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Marissa Lingen

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Very special episodes. [May. 19th, 2012|06:42 am]
Marissa Lingen
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During his visit, alecaustin and I watched the Doctor Who "specials" discs, and markgritter watched the last two with us. (timprov apparently has a self-preservation instinct.) And it triggered a theory or perhaps a reminder for the writerly types:

If you feel that you have to have sympathetic supporting characters reminding the reader/viewer at every turn of how Just Plain Gosh-Darn Wonderful your central character is, this is a warning sign that your central character has not been acting Just Plain Gosh-Darn Wonderful enough in plain sight of the reader/viewer.

In the seventh grade we were solemnly taught a list of things you can know about characters, and they included things other people say about them and things they believe about themselves. But these things cannot trump actions. If you have somebody being a megalomaniac onscreen--if you have them being self-indulgent or self-involved or a whiner or whatever else that is not sympathetic and amazing and gosh-darn wonderful--after a certain point, the sympathetic character saying, "Jinkies, you're swell," does not give us information about the non-swell person. It gives us information that the sympathetic person is willing to self-delude and/or ignore evidence. Which is also important information! Just not in the same way. So beware the protag who suddenly seems to have people declaring, "You're dreamy," in herds and droves. This is telling you something, and the thing it's telling is often pretty sketchy.
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[User Picture]From: freelikebeer
2012-05-19 01:17 pm (UTC)

I find that I am thinking this a lot at work lately

If you have to editorialize your own actions for the benefit of my interpretation, then your actions either haven't brought about closure or they aren't nearly as strong and decisive as you want them to be.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-19 01:45 pm (UTC)

Re: I find that I am thinking this a lot at work lately

Hee, yes, it's true in real life too. If you have to tell me you're brilliant, famous, or beautiful, you probably aren't.
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[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2012-05-19 01:41 pm (UTC)
I think the having characters tell other characters what they're like works much better for negative traits than positive, particularly if it's backed up with a scene dramatizing the trait. So if you show a character doing something that may or may not be construed as selfish, you can nail the point home with a character calling them selfish. But for positive traits, that are supposed to build sympathy, yeah, it's not the same. You have to work harder for that.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-19 01:44 pm (UTC)
I'm not even sure if it's negative vs. positive so much as borderline. As in your example with selfishness, if it's something that might or might not be construed that way--"in this family we would always show up for Grandma's birthday" vs. "eh, the actual day of is not so big a deal, as long as you do something around the birthday"--having the reinforcement of other character reactions.

But this can show up on the positive side, too. "Oh, honey, that was just the right thing!" says-Grandma-happily is much more important if Grandma is a minor character and the reader doesn't know in their bones that it's just the right thing, rather than, hey, I saved Grandma's farm from foreclosure--not a borderline act. Hardly anybody going to go, "Well, y'know, lots of elderly people like financial ruin and being thrown from their lifelong home." It's a lot easier to interpret than whether the book Our Heroine bought Grandma is perfect or perfectly awful for Grandma's taste.
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[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2012-05-19 01:54 pm (UTC)
Good point. In general, I think you have to work harder to support story events that go in favor of your character, rather than against them. Coincidences that help your protagonist beat the bad guy? Not allowed. Coincidences that totally screw him over? Fascinating.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-19 01:56 pm (UTC)
Well...fascinating until they start to feel gratuitous, I think. Because there is a point past which it gets to be the universe picking on poooooor little protag, and that's tedious. But up until that point, evil coincidences! Evil coincidences for the win!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-19 04:41 pm (UTC)
So the thing is, Ten is, as far as I have one, My Doctor. And they managed to make me glad he was going. So fie on that. We were in full on Midsummer Night's Dream/Pirates of Penzance mode with the end of that last "special." It was just awful.

And also fie on any ending that counts as a Death of the Magic ending, which they totally totally did with the end of the Donna bits. Fie, fie, fie.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-19 05:14 pm (UTC)
(Or, if you are my husband, muttering "JUST DIE ALREADY.")

Yes, well. This is where Pyramus-and-Thisbe come in handy: "Now--die--die--die--die--die!" And also Major-General Stanley: "But you don't go!"

Donna was not my favorite companion. Nothing like. Donna's granddad was my favorite part of Donna. Can I be cheaply purchased for the low-low price of an amateur astronomer granddad? Pretty much, yes, yes I can. Onwards, writers! Go on out and try it! Buy my affections by packing your stories and scripts with amateur astronomer granddads! We will also accept model train/airplane granddads! granddads with nifty gadgets! granddads who like to go to the library and then get a hot cocoa! etc.! Grandmothers in these and related flavors also accepted!

But even though Donna was not my favorite companion, interludes about granddads aside, anyone having that happen--anyone at all--it would have just made me furious. If Alec had not been visiting in this specific interlude, I would not have picked up more Doctor Who for Really Quite Some Time.
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[User Picture]From: cyranocyrano
2012-05-19 06:33 pm (UTC)
The 'resolution' of Donna pissed me off much in the same way that the end of the ELO cover band episode did. Either the writers badly badly misjudged the Doctor character or he's far more mean-spirited or cowardly (depending on the episode) than I'd believed.
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[User Picture]From: scott_lynch
2012-05-19 11:36 pm (UTC)
God, yeah. What happened to Donna was utterly shameful. Mind-wiped in such a fashion that her head will explode if she is ever reminded about any of the neat stuff she took part in.

Um, good thing she doesn't live on a planet that now gets invaded by aliens every six weeks or so...

(incoherent swearing and throwing things at the TV screen)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-19 11:39 pm (UTC)
It's also a good thing that Donna will never encounter any references to, say, Ancient Rome or Agatha Christie or anything else they did in their travels, because those things are so culturally obscure that they won't come up in life ever ever ever.
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[User Picture]From: wshaffer
2012-05-20 05:23 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I feel better if I pretend that the specials were a hallucination experienced by Ten after he tripped and bumped his head on the TARDIS console and started to regenerate.

I've always read the business of other characters running around telling us that the Doctor is awesome as a very specific type of fan service. It's basically Russell T. Davies giving a big shout out to all the people who, like him, were Doctor Who fans back when it was desperately uncool, and saying, "Isn't it awesome that everyone now thinks the Doctor is cool!"

Like most fan service, it should be deployed sparingly, and not in a way that interferes with non-fan's enjoyment. Also, I hate how often Davies insists on telling me that the Doctor is awesome at the precise moment that the Doctor is being a gigantic dickhead. During the end of the Davies era, I found myself rather intensely missing Seven, who was frequently a manipulative bastard, but usually got told so by his companions.
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