using his elven ring. But I don’t understand why Galadriel was so weakened by the use of her power. I think the payoff was not worth the screen time building up to it and honestly it makes the wise powers of Middle-earth look kind of stupid. With what the audience presumably already knows about Sauron and the way this set of movies really tried to emphasize what a menace he was, why why why would that confrontation end with, “Well, that’s over and done and we’ll never have to worry about Sauron again.” Also, this really dragged along. Sure, the Sauron beat-down was nice, but it took way too long to get any payoff from all the boring conversations in the first two movies.
e) And the Worst Part – There was a very easy fix that would have allowed the fight with the necromancer (although without a lot of the padding), the hints that something dark is happening in the world, and it would not make the wise powers look like morons. Don’t reveal the necromancer as Sauron. It’s just that simple. While this isn’t canon for the books, it would make more sense for the movies since the characters don’t mention that in “LotR.” Have Gandalf explicitly state that he’s afraid the dragon will ally itself with dark powers and that the necromancer might too. Then you get a reason to take on the dragon, a reason to fight the necromancer, and all sorts of hints and allegations that something bigger is brewing (hell, even give Gandalf a line saying something like, “I feel this is only the beginning” or something), you maintain continuity with the movies, and the characters don’t look like idiots.
Briefly – minus 15 points to the creative team for making a necessary side-quest unnecessarily overblown from a concise explanation to its own boring story arc that actually undermines the competancy of the characters.
4) Unlikely Elf/Elf/Dwarf Love Triangle -
a) I do not object to the addition of Tauriel, Captain of the Guard. There are zero female characters in the book. I didn’t object to expanding Arwen’s role in the original “LotR” because of the dearth of female characters. But the presence of Tauriel only served the story arcs of Legolas and Kili, and the latter mostly to make the audience sad when Kili finally dies. So Legolas and Tauriel like each other, but he’s a prince and she’s a commoner, so that’s going nowhere. Then she meets Kili and they instantly bond over a bad pick-up line. But she’s still loyal to Legolas and he doesn’t like dwarves.
b) This bothers me a great deal. Tauriel seemed so kick-ass and then was reduced to practically useless in the last movie. She couldn’t even avenge Kili because I guess it wouldn’t do for a she-elf to get some glory? I don’t know, but the whole subplot is weak. The relationship between Legolas and Tauriel is the most believeable part, not her and Kili suddenly falling in love. The resolution is weak too and it takes a long time to get to it. Yes, it does provide some insight on Thrandiul’s issues, and gives Legolas a reason to angstily ride off into a new adventure, but Tauriel is deprived of any closure. Kili is dead, Legolas runs off, and what happens to her? I guess she goes back to Mirkwood to continue service in the guard.
Briefly – plus five to the creative team for trying to add some diversity (although taking a cast of lily-white dudes and adding one Lilly-white chick barely qualifies as diverse), but minus ten points to the creative team for reducing a promising character into nothing but a source of angst for someone else’s story arc.
That’s minus 40 for all the added subplots, but plus three to the video game developers. This totals minus 50 points to the creative team. I expect an adequate adaptation to total out at zero or nearly so. And what was done with the actual plot of the book wasn’t too bad, but the added subplots just bogged the movie down. They weren’t well thought-out, they took too long to pay off, and undermined some of the main characters in the original trilogy. I think had the movies been shorter (or fewer movies) a lot of this dross would have been cut and the subplots that remained tightened up. I’m not saying all the subplots needed to be cut out. I think the necromancer subplot could have been a nice visual spectacle if it had been handled better. I’m not sure what help there is for poor Tauriel though.
I’m borrowing this phrase from one of my favorite animated shows. Conflict is the heart of drama, but too often I see conflict that doesn’t make any damn sense being the driving force of drama. When the conflict doesn’t make sense, the drama is, well, less than dramatic and in fact is often annoying as I find myself yelling at the characters, “Hey, stupid, don’t do that!”
1) For Their Own Good – this scenario crops up a LOT in superhero comics concerning secret identities, but it shows up elsewhere. Basically, one half of a person in a relationship knows something that would be devestating to the other person and keeps it secret. Now, this does have a lot of good potential for drama as it touches on themes of trust, betrayal, and respect. What bothers me is when the person withholding the information has no good reason to do so. I don’t mean that we as the audience know there is no reason (for example, the withholdee actually already knows but the withholder does not). I am referring to when it just doesn’t make sense for the withholder to do so. For example, the withholder has up until this point told the withholdee all sorts of potentially devastating secrets and just this once decides not to say anything.
A sub-entry is “For Their Protection” which is the case when the withholder of information believes that sharing with the withholdee would get that person killed. That seems logical enough, right? However, if, for example, the villain wants to kill everyone in the end, why would the withholder not share the information? I recently watched a television show in which a male character ends up cursed by the villain to be prevented from expressing his feelings to his love interest because if he does, that would destroy her and allow the villain to win. The villain tells him he can’t tell the love interest about this curse or she’ll kill the love interest, to which he replies that if the villain could have killed the love interest she would have already done so. In his conversation with the villain, who wants to kill everyone in the show, the male character lays out exactly why it doesn’t make any sense to not tell the love interest what happened. And yet he decides not to tell her!
2) Will They/Won’t They – strictly a romantic situation and a very, very common one. While it certainly does generate drama to see two characters who are clearly in love with each other somehow not get together, after a while this tension becomes grating. After all, if they are so compatible, why don’t they get together? The writers have to strain creditability to keep putting the characters in situations where they seemed don’t get together. This usually includes obviously unsuitable suitors, outrageous coincidences, or total tragedy, all of which just mainly serve as distractions. Distractions are not drama, at least not when they are so obvious.
3) Miscommunication is the Mother of Misery – perhaps the foundation of all sitcom premises is the hilarious miscommunication. Basically, one person misunderstand some crucial bit of information about another person and reacts according to this misinformation, which is of course completely at odds with how they would normally act. I really hate this situation because there is no reason that people who are friends won’t just talk to each other and find out what’s really going on, which is true in comedies or dramas.
4) Drama Llama – that character who is the center of drama and does nothing but create drama around him/her by a) always taking a comment the wrong way, b) always misunderstanding what’s going on, or c) deliberately spreading misinformation about what is going on. Common expressions of this character include the Nosy Neighbor, the Ditz, or Mean Girl, or the Schemer. I would think after a while a group of people would become accustomed to the Ditz and know not to take anything s/he says at face value. Likewise the Mean Girl or Schemer, and in fact I wonder why a group of people would keep the Mean Girl or Schemer around if they didn’t have to. But humans are weird; still, after a while you’d think people would learn not to trust the Schemer anymore than the Ditz. In the worst cases, the people involved have learned not to trust their untrustworthy friends, but do so because the plot demands it even if that action is totally out of character.
I know that in fiction all drama is in fact contrived. As the author, I design the world, the characters, and the conflict that drives the story. But the ensuing drama should never feel contrived. The characters’ actions and reactions should be consistent and make sense within the context of the story.