I’ll get back to my thread about FerenGOP profits later, but right now I want to talk about another topic (which, I’m sure you, my three readers, are happy to learn is NOT about politics).
I went for a bike ride yesterday after spending a half hour fixing my front brake. New bike, brake already screwed up, story of my life. And of course, the screw up was my own fault for not understand the feature rich system that keeps me from turning into a 200 plus pound threat of two-wheeled death to all who are in front of me. So I played with all the little screws and nuts for what turned out to be a two-second adjustment to two wires that keep the “spring” in the brake, holding it open over the wheel until you squeeze the handle grip. You learn something new every day I guess.
The wife, being a bit under the weather with a cold, stayed home, nestled on the couch with a blanket and Netflix. When I returned, sweaty and exhausted (hills suck, by the way, and fuck the asshole who decided straight up was a great direction for a walking/biking path to obtain), she was watching a show called The Returned. The Returned was (because it was sucky enough they canceled it after only one season) another in a line of recent shows about people returning from the dead, but not as zombies. Instead, they return as apparently incredibly hungry weirdos with psychic powers that vary from person to person.
The problem with all of these shows that I’ve seen so far is that they are all depressing music and messed up drama with zero relief from the sadness. There are no moments of levity to lighten the load, and they act in a heavy handed manner towards everything that happens.
But that’s not why I came to talk to you this morning.
No, there was a bigger flaw in this show that I mentioned in an earlier post. The problem of Inconsistent Characters. I’ve been seeing this a lot lately, and it’s a reason why I quit watching certain programs.
Throughout the course of a book, a movie, or a television series, we expect characters to grow and change. That’s totally understandable and even preferable to flat, static characters who never change, never adapt, never become something else. Many television shows of the 80’s featured characters who really moved forward in their lives, and it usually the ones that did that were considered the better shows. Think of the Dukes of Hazard and Magnum, PI, as examples of static, unchanging characters who simply have a “new experience” every week, and then the next week promptly have another “new experience.”
But what I see a lot of these days are characters that, for no particular reason, go through rapid fluctuations from show to show. It came into focus for me while we binged on Iron Fist, which I reviewed earlier. The Returned commits this sin even more egregiously. From a woman who takes in a little boy and swings from “I want him here,” to “he has to go with someone else,” to “he’s back and he’s staying,” to “he’s a murdering little psycho who hurt my girlfriend, he has to leave,” to “hey, where did you go?”, to “it’s over, he’s gone.” I mean seriously… pick a state of mind, lady, you’re crazier than your adopted son, who randomly killed the lady across the hall because she’s too nosy!
There are multiple characters in this show who do this, who swing wildly from “douchebag” to “good guy” and back to “douchebag”, sometimes within a single episode. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the actress from some fun movies like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Skyhigh, plays a woman who lost her fiancee a number of years previous. She falls for a cop who investigated his accidental death (hit by a truck), gets engaged to him, almost commits suicide, and they are planning their wedding when her ex-fiancee returns from the dead. At first she thinks he’s a ghost, a memory, not real, and she “wants to get over him.” Then she learns he’s real, and she has sex with him and introduces him to their daughter (pregnant when he died of course). Then she learns he current fiancee was spying on her with spycams, and she wants him gone. Then she decides she doesn’t want to go back to the ex, and randomly makes up with the cop. Then she learns the ex may have committed suicide (ran away from her), and she hates him. And on and on the convolutions go as she switches her mind back and forth.
And she’s the most believable one! That’s the fucked up thing, I can understand her mental faculties being totally fucked up by all of the stuff that’s happened to her. But when she stops loving him and starts hating him immediately after hearing he may have committed suicide and it wasn’t an accident, that’s just not believable to me. It smacks of “let’s give her a reason to dislike him now”, not great writing.
It’s too many changes, too fast. I’m sorry, but people don’t switch that quickly except in the case of infidelity (and why the hell did the cop want her back and treat her with love if she cheated on him… they never even talked about that after they got back together), or serious and unexpected violence. Most changes are slow and gradual and should happen over the course of two or three or four seasons of a show.
Change happens. I get that. Change is inevitable. How we deal with change can vary. I wrote Summer to be the story of a man who falls instantly in love with someone for the first time in his life and how he handles it. How he fights mentally against it, but can’t deny it, and how it changes his view of relationships. If I wrote it like these television shows, he’d admit “I love you” by page ten, then break up with her by page twenty, then be back with her by page forty, then be running to bed with another woman by page 100, then she’d find out and break up with him, then they’d get back together… and on and on and on. Yuck.
Characters have anchors they cling to. These personality traits don’t radically change for little or no reason. And we as writers shouldn’t introduce new complications merely to give them a reason to change to ramp up the drama of our writing, only to give them another reason to change back a short while later. Write your characters with their core beliefs and feelings. Then hit them with the story, the things that happen to them, the things they cause. See how they react. But don’t make them inconsistent UNLESS there’s a damned good reason to do so that makes sense in the story.
And for god’s sake, give us people we can root for all the time. The people who are the “heart” of the story, even if they are not the MC. The people who have their beliefs and stick by them, even in the face of a world going to shit around them. Readers and viewers need those anchors to cling to, little life rafts in a stormy sea of tempestuous changes. It helps pull us out of the chaos for brief moments and realign ourselves, let’s us root ourselves in something that feels sturdy and strong. Hell, you can even play up THAT as drama. The person who refuses to change can be as bad as the person who is constantly swinging back and forth from on extreme to the next like a pinball bouncing around inside the mechanism.
And really, don’t watch either Dukes of Hazard or Magnum. Unless you like jean shorts and thick mustaches, in which case, go to town.