So now that my book is finally out, and selling like empty snail-houses, I can finally focus on some other things. (Such as writing the next one.) As beautiful as my wife’s eye is, I’m getting a little tired of seeing it everywhere, so I’ll try to update this page a little more often, and with at least some content that isn’t Fall of Noman-related. With that said; here’s a short rundown of two major tropes writers often use, as well as a possible explanation for using them.
I’m currently following the new Walking Dead series – I think it’s great, it’s okay if you don’t, that’s not what this post is about – and while it’s generally quite good, there are some ‘plot required stupidity’ moments. After a short discussion with my wife, I started thinking. In Fear the Walking Dead, the characters don’t know what we know, and they don’t think like we do. You and I know very well there are
zombies walkers/infected/thriller-reenacters around every corner, and – having been corrupted by years and years of various narratives and stories – we know that if a character forgets something in the previous room, it’s only because there’s danger there, to scare the audience. “Why would he ever forget something in there, when he knows there’ll be trouble if he returns?! Can’t he hear the scary music?!”
The thing is: they can’t hear the music, or feel the foreshadowing. A part of suspending your disbelief is coming to terms with this. Most of all movies or TV-series reset the world and starts at zero. These characters haven’t experienced anything creepy yet, and they aren’t suspecting a thing! (Disclaimer: Yeah, when they still allow
zombies biters/munchers to sneak up on them after six years in the wastelands, that’s pretty fucking weak-sauce.)
To try and defend this trope to some extent, let me ask you this: What about yourself?
So me and the missus bought a new house a year ago. It’s close to a hundred years old (97), and it sits in the middle of this majestic garden (somewhat pictured above). If I was in a horror movie, this place would’ve been creepy as all hell. As it turns out, though, I’m not in a movie (as far as I know, dun-dun-dun!), so nothing here really scares me. When I hear a noise right outside the window that could very well be the ominously lit statue coming to life, I still go outside to check if the ominously lit statue has actually come to life! And it hasn’t! So I gladly turn my back to it and walk a few rounds, allowing any and all night-terrors to sneak up on me. When branches hit our bedroom wall the first couple of nights here, you know what I did? I went outside and cut them down. And when I saw the lights were on in our creepy-as-hell basement – even though I couldn’t remember leaving them on – I went in there and shut those off as well. With me still inside! (Oh noes, why would he do that?!)
I’ve called out bad moves in books or movies more than once myself (probably written some as well), but time after time I catch myself doing the same stupids. Why wouldn’t it be safe? Why wouldn’t I do that? We have words for people who don’t go outside when they hear or see things; paranoid, recluse, angst-ridden and so forth. I’m just saying, these things are written like they are because the characters are supposed to be comfortable in their world. They’re not supposed to suspect danger around every corner. And yes, sometimes they act stupid as hell just to advance the plot, because sometimes it is just lazy writing. If that happens, you can bitch about it all you want, even if it’s my writing.
Dark and mysterious secrets (in the dark!)
Another thing I hear lots of complaints about are character’s oh-so-predictable and tragic backstories. This one hits closer to home, as I’m currently unraveling one of these of my own. These seem to fall within two categories: either they’re way too predictable, or they’re as underwhelming as the Mona Lisa painting in real life. (Come on, people, it’s stamp-sized!) Sometimes it’s both. The thing is, writers don’t have much choice in this matter. Of course it’s predictable your brooding character is an alcoholic, or have parental issue, or was abused, or struggles with rage. What the hell else would it be? Abducted by aliens? A Cyborg? Family killed by octopuses?
Because of this, the longer it takes to reveal the backstory, the more of a disappointment it has the potential to become. That’s another no-no, I suppose: Don’t tease the ‘big reveal’ for too fucking long if it’s another sad-sap alcoholic-drinks-away-his-family deal. (Yep, did one of those as well.) Thing is, though, often we don’t have a clue what our characters’ backstories actually are. (Inside information! Shocking stuff, I’m sure!) The characters need to have thoughts rattling around in their brains, and they need to have personalities and experiences that justify/create those thoughts. Revealing bits of a character’s past is both intriguing and informative, but it doesn’t always mean we have a clear view of the character’s entire life. Sometimes, when characters dwell on certain things long enough, it creates a certain mystery. Sometimes, the reveal can be fucking awesome (Every. Single. Book by Brandon Sanderson), more often, it can fall flat, building up hype for days, weeks or months for something quite benign.
What I’m ultimately trying to say is, writers: don’t be fucking lazy! Readers/viewers/listeners: don’t be so fucking judgmental – writing shit is hard! (Actually, writing shit is quite easy, but you get what I mean.) It’s easy to call other stuff unoriginal . . . It’s also very unoriginal. There’s some fairly large middle ground here, how about we all try to stand on it?