Thursday, June 25, 2020

A Quick Follow-Up Question

I’ve been talking about genre writing for a few weeks now, I know, but I actually had one last thing that’s been tickling my brain.

I’m sure I’m not the only one binging shows right now. Things I’ve wanted to see again or watch for the first time. My partner and I are kinda doing a Voyager rewatch, but we’re also stretching out this last season of She-Ra. And I just finished Parasyte, an anime I’ve meant to watch since I first read some of the manga... jeeez, twenty years ago? I tried rewatching The Prisoner but gave up on it and settled for some old G1 Transformers cartoons.

There’s also another show we’ve been watching, and I’ll politely not name this one. It’s another older show (a few years now), and it’s got a strong mystery element. Well, it tries to have one, anyway.

(to be polite, some of the following plot points may be altered from of the actual show we’re watching... or are they?)

The main subplot is that our hero’s trying to learn why his father left decades ago, and has tracked down the small farming town where Dad ended up living. And dying—with a lot of things left unanswered. Things like why did Dad abandon his family? Why come to this small town? What’s with all the old books in the study? Or the ring of corn around the house? And the strange old guy who takes care of the corn who has the same name as our hero? And is this mysterious woman, Lacey, his half-sister or... something else?

Pretty much ever other week, said hero finds out some tantalizing new clue about his long-lost father and then does... nothing.

Again and again, the show has moments where we learn that Bud, the town mechanic, played chess with Dad every week... and they talked a lot. Helen, the retired nurse who hangs out in the park? It turns out she was there for Lacey’s birth... and it wasn’t exactly a normal birth. And Sheriff Mawkin? well, she was only a deputy when Dad moved to this town, but he took her aside then and told her that some day his son might come looking for him.

And our hero would be amazed and thrilled and confused about what he’d just learned... until the end of the scene. At which point, he’d completely forget about these little tidbits and act like nothing had happened. Until they came up again two or three episodes later.

We end up getting annoyed with things like this because in theory our characters are supposed to mirror our readers (or audiences, if you will). If the point is to make my readers think “Wait, what the hell does that mean...?” then this is something my characters should be thinking—and maybe even voicing—too. And they should be acting on that reaction. I can’t have a character say “this changes everything!” and then go on acting as if nothing has changed. They can’t find out Bud has the answer to the question that’s haunted them for years and then not get around to asking Bud about it. It’s frustrating because we know we wouldn’t leave it like this. We’d want more. We’d demand more!

One of the easiest things we can do at any point in our writing is to just ask ourselves “What would I be doing right now?” How would we react? What would we say? What would we be important to us right now in this situation? And if we’d demand more in this situation, well, maybe I should really think about why my characters aren’t.

I think this is also one of the reasons using mysterious characters flops so often. Because Mister X offers some vague statement or response and the main characters just... accept it. They don’t have follow-ups. They don’t demand more. They don’t take what they’ve learned and run with it. They just shrug their shoulders and say “Huh.”

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying we need to answer every question the moment it’s asked. They can get teased out and end up being false answers, misunderstandings, or red herrings. That’s part of a good mystery. A necessary part, some might argue.  So it’s okay not to answer questions right away.

But y’see, Timmy, it’s not okay to never ask those the questions. If my characters don’t care enough to ask, they can’t really care about the answers. Which means my readers probably shouldn’t care.

Which means all this mystery stuff is just a waste of time because nobody cares about it.

Next time...

Okay, I’m juggling a couple things right now. I know I haven’t updated the FAQ in a while. I’m also trying to set up the Writers Coffeehouse as an online thing. And, hahahahaaa yeah I’m trying to finish a book right now.

I guess what I’m asking is, what would you like to see in the next few weeks? Any particular topics you’d like me to blather on about? Something you want to hear a fresh take on, or a problem that’s been gnawing at you? Let me know down below.

And if nobody says anything... I may take a week off and try to get a bit caught up on things.

But for now... go write.

1 comment:

  1. Man, I really want to know what show you are talking about now! I mean it sounds like I'd be disappointed but I mean, maybe not?

    You've been writing about genre and I believe you wrote about not misleading editors/readers by claiming something is sci-fi for instance when that may only be a small part of the story and doesn't really make it sci-fi. Well what about a somewhat comprehensive list outlining what genre editors may classify stories as?

    Ex. Thriller - Typically contains as part of the theme/main plot these things X, Y, Z.

    Or maybe even high level operational definitions. I'd be interested in hearing your take.

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