March 30th, 2006

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::Gasp!:: It's Not About Batman?

Listening to the commentary tracks of the Bruce Timm-produced super-hero cartoons which are sadly ending this year ( sad face ), they mention that when they first got the job to do a series, a) they didn't know what they were doing, and b) they didn't want something "realistic" nor did they want something "cartoonish." They wanted something "believable."

This is actually the key to a lot of fiction. It is often mistaken for "realistic," but it's actually very different. "Realism" is actually very boring, especially when taken literally. In the episode of "Seinfeld" where George and Jerry are pitching a sitcom to NBC executives, they try to pitch the show as "realistic," although they don't use that word. They--well, George--calls it "a show about nothing." But "Seinfeld" wasn't "a show about nothing," it was a show about conversations and the situations that result from those conversations, and the conversations that result from situations. Seinfeld isn't believable, but it's realistic, though stretched to farce for humor purposes. People would have to be crazy to act the way the characters in Seinfeld often act. And all too often, (crazy) people act that way. That's why it's funny. You can't believe anyone would do that stuff, but then again, if you were in that situation, you might act the same way.

But the Bruce Timm-produced DC/WB superhero shows weren't realistic. Taking the case of Batman, it's not realistic that a human being could actually go out every night, get into fights, get out of fights, solve mysteries, woo beautiful women, deal with highly deadly threats on a constant basis, never kill anyone (though perhaps still be indirectly responsible for some deaths), and still remain healthy most of the time, both physically and mentally. But . . . it can be believable. Taking the case of Superman, it's not realistic that a completely alien being would a) look human and b) use his near-godlike powers for almost completely unselfish purposes. It's not realistic that he would pretend to be the "mild-mannered" Clark Kent. It's not realistic that he'd focus on hard-to-get woman to the exclusion of (nearly) all others. But . . . it can be believable. Take the case of Wonder Woman. It's not realistic that she could come from a warrior society and be an ambassador of peace. It's not realistic that the first human male she comes across, she's attracted to and falls immediately and irrevocably in love (in her first origin). But . . . it can be believable. Flash, Green Lantern, etc., all sorts of unrealistic stuff happening . . . but in almost every case, it's believable.

Mainly, it's because of characterization. In every case I can think of, the main characters are believable characters first. Thus, the audience gets sucked in by characters they can believe in, so that when the strange, unrealistic situations start, the audience's willing suspension of disbelief hasn't been stretched yet, and so they're willing to believe more.

But this isn't something that's unique to super-hero stories. Almost all stories should come from the believable school. With humorous stories, this is relaxed mainly because the fact that the audience can't believe the situation is often the source of the humor, even when the situation is actually happening. But humor's a tricky thing, even when I could be making a joke right now.

However, the problem is that sometimes, creating believable characters is all the writer can do. Shakespeare isn't known for his tight plotting. Often, those who can create great plots have a hard time creating characters that are more than one-note caricatures. And then, in the realm of speculative fiction, there's another thing: the creation of a believable world. A writer might be able to do two of these things, but all three?

That's my ambition.

I'm pretty sure I've got the characters down. I can create characters and write them at the drop of a hat. I'm good at it. I've got no worries, there.

I'm pretty sure that my all new worlds are okay, but I'm less confident there. I don't really come up with really wild stuff in my world building, but is that because I can't or because I don't want to test the willful suspension of disbelief of the audience? I don't know. I sometimes come up with ideas for places that can't exist, and wonder what to do with them, but don't have a story to go along with the place.

But plotting. I am afraid of my plotting. All I can do is just what seems obvious to me, what seems logical to me. I sometimes end up writing dozens of pages of worthless stuff, usually with not much happening. Or when I have stuff happening, it's either action-movie straight-forward, or nobody in the story knows what's going on and have no idea how to figure it out. I've been working on my plotting with a mystery story, because those types of stories are so much about plot. Hopefully, I'll learn my lessons and grow as a writer.

I want to be versatile, so that I'm never pigeonholed. I don't just want a "niche."

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque
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