If any of you happen to follow me on Twitter, you know I have a habit of watching bad B-movies on the weekend--usually while I’m geeking a bit. While I do, I tweet out random observations about the story, dialogue, plot points, and so on. More often than not... they’re not positive ones.
There’s usually a lot of drinking going on, too.A few weekends back I was watching this movie that went for the standard “group of assorted soldiers thrown into an unnatural situation” scenario. The same one that’s been kind of become the standard since Aliens did it with the Colonial Marines. Often copied, never duplicated, as they say.
Maybe twenty minutes in, one of the civilians asked a grunt why they were all so dedicated to the sergeant. And said grunt told him this two or three minute story about how, five years ago, they’d been stationed on Theta Sigma, things went belly-up one night on patrol, and Sarge was the only one who kept it together. He got them out of that hell-zone on the death planet, and he even carried Bronsky for the last three miles.
Then, maybe thirty five-forty minutes in, one of the civilian scientists asked the lieutenant why he was such a hard ass. And he told her about how four years ago he’d been walking the perimeter, checking on his men, and he found some civilians in a restricted area. But he cut them some slack... and then the Lictors attacked. If he’d been hard then, if he’d sent them away as soon as he found them, those three people’d be alive today.
And then someone sat with the Sarge for a while as he recovered from a wound (he’d been impaled right through the chest, and that put him off his feet for, y’know, almost six hours). She asked how he could stay so positive, making jokes while the whole mission was turning to crap around them. And he told her about how, seven years ago, he’d been on this bug hunt on Ceti Alpha Five...
Look, you get the idea, right? Do I really need to finish that story?
Yeah, most movies don’t do it that many times, sure. Still... that element’s kind of become a standard in a lot of military stories, too, hasn’t it? The soldier/Marine/Amazon/Mooncop who gives us a flashback in dialogue to explain a strange bond, a weird character tic, or maybe even that scar she’s got that runs from her temple down past her jaw.
Y’see, Timmy, in Aliens the story only goes forward. We don’t need to go backwards to learn interesting stuff about these characters. We’re learning about them through how they react to things now, not how they reacted to them six years ago in Kazakhstan.
If the only way I can make my characters interesting is by flashing back six or seven years... maybe I don’t have interesting characters. Not now, anyway. It’s possible they were interesting back then, but if they’re interesting now... why’s all their character development in the past?
At the very least, I don’t have an interesting story. If I did, wouldn’t there be cool stuff happening now? Stuff my characters could be reacting to and giving the reader a better sense of who they are, even as it drives the plot and story forward?
If it’s only that recollection or flashback that’s making them cool... maybe that’s the story I should be telling.
Anyway, just wanted to toss that out real quick.
Thursday, our regularly scheduled post.
Until then, go write.