TV blog extravaganza! (part 1 of 2)

So here’s the online chat Steph and I had about some of our favorite TV shows. During this discussion, we cover story arcs, characters–particularly the anti-hero, and a crapload of spoilers for the following shows: Castle, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, NCIS, Once Upon a Time, The Originals, Person of Interest, Psych, Revenge, and The Vampire Diaries. So… don’t read too far in if you don’t want to know some of what’s happened!

Also, we admit this is a pretty long blog post, so Steph and I split it into two parts. Read the first part below, and head over to the Vindicator Artists blog to get the rest of it!

Stephanie is in blue. I’m in red.

 

Hello, Steph!

Hello.

So I know that we had talked about doing this last week, but you had an exciting shoot to do!

Which was great for me, too, since it gave me a chance to do some last minute catch-up on some of the shows I’ve slacked on.

Yeah, it was a great shoot. Really excited about it. Martial arts film. Woo-hoo! It was great to be back on set with my film family. I’ve really missed it. I love writing and enjoy my solitude, but I’m always glad to be back on set. I really miss it when I don’t get to be on set.

That is exciting. I’m extremely jealous.

Yeah, it’s really hard, when you first get out of film school, where you were so busy with more projects and schoolwork than you could handle, and then you graduate and your classmates that you’ve been making movies with for the past three years scatter all over the country, and everyone is trying to make ends meet and still do what we love which is telling stories on screen.

Matching up content with funding is ridiculously hard. Especially in an economic environment in which nobody is really excited to invest in anything.

True. Wow, yes we could even spend a whole blog about that topic and Kickstarter, Zach Braff, Spike Lee, and Veronica Mars and what it means for indie filmmakers like us. And maybe we’ll do that, too! But this evening we’re going to focus on television–a topic which as you know, Steph, is near and dear to my heart. Much more, in fact, than feature filmmaking.

Did you ever see Veronica Mars when it was on TV?

No.

I saw an advertisement at Walmart and got it confused with Veronica Roth, the author of Divergent series.

That was my bad.

Huh. Yeah. No. Totally different… everything. I’ll spare you my opinion of Veronica Roth and her trilogy, though.

That’s what I get for staying too much in my writer’s solitude. I have no idea with what’s going on with the rest of the world that I’m supposed to be writing about.

We need to boost your television literacy!

I know. It’s embarrassing.

But it’s funny, since when you and I first talked about doing this dual blog thing, we discussed what shows we watched.

About how many shows did you say you watch? Religiously?

I watch about eleven throughout the year. Some of them have short seasons.

And I spend time catching up on some shows on Netflix.

For example, I just finished Dr. Who episodes that are available on Netflix. Picked up the first season of Fringe and working on fourth season of Sons of Anarchy.

And a couple of episodes of Into the Universe with Steven Hawking.

Ahh. So you like a little education with your entertainment.

Yes.

It makes me feel better for the hours I spend, haha.

Well, I remember I started listing off the shows that I watch, and then we discovered that I may watch a lot of TV. Maybe more than is healthy for a sane human being.

At the close of this spring season and as we head into summer, I watch about forty-eight shows, of which thirty-seven will be continuing sometime next fall, winter, or spring.

And it never really seemed like a lot to me, but apparently I’m a couch potato/TV junkie.

Let’s be clear, though. I don’t have a problem. 🙂

Haha.

I just think there’s a ton of great content out there now. In fact, I daresay that television is the place to be if you want to write, create, produce, or even act really compelling stuff.

Exactly. I mean, I’m not diminishing film at all. I still enjoy the big summer spectacle and the Oscar darling. What I mean is that TV was once considered a stepping stone toward a film career, but I’d say it’s really become part of the cultural consciousness just as much as features, maybe even more. You’ve got Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Downton Abbey, True Detective.

Yeah, I still love movies, but I think in television you have a greater opportunity to develop long character arcs and develop more subplots and have more of an ensemble of compelling characters than even franchise films where you only get the audience for two hours a year or every other year.

It seems like communities are built around TV shows more so than films that have a few weeks in the theater, and then in a few months they are out on DVD and there are so many choices on Redbox and Netflix that it’s hard for a film that doesn’t have a community behind it to compete with the other content.

I think Marvel is trying to fix that for themselves, but they are having to spend so much money to pull it off and so much depends on the audience keeping interest in superheroes.

That said, I would be heartbroken if I didn’t get to go to the movies.

I might feel that way, too, if I hadn’t spent almost two years working at a movie theater. That almost killed my love for films. But you’re definitely onto something, pointing out TV’s ability to do longer story arcs, to really build and deconstruct fascinating characters. I feel like this TV season has been especially brutal, though, to some of our favorite characters. What do you think about that?

Brutal, downright cruel. I understand the need to up the ante to maintain audience interest, but I don’t know. I think some of the shows have pulled out too many stops.

At this point, I’d like to warn the readers that we will be diving into some of the specifics of this past season’s TV shows.

So… SPOILERS AHEAD! You’ve been warned.

I know that you watch more than a few shows I haven’t really gotten into, Steph. Any particularly painful moments you’d like to share/relive? 🙂

I have been dying to talk to someone about The Vampire Diaries!!

I have to emphasize the word dying.

Alright. I’ll be honest. I have not been keeping up with that show this season. But I did read some articles a couple days ago and essentially spoiled myself. Go ahead.

Depending on whether or not Damon is actually dead or not, I am either really excited to see how they are going to bring him back or I am ready to burn down the studio which is in Georgia, so not too far from my clutches.

Don’t get me wrong. I like most of the characters but there is no way Enzo can replace Damon.

You little pyro. So are you saying you didn’t see this coming?

I had heard that Damon dies in one of the books, but I never dreamed they would write him off, so I’m assuming there is a way to bring him back from the “dead” or “undead dead.”

I don’t think the show would survive without Damon.

If they were wanting me to totally believe that Damon was really dead, I don’t believe it.

It seems to be the curse of the onscreen/offscreen romance. But you seem to think they didn’t actually kill him… permanently. Which is already weird to say, since he plays a vampire on the show.

Well, they’ve been building toward Damon accepting the ultimate act of heroism which is to die to save everyone else, but he was acting under the belief that Bonnie could bring him back. So I knew that when he went to the Other Side, I had a feeling that he wasn’t going to make it back.

Also, it seems nobody on TVD ever really stays dead.

I know. So I don’t know how they could really make Damon and Bonnie and Lexi stay dead forever.

Especially now that Alaric is back. Damon is his drinking buddy. So of course Damon is coming back.

Now, I did watch TVD from the beginning up until about halfway through this season. In some ways, he’s really developed a lot as a character. Four+ years, and I guess a character should show growth, or they start to get a little boring, right?

Damon has come a long way.

Stefan even makes the comment when Damon dies that Damon had just gotten everything he wanted and he was happy.
So I guess the moral is as soon as you get everything you want, you die.

Misery is the secret to life, is that it?

I guess you can’t be accepted into whatever the other side of the Other Side is if you still have unhappiness holding you back. The other side of the Other Side can’t be contaminated with the tragedy of human experience.

Bottom line: if the studio has made Damon dead to me, then TVD is dead to me.

Amen and Amen. I agree, Damon is the lifeblood (har-har) of that show.

Haha.

Now, this isn’t the first show that’s tried to pull a death-that-is-not-death on you, is it? I heard something similar about Castle…?

Well, the network kind of spoiled that one when they went to commercial break and said Kate and Castle will return next season, so obviously he’s not really dead. And pretty much the only way to kill a main character is to show the body with the eyes open in the death stare. Even then, I still held out hope that Matthew Grantham could possibly still be alive.

Matthew, no. Ugh. Why’d you take me there? The pain is still too near.

Damn you, Downton Abbey!

But, and I feel bad about this, but a new romance for Mary sounds fun.

True, but in a way I feel like maybe they should’ve retitled the show this season to The Many Men of Mary. But Matthew’s death was last season, not this season. Not a single death for the Granthams this year (which is the UK’s last year, but whatever), proving that TV is not all doom and gloom after all.

At least Psych ended on a somewhat good note. Jules’s engagement ring got stolen just as Shawn finally proposed, but that led into a fun car chase.

Shawn and Gus are still together.

To be fair, though, Psych never really went to much of a dark place, did it? I don’t know. I didn’t catch the last season and a half.

Yeah, it never got too serious. A couple years ago, we thought Henry may have died, but he survived.

Shawn and Gus almost die every episode, but we always know they will get of it by some bizarre occurrence in the universe.

Or Shawn’s smart mouth.

Well, clearly they couldn’t kill Henry (Shawn’s dad). It would’ve irrevocably changed the characters of the show.

Yeah, the show is more about how unchangeable the characters are.

It’s one of the key differences between Psych and The Mentalist.

I mean, that and the fact that Psych is pure awesome, and The Mentalist is obnoxious and should be put out to pasture. 🙂

(Okay, that’s not fair of me. I’ve never watched a whole episode.)

Haha. well, some people like the show even if they think Jane is a jerk.

Jane is good and highly entertaining as a jerk, so it works for him.

He fits well with the rest of the characters, kinda like Gibbs on NCIS. Gibbs is a jerk sometimes but you can always depend on DiNozzo to lighten the mood.

Yes, and like Jane, DiNozzo is also obnoxious–but in a much more lovable way.

Exactly.

So what we’re really saying is Jane is a combination of Gibbs and DiNozzo…

Hmmm. I guess you could make that suggestion.

I love DiNozzo, so I’m very protective of him, haha.

Okay, now I haven’t watched this show much since the fourth season. Did I miss anything? 🙂 I didn’t, right?

Well, Ziva isn’t there, but I don’t remember which season she came in. Pretty much the characters are the same. DiNozzo has matured at infinitesimal increments, and he has had some serious moments.

What season is it in, anyway?

11, I think.

But the success is not because of the change in the characters or the storylines. It’s because we can depend on the NCIS team to be the same every week. We know what to expect. They never let us down by changing into someone else. I would be devastated if Tony DiNozzo got all serious and stopped being an overgrown frat boy.

Funny you mention that. Now if I remember right, NCIS got in pretty much at the beginning of the forensic drama craze, didn’t it?

Yes, I think so.

One thing that helped the show was that it was in the same universe as JAG, which was a popular courtroom drama that had similar who-dun-it aspects to it and a good ensemble of characters.

In fact, if I may add, I have been waiting for years, for NCIS to have Harm and Mac make a guest appearance, haha.

Hm. I never watched JAG, except for the backdoor pilot that introduced Gibbs. Long time ago. And like I said, I gave up on NCIS years ago, mostly I guess because I sorta lost interest in the procedural thing. But maybe you can speak to that. What do you think separates NCIS from other shows with a similar premise, like CSI, Criminal Minds, and Law & Order?

 

go to Vindicator Artists to read the rest!

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holding pattern

So I don’t really have much to say this week (yet), because my good friend Steph over at the Vindicator Artists blog had a great conversation about the last season of television. We talked about a ton of shows, from The Vampire Diaries to 2 Broke Girls and from Revenge to Game of Thrones. We’re still in the process of formatting it, (it’s long!) but we hope to put up the first couple parts tomorrow. It’s gonna be split between my blog and hers, so if you want to read the whole thing, you should definitely hop on over to her site for a look (after tomorrow).

We discussed character arcs, plot twists, who died and who clearly didn’t. Yes. It’s gonna have a lot of spoilers. Just keep that in mind in case you haven’t caught up on the shows we talk about.

So… be sure to check in tomorrow!

On Writing: Character

This morning I had to take my mom to a doctor appointment for some sort of glandular issue. The doctor then ordered some lab work. It was a long, somewhat stressful day. But we had a very interesting conversation while we waited for this and that. We talked about one of the characters in my novel.

Even before she finished her read-through, my mom announced she seriously disliked one of the male characters. Said he wasn’t a man. Used another interesting word I’m not going to repeat on here. It left me puzzled. I liked him fine. Maybe he wasn’t my favorite, but that’s okay. We all have our most favorite and least favorite. (Parents, you know what I’m talking about.) After she finished reading my manuscript, she held firm in her opinion of this guy. I didn’t get it. He was an honest, honorable, sensitive guy. Handsome and brave and all that. Today, while we sat in the waiting room, my mom added that she much preferred one of the other guys.  Well, that didn’t surprise me too much. (My mom recently confessed a major girl-crush on the Rock. But only when he’s behaving “Rock-like.”) She likes men of action. Men of ass-kickery. Men of strong muscles and stronger jaws/brows/eyes. Sensitivity and in touch with his feminine side is a bit further down her list of likes.

We talked about the differences between the two characters, compared them to characters on other shows (Person of InterestArrow, Revenge). She expressed extreme disappointment in my guy over the trajectory of his character development. It created conflict in one of his relationships, and that bothered her. At which point, I explained that conflict is important, not just for story progression but for character progression. Anyone who’s read Campbell or McKee or Egri knows this: conflict creates story, conflict builds character. It’s the engine of change for both. I also explained to my mom that it was okay to dislike/hate a character. (Though yes, I know sometimes we can hate in a bad way. Lori/Andrea from The Walking Dead, anyone?) We hate a really great villain. (Joffrey!!!) We can even hate a really entertaining hero. (Spike–or Angel, in my mom’s case.)

As I’ve said before, characters that don’t evolve will stagnate. (God, I wish I could think of a different, better word than stagnate!) Conflict is the best, most compelling, most believable way to motivate that evolution. Success can do it, but success without conflict feels just a little emptier, a little too easy. Failure works better, in fiction and in real life. Because we learn from failure, and so do our characters.

And I happen to think it’s great if a reader/viewer has different feelings for different characters. Because I think it’s great if our characters are different from each other. I mentioned this before, too, but if you have two or three or more characters who seem eerily similar to each other and seem to meet similar needs in your story, why do you have them? Merge them into one, and make that one character really shine.

I want to add something for writers who are working on a multi-volume story, because I feel like there are some differences between that sort of piece and a one-shot sort of thing. In the one-shot (movies, mostly, that aren’t part of a series of movies), you need to start and end in that one story. Makes sense, right? Your narrative must have some sort of satisfactory resolution. Your character must have arrived at some sort of destination, physically, emotionally, or thematically. In a multi-volume work (movie franchises and almost every TV show out there), story and character are stretched over the course of the project. NashvilleSons of Anarchy, even the Law & Orders introduce characters who grow over years. The same is true in literature. (I’m still working on broadening my palette, or I’d mention several examples here outside of sci-fi/fantasy.) Your character should grow, but he/she/it doesn’t necessarily have to reach his/her/its “final” metamorphosis in this installment of the story. But they do have to go somewhere. And that’s what I ended with, when my mom and I were discussing her least favorite character. This guy had a ways to go, for the reader and for me. (Yes, I admit. Even I’m not sure where I’m taking this guy.)

I take the conversation as a sign of success, though. Sort of. We all know it’s better to write a character that people hate, than a character that people sit back and think “meh” about. I really, really hate Clay from SoA, but I love to see him do his thing onscreen. But I just plain hate Rayna from Nashville. I even hated her more than Oliver Hudson’s character, Jeff Fordham. (I know some of you may disagree and love Rayna. And bless your heart for it.) Because she bores me. I don’t sympathize with her. And I really just want to see her go offscreen and not come back. 🙂 On Person of Interest, John used to be my favorite character. He reminded so much of Jack Bauer, and well… haha… I’m gonna gush in a minute. Anyway. But John’s development on PoI has taken a slight turn (or maybe hasn’t turned much at all?), and I’m starting to wonder if I really like him as much as I used to. (Go Team Shaw!)

Here’s the bottom line, though. Love your characters, even when you hate them.

let’s take a moment

I’ve heard it’s real easy to start a habit. It’s real hard to break one. Eating junk food. Going to church. Lying. Working out. Sleeping around. Writing everyday.

So last week I said some things about the size of your dramatis personae. Less is more, I think was the gist of it all. And that’s true. But maybe I swung too far in that direction. I certainly started to think so when I took another look at my own writing. Confession time. I’m a big fan of big cast lists. I enjoyed Lost (in the beginning) mostly because it told a really fascinating story with a lot of characters.

Maybe I need to back up a little bit. Don’t be gun shy when telling a story. Go balls to the wall. I think most of us already know this. Storytelling isn’t a timid art form, fiction and non-fiction both, across all mediums. My favorite author, Steven Erikson, recently completed a series that takes “epic fantasy” to a new level. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a ten book set, with literally hundreds of characters. Like him or hate him, he (and his partner Ian C. Esslemont, who wrote the A Tale of the Malazan Empire series) have developed a massive world and a mind-blowing multi-arc narrative to go with it. I was truly in awe when I first read it, and I knew that was the kind of story I wanted to tell. Erikson just proved it was possible. For those of you who don’t know him (and I wouldn’t be surprised), then let me say he’s a lot like George R.R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire books when it comes to big stories. Times two.

As I may have said some time ago, I’m working on a book. It’s the first book in a, oh, three or four (or five) part series. The cast list is… eh… about the middle of the road. A little less than Game of Thrones but a little more than Gravity. Like any good writer, I’ve gone over it again and again. Have I cut any extraneous subplots? Does my narrative have a beginning, middle, and end? Do I have too many characters? Well. That’s the question. At that point, I look again and ask if every character serves a purpose. In my head, they seem to. Sadly, my beta readers have been all of two people, and I’m not even sure I’d count one of them as a valid choice to begin with (my mom). So the jury’s still out on that.

Speaking of moms, me and mine went to see the new Captain America movie. It was umm… I don’t know. I didn’t dislike it, and that’s about all I can say right now. My mom, however, had an interesting reaction, and it’s one that seems to speak to this particular topic somewhat. After we left the theater, I asked her what she thought. Her response was something along the lines of “It’s gotten a bit kooky with all the characters. Was all that really in the comic?” Me being the guy that loves ensemble pieces, I didn’t really understand where she was coming from. Like, really, Mom? You watch(ed) Once Upon a Time, and that has a ridiculously large cast. Some might even say woefully large. Now that I’ve had a few hours to reflect, I sort of get it now. My mom’s the type of consumer that enjoys movies, TV shows, and books as individual, independent entities. She understands that the Captain America films are based on comic books, and she gets that it’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but none of that matters when it comes to this one film. And I get that. Each film should be able to stand on its own and not confuse the hell out of people just because it’s trying to provide some continuity to the next film. (If you’ve seen the post-credits scene after any Marvel film, you know what I mean. It’s a pattern.)

Alas, my book follows that same pattern, for better or worse. It tells a story, but it also has elements that work toward setting up the next story. But that’s a convention of the genre these days. Epic fantasy likes to set down deep roots that occasionally take some time to fully bloom.

Anyway, I wanted to try to clear things up, because just a few days after my last post, I’d started to wonder if I’d just become a total hypocrite. It’s not beyond me to do something like that. I’ve definitely done/said some hypocritical things. I just don’t want my writing to be one of those things.

adversity

It pretty much drives the story, doesn’t it? Some would say it is the story.

It also drives real life. I faced a recent setback, serious enough for me to stop and take measure. Unfortunately, I don’t deal very well with serious adversity. I tend to ignore, deny, pretend, avoid, eat, sleep, play, cry, write, eat again, and many more things. Not good. I’ve been in worse places in my life. I’ve been in better. I’m at that middle ground, I guess. I have a roof over my head, and I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I have access to a computer and the internet. I have clothes on my back and a car to drive to work. But I’m not totally independent. In fact, I’m not really independent at all. I’m facing some significant financial issues. And, as my mom has pointed out, I’m single. (Thanks, Mom.)

But I’m a writer, and I’m writing. And for me, that’s really all I need. That is, if I wasn’t writing, if I had the block (which has happened before), then I’d probably admit that my life kind of sucks. As it turns out, I tend to write a lot more when things aren’t going well.

When I write fiction, (which is pretty much the only thing I write), I love conflict. I enjoy–maybe pathologically–putting my characters through the most harrowing circumstances. Kill people off, maim them, break up happy couples, it’s all much more interesting to me than when things are going well. When I watch TV, I have  a very complicated love/hate for seeing my own favorite characters suffer their own personal hell. I love it, because I know there’s a point to it. (At least I hope so, trusting the writer/producer knows how to craft a story.) And then I also hate it, because to me, pain–even the fictional kind–isn’t that fun to watch for individuals I care about. It’s been a rough season for beloved TV characters, too. (Downton Abbey and Person of Interest come to mind. And let’s not forget addictive killing-sprees like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead!) Even when it tears us up, even when we throw the remote, we thrive on adversity.

Maybe because we hope the deeper the valley, the greater the glory when our hero/heroine climbs out of it. Rare is the show or movie (or book?) that will take us on a suck-fest without showing us some light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, I’m a narrative sadist, but even I know that life isn’t just a series of bummers. There’s good in the bad. There’s mercy. There’s balance.

Like my job. It’s great, no doubt. I love it. It’s 95% peaceful, giving me time to think, chat a little with co-workers, and sometimes even read or write a little. (Not much, of course.) But it’s the 5% that’s really not that great at all.

Like my “love life.” Yes, I’m single. No, I don’t really love that, not being able to chat with someone special about philosophy and pie, TVD and Joseph Campbell, politics and Halo. I definitely miss the physical stuff. (Not just sex, you pervs.) But I must also admit, I love the independence. I love not being accountable to a significant others. I love having my time for me.

Like tonight. My buddy at work fixed my old desktop–which is a wonderful thing since I paid out the yin-yang for it years ago. But I needed him to fix it because my new desktop broke and is in the shop. (Yes, I know, first world problems. But they’re still problems!) I wasn’t even sure I’d get the chance to toss up a post tonight, which would have been absolutely unforgivable. I had planned it to be every Thursday, and clearly the last few have been on Fridays. To bump it to Saturday would have been a surrender that I just didn’t want to accept.

Anyway, I may have gotten a little OT. I was talking about adversity. As many of us who may have taken an English class, literature course, or gone to film school know, characters evolve through conflict. It’s sort of the water and sunshine to their chlorophyll. Without an antagonist, without obstacles to overcome, our characters–main and supporting–stagnate. They don’t grow. They don’t change. Characters that don’t grow get boring. Okay, so yes, Joey from Friends pretty much stayed the dumb Don Juan all ten seasons, but he did mature in some ways. He learned some degree of responsibility, purpose, and even the value of platonic love. Maybe it’s a stretch, but that’s how I saw it, otherwise I never would have survived ten years of that show. I definitely wouldn’t have put up with daily DVD marathons of it in college with my Friends-fanatic roommate. And I’m not going to talk about animated shows. They play by different rules. But animated films don’t. Disney, Dreamworks, and all the rest understand that the hero/heroine must face a major challenge and must come out the other side a changed person.

I recently had to stop and examine my own book. Oh sure, it’s full of action, violence, and conflict, but did my hero face a personal challenge? What was it? Was she changed by the end of it? Thankfully, yes, I could check those things off, and that brought me one step closer to completion. But I still have hurdles ahead before I can step back and say it’s ready. Finish editing, add one last scene, proof it. Or if I go another route, the route I prefer, find an editor–a significant challenge in itself. I know so many writers, but so few editors.

Well, hopefully, I’ve made a little headway on that. I have a couple of possibilities that I’m in the process of following up. We’ll see how it goes. Then… then… well, I guess then on to the next conflict!