Monday, 31 March 2014

Build 'Em Up...

....Knock 'em down.

I watched the latest Marvel Studios superhero movie last week - the sequel to 2011's Captain America. If you haven't seen it already, there's some discussion of the film's final act, that you may want to skip to avoid spoilers.

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Still with me? Good, let me explain:

The film ends with the ever reliable superhuman Captain bringing down the agency he works for - S.H.I.E.L.D. - as it has been corrupted, and is attempting to bring down the world order.

That's a brave move, for a series that has used S.H.I.E.L.D. as its back bone for the last 6 years of cinema releases - and for the TV series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. too. A brave move, yes, but also one I fully support, because I think in dramatic terms, it's needed.

See, I'm convinced good drama works this way - you set something up, and then tear it apart. From a young age, I've watched shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel, and they do just this.

Case in point: Buffy - Seasons One to Three

Buffy is a high schooler by day, slayer by night. End of the show's third season, however, she's ready to graduate - and the series goes out of high school with a bang. Literally. The place is blown to a million pieces, in a plot that saw Buffy and all her classmates unite in a plot to bring down the town's evil Mayor. Three years of build up go into that third season finale, and when it happens, because you've already invested in the idea of Buffy at high school, and the fake-reality of her world their, you're along for the ride when that world is torn right back down.

In my writing, I try and copy a similar formula. For example, in one of the comics I write, Darkened Avenue, I frequently set something up - so that I can exploit the drama later on, of ripping that setting apart. See, characters get use to a particular life, and it's dramatic when they are forced to shift, and change. Change in drama is good, it brings new possibilities, that may not have been open to the writer (and thus the audience) before.

In Buffy, could we have had the show's fourth season (Buffy, an awkward college student) without having been through the ordeal of losing/leaving high school first? No.

The process has to be done just right, though. If you don't develop your story, its setting, or its characters either correctly or enough, then you have a problem. The audience won't buy into the major shift as well as they should do, and you lose a huge chunk of your excitement. There's no longer an emotional ride for us to go along with; just some changes that happen, that we have to adjust too. In the worst examples of these, we don't like the new realities established, and long for the days of the old again. Usually we say the show has "jumped the shark" or is now just plain bad. It may be a comedy, yes, but Scrub's ninth season is guilty of this: the old hospital is torn down between seasons, half the cast replaced, and new people brought in. As an audience, we aren't 'along for the ride' with these changes - they happen, and we're asked to accept them. When we don't (as I didn't) what comes afterwards is already on a bad footing. A bad example, maybe - but think about any show or film you've seen whereby the major premise of the thing shifts into something else. Did it satisfy you, or leave you a teensy-weensy bit frustrated that the process wasn't done better?

As a writer, I think that's interesting - because it means I have to be at the top of my game, or else my work fails. Yes, change is good - but unless it's masterfully administered, it's worse than allowing an idea to stagnate, and not grow.

I wonder what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has up its sleeve now that Captain America has ripped its premise apart? Better still, I wonder how the internal world of 'AoS' brings this shift in its reality about. I bet it'll be a fun ride. If it convinces...
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