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Category Archives: Television

W: When Characters Attack!

W: When Characters Attack!

What happens when a writer grows weary of his characters?

What happens when they fight back?

One is reminded of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempting to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, or the author in Stranger Than Fiction whose protagonists never make it out alive.

Or perhaps the writer realizes she’s dug herself into a literary hole and doesn’t know when or how to end the story. (Lost, I’m lookin’ at you. And you, too, Once Upon a Time, which should have lasted only a season or two, before you misused your great cast and intriguing premise to go screaming off the rails into soap opera badlands.)

W is a 2016 South Korean television drama in the vein of Stranger Than Fiction, Secret Window, The Truman Show, The God Hater, and other stories where the characters confront or interact with their authors, their audiences, or their creators. In this series, comicbook characters become aware of their fictionhood and enter the real world to confront their creator.

First, the protagonist learns why a shadowy figure is trying to kill him and turns the tables on his creator. then the villain also realizes he can enter the other dimension, and demands of the creator a face and an identity.

How the story begins:

Kang Cheol has a few loyal associates upon whom he relies, but when a mysterious woman saves his life more than once, he’s intrigued. Although the police are seeking her as a material witness and a suspect in the multiple attempts on his life, Kang Cheol hides her in order to protect her not only from the police but also from his murderous stalker.

Meantime, his television station, W—which stands for Who and Why—broadcasts and solves cold cases that the police have abandoned. He has earned a golden reputation in society for his ingenuity, wealth, generosity, and dogged pursuit of justice.

Oh Yeon Joo is alerted by her father’s fellow artists that he is missing. He went into his office one day, and although he was never seen leaving, he cannot be found. As she’s standing in his office, searching for clues, a bloody hand reaches through his art tablet and pulls her into the world of W. Without valid ID, money, or other resources, she attempts to navigate the comicbook world and find a way back to her own.

Oh Seung Moo has made his fortune and his reputation with W, finally rising from obscurity to fame with the bestselling series. Why, then has he written an abrupt ending for the protagonist—a bloody death without the satisfaction of a solved crime? After all, fans have been awaiting the revelation of the villain who killed Kang Cheol’s family.

But Kang Cheol will not die, and he begins to affect the story from the other side of the tablet. Seung Moo is no longer in control of his creation.

Has Seung Moo run away, unable to cope with success? Or is he suffering a common literary malady—an inability to properly resolve the story?

And why does Kang Cheol believe Yeon Joo is “the key to my life”?

The answer to that, my friends, is a plot twist.

At only 16 episodes long, W is fast-paced. However, it does slow down a little on occasion, allowing the viewer to catch his or her breath and often poking gentle fun at kdrama tropes.

The cinematography is excellent, and the special effects—as characters pass from one world to the next, or as pieces of the comic are drawn and then appear in the webtoon world—are top-notch and deceptively simple. Some effects are in-camera rather than digital, lending a level of reality to the cartoon world.

W would fit nicely into any of these genres: horror, fantasy, thriller, mystery, suspense, romance, action, and more. It is twisty, unpredictable, and references many kdrama tropes then refreshes the cliches to turn the story in unexpected directions.

The reason for so many genres intermingling is due to the story being hijacked by the characters, who don’t know the cartoonist’s plans but simply want to live. And to live on their own terms.

Story themes include existence, humanity, determining one’s own life/destiny/future, and the roles and relationships among god/creator, devil/antagonist, and allies and enemies. Choices have consequences—and the choices and consequences become manifold as fictional characters no longer follow the plot but assert their wills on the story. Viewers of varying philosophies or worldviews will find this an intriguing tale.

Currently, W is available on Viki, which allows viewers to comment during the show. However, during your first viewing of the show, I suggest turning off the scrolling comments at the top of the video window, as they can be distracting, annoying, downright funny. Best to watch without them, until you view the show a second time.

 

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How Real Life Can Color a Story’s Reception

Romances are not my usual viewing fare because they tend to be ridiculous, shallow, or boring — yes, my opinion is showing 🙂 — but since this series is only sixteen episodes long and stars some of my favorite Korean actors, I thought I’d give it a try.

4703_TheTimeThatILovedYou7000Days_Nowplay_Small

Nope. Nope, nope, nope.

Summary on the website:

Jang Ha Na (Ha Ji Won) and Choi Won (Lee Jin Wook) are incredibly close platonic friends: throughout 20 years, they’ve braved it all through thick and thin. As Ha Na’s 30th birthday approaches, Won extols the virtues of aging as a man—like a wine—while explaining that women are like grapes that shrivel into raisins. Determined to prove him wrong, Ha Na strikes a bet on which of the two will marry before turning 35. Based on Taiwan’s hit In Time With You, can these two friends make the ultimate leap?

Characters in their thirties allow fear and misunderstandings and all sorts of other obstacles keep them from telling the truth to themselves and to each other. There’s a hint of My Best Friend’s Wedding, but without the mania.

It took me a few weeks to watch the first seven episodes, but that was sheer stubbornness rather than actual interest.

It’s not that the writing is terrible or the acting is stiff or that I didn’t like the characters. Perhaps I expected — I don’t know — more spine or mental strength or maturity from the characters. Perhaps I expected me.

When I was thirty-something, I was interested in more than friendship from a close friend. I know the fear and uncertainty of declaring myself. And, when I did, the worst happened: the friendship fell apart. However, I mentally prepared myself for that rejection. It still stung, I still felt as if my lungs had been crushed, but I gave that person room to be true to self. Granted, I was not prepared for the anger that accompanied the rejection — “You’ve ruined a good friendship!” — but the uncertainty was suffocating and I needed to move forward. If that person chose to come with me, wonderful. If not, I had to straighten my shoulders and walk on.

That was years ago, and sometimes the sadness springs out from the shadows, but I wouldn’t trade the freedom and all the good things that have happened since.

So watching fictional characters drag their feet for more exaggerated, soap opera reasons than those I experienced in real life is torture, not entertainment.

The ratings (overall 4 out of 5 stars) give evidence that viewers without my jaded, curmudgeonly perspective consider “The Time That I Loved You” must-see TV. Good. Whatever kinds of writers we are — screenwriters, TV show developers, novelists, playwrights — there’s the story we tell and the story the audience views or reads. Our experiences inform what we write, and theirs color what they see/read. Stories interact with the audience in ways even the creators may not expect.

 

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Romeo, Romeo

RomeoJulietLooking for contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare’s work?

You just may find your fix in the 2014 version of Romeo and Juliet starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad. It’s muscular and creative, and it plays up the humor.

The balcony scene could easily have been set in two separate bedrooms and featured the characters looking at each other through their windows while speaking on the telephone and waiting for the other person to hang up first.

Christian Camargo gives one of the best portrayals of Mercutio I’ve seen, delivering the Queen Mab speech in a comprehensible, conversational fashion.

However, the play can be antic at times, speeding through the scenes as if afraid to sit still, and the actors often deliver their lines by rapid-fire sing-song rote that often steals the power, playfulness, or pathos of the words.

When the play slows to allow the moments to play out more naturally, less frantically, that’s when it shines.

Still, though I like many of the lines and scenes, this remains one of my least favorite Shakespeare works.

 

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Clint & the Gang

Took this photo at the Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson, Missouri, last summer:

classic Clint Eastwood Hollywood Wax Museum Branson, MO (c2014, KB)

classic Clint Eastwood
Hollywood Wax Museum
Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

Makes me downright nostalgic.

So does this, although the artistry is somewhat less than that performed on ol’ Clint:

classic Star Trek crew Hollywood Wax Museum Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

classic Star Trek crew
Hollywood Wax Museum
Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

Maybe Westerns and outer space, mashed together, is why I love Firefly so much, and why I can’t escape the Old West influence in my writing, whether that be space opera, modern fiction, or even medieval fantasy.

I was raised in the West and the South — I live on the cusp of the West even now — and that independence of spirit and manner of speech creeps in, even when I’m not aware. Not gonna fight it. Just gonna embrace it.

 

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Thirteen O’Clock

photo by David Wright

An idea I encountered repeatedly while doing research for my urban fantasy novel: “The dead want us to tell their stories.”

Why? To what end? What do the dead gain?

I believe differently, but will not preach a sermon here. However, I do wonder where some afterlife ideas originate. What rationales are offered for the presumed existence of ghosts? Just as ancient cultures came up with pantheons of misbehaved, immature gods in order to explain natural phenomena or unknown history, do we do the same with ghosts?

Just wondering.

If I adhered to Asian tradition, I’d expect ghosts to carry grudges, wanting revenge. I can understand that, especially if a person died wrongfully, but some of those grudges seem to be anger over a life cut short, before dreams or wishes could be met.

Know anyone who spends their life carrying grudges and blaming the world, and therefore missing out on actually living?

That attitude might carry over to the other side, if what some TV-show folks say is true and the dead are just hanging around, waiting on us to notice them, meanwhile constantly looping through the events that led to their death or lurking in places to which they’re emotionally attached.

But that might mean logic ceases “beyond the veil”. As a living person who has avoided a particular place where childhood trauma and drama occurred, I know I wouldn’t want to spend eternity in a building where I was abused or tortured. Why would I do so just because I were dead?

What do I gain?

I’m reminded of a strange but darkly humorous poem:

Thirteen O’Clock
Kenneth Fearing

Why do they whistle so loud, when they walk past the graveyard late at night?
Why do they look behind them when they reach the gates?
Why do they have any gates? Why don’t they go through the wall?
But why, O why do they make that horrible whistling sound?

GO AWAY, LIVE PEOPLE, STOP HAUNTING THE DEAD

If they catch you, it is said, they make you rap, rap, rap on a table all
night,
And blow through a trumpet and float around the room in long white veils,
While they ask you, and ask you: Can you hear us, Uncle Ted?
Are you happy, Uncle Ted? Should we buy or should we sell?
Should we marry, Uncle Ted?
What became of Uncle Ned, Uncle Ted, and is he happy,
and ask him if he knows what became of Uncle Fred?

KEEP AWAY, LIVE PEOPLE, KEEP FAR AWAY,
STAY IN THE WORLD’S OTHER WORLD WHERE YOU REALLY BELONG.
YOU WILL PROBABLY BE MUCH HAPPIER THERE.

And who knows, what they are hunting for, always looking,
looking, looking with sharp bright eyes where they ought to have sockets?
Whoever saw them really grin with their teeth?
Who knows why they worry, or what they scheme, with a brain where there should
be nothing but good, damp air?

STAY AWAY, LIVE PEOPLE, STAY AWAY,
YOU MEAN NO HARM, AND WE AREN’T AFRAID OF YOU,
AND WE DON’T BELIEVE SUCH PEOPLE EXIST,
BUT WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? WHO DO YOU WANT?
WHO? WHO? WHO? O WHO?

Why haunt the battlefield where I was slain? Why constantly be a murder victim, or re-enact a murder I committed? Why keep trying to tend bar, wandering the front staircase, hanging from a rope?

Who could avenge me once all the folks who wronged me are also dead? If I am a ghost, am I angry with the living simply because they are living and I am not?

Again, if the TV personalities are correct, the other side is not a happy place.

Good thing I believe they’re way off the mark, else I’d live in fear, blunting and darkening my days. Let me live while I’m alive, thank you very much, and once I’m dead, leave me in peace.

 

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What I’m Learning from Korean Television

This is a re-post of a blog entry originally posted February 18, 2011, on the old incarnation of Adventures in Fiction. I’ve told the opening story numerous times since it happened, so I’m like that old guy who’s always telling the same ol’ yarns to whoever will listen. There’s a point to it, though, and some readers will recognize themes and ideas from more recent posts here.

What made me go hunt for this post was a string of comments on a kdrama website. From their angst and misunderstanding of a particular pair of characters, I deduce the authors of those remarks are young — oh, so very young — and haven’t yet had to overcome many challenges in pursuit of their dreams. Or maybe everyone who holds them to account or issues a challenge is labeled “a big bad meanie”. Whoever posted those comments showed their ignorance, inexperience, and immaturity.

However, rather than scold them or get into any sort of disagreement, I looked up this post so I could quote it in my review of the same television show. Perhaps I can indirectly influence their thinking. Or not. They probably won’t understand it.

Anyway, here’s the original blog post:

It all started several weeks ago when I mis-read a link on the Hulu homepage: “If you are not Keanan, click here.”

I did a double-take, thinking it said, “If you are not Korean.”

Realizing my mistake, I laughed aloud, but not having anyone to share the amusement with me, I posted the goof on Facebook, hoping others would get at least a small smile from it.

Great Queen Seondeok coverThen, a few days later, while searching for something interesting to watch, I happened upon a recommendation for a Korean historical fiction series, The Great Queen SeonDeok. It’s a long’un, and I gave up around Episode 50, wearied by the political machinations, fears, false friends, and such that were part of the battle the title character faced on her way to the throne.

Still, despite my loss of interest in continuing to the final episode, I was drawn to the core story and to a small group of characters who seemed, even in their broadest and most caricatured portrayals, to be appealing and real. One of my favorites is portrayed by an actor that is written of in reviews as “wooden” or “a terrible actor”, but I don’t think those viewers understand the character, who wouldn’t be going about showing all his emotions and talking about his feelings. His thoughts are his own, until he deems it necessary to reveal them. For my part, I think he says a lot by a simple look. No words required.

Besides, it keeps the mystery alive.

That’s something more writers need to learn, a new take on an old saying: sometimes, characters need to be seen and not heard.

One effective storytelling device used often in the series is one that is anathema to some in publishing (if one pays any attention to the often useless “advice” doled out at writing conferences and seminars): the flashback.

A flashback can consist of a character’s memory of an event, told in brief, or it can be an extended scene, chapter, or many chapters, in which the past is revealed to the reader. Some writers “bookend” stories by beginning and ending them in the novels’ “present time”, but unfolding the bulk of the plot via the stories’ past. This can be done through letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, or simply the memories of a character or characters. In “The Great Queen”, this device was used to good effect when viewers needed to finally be let in on a secret (aka plot twist).

IRIS DVD coverFrom that show, I went on to IRIS, which is kinda like Alias. Again, I stopped short of watching every episode (in this case, the last two of the first season). However, the characters are intriguing, the story is twisty, and this action-y spy show doesn’t shy away from letting its characters — men included — show emotion, even cry.

I’m still kinda iffy on that. I might put in an emotional scene, but then I’ll delete it, or cut it down so much that ends up being matter-of-fact rather than squishy. One emotion that’s not difficult for me to write is anger. But love? Grief? That’s tough, tough, tough to get right. At least for me. But emotions are a part of life. And cold logic doesn’t always play a part in emotional responses. Make characters real by giving them real emotions.

Chuno DVD coverThen I fell into the time-sucking addiction of Chuno, an excellent historical drama laced with humor and emotion, and packed with action; I’m a few episodes away from the end, and I plan on watching every one. There are minor characters that exist for comedic effect, local color, and connective tissue for the main characters and/or events of the story, but even the minorest of minor characters feels real. The main cast are interesting, not a cardboard cutout in the bunch, and — love ’em or hate ’em — they’re neither predictable or boring.

Ever read several stories by the same author, and realize that all he or she has done is tell the same story over and over and over?

Dagnabbit! Sometimes I think I write stories with the same basic cast of characters: just change names and ages, put one set in outer space and the other set in medieval Europe, and presto! I move from science fiction to high fantasy. I can’t get too comfortable. I can’t avoid “meeting” new characters. Even ones I don’t like so much.

Pasta DVD coverAnd, in a totally different vibe, there’s the 2010 modern comedy series, Pasta, in which a somewhat whiny but steel-spined young kitchen assistant becomes a junior chef learning from and falling in love with a loud, strict, talented new chef who grates on just about everyone who meets him.

Again, I think some of the reviewers miss the point. They complain about the junior chef being such a baby, but they overlook her resolve, her persistence, her drive to excel. They ask why she wants the love and approval of a chef who constantly tells her to make a dish over or that she’s doing something wrong, but they overlook the fact that she doesn’t want flattery, or the emptiness of “nice” words. She sees the chef’s demands for what they are: a desire on the chef’s part to see her succeed, perhaps a desire even greater than her own.

From my perspective, it’s not a case of a girl overlooking the nice guy because the bad boy is more interesting. It’s a case of “Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Tell me what I need to know so I can be better. And not just better, but the best.” She respects that more than the nice guy’s flattery, as sincere as he may be.

I know that desire: Don’t tell me it’s a good story. Tell me why it does or doesn’t work. Show me the flaws. Help me be better than I am now.

It’s a desire I wish more rookie writers had. Editing or critiquing the work of a writer who thinks he’s already arrived, who thinks her words are perfect in the first draft — that’s an exercise in futility. Such a writer cannot and will not improve because he or she will not learn.

So, looks like I’ll be reading a lot more subtitles in the future, gleaning all I can to hopefully improve my own storytelling skills while admiring–and learning from–the skills of others.

 

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Rant, Rebellion, and Realistic Characters

This entry was originally posted in late December 2011, almost two months after I left a job of fourteen years and began a new life.

This work-related rant turned toward writing and characterization, but I cut the post short back in May 2011, and never finished until picking it up again seven months later, after the source of the rant was no longer part of my life. For good or ill, the rant is unchanged. However, I’ve expanded upon the original characterization portion, and hope my frustration and anger produced something worth reading, something that might serve others in their lives, their writing, or their work relationships.

I don’t like to be controlled. Don’t like to be micromanaged. Don’t like someone being “all up in my business” or constantly asking questions about matters that are no business of theirs.

This is an increasingly intense battle at my day job, in which colleagues misbehave but put the burden on my shoulders. I am made responsible for their behavior, and for the morale of my fellow workers.

Funny. I thought morale started at the top. And, last time I looked, neither my paycheck nor my title reflected that kind of responsibility.

Everything comes back around to one issue: control. Who’s gonna be the puppet master?

When someone says they trust me then they try to manage me, push me, pull the rug out from under me, they’re saying, “I don’t trust you.” When someone says they appreciate all my years of service to the organization then they try to confine me rather than giving me room to do my job, they’re saying, “I don’t appreciate you.”

Tasks that I did over a decade ago are no longer acceptable now. There’s been an added position, one that’s supposed to free the rest of us to do our jobs better, but the person in that role is so uncertain of his place that he’s grasping control wherever he can, and in the process making life difficult for the rest of us. Commonsense has gone the way of freedom, autonomy, and trust: out the door.

Layers of bureaucracy do not produce efficiency. They do, however, produce mountains of paperwork, frustration, and demi-tyrants.

A couple weeks back, I was told by a supervisor, “I don’t need any Lone Rangers.” Really? It was concerning an area I had overseen since I was hired almost fourteen years ago. Suddenly, I’m a Lone Ranger.

Then, last week, I was reprimanded — this person was shocked, shocked, I tell you — because I didn’t immediately do the first thing the boss asked, but offered an alternative that was better suited to the situation. After all, said this shocked individual, the good of the organization is superior to the good of the individual.

That’s a scary notion. There’s a whole lot of subtext to that statement (socialism and communism, for instance). Countless crimes and misdeeds have been carried out under the banner of the corporate good.

To my mind, the good of the individual is the good of the organization. After all, the organization cannot operate without the individual.

But what does any of this have to do with writing, other than serving as my personal rant?

Thus the soapbox is put aside, and here begins the actual writing-related portion about characters. Hope it helps!

Writers, how much control do you exert over your characters? Are they real, or are they robots?

If one is writing science fiction, robots might be expected, but even robotic characters tend to have personality i.e. C3PO or R2D2 in Star Wars, or android Mr. Data in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”; human characters, however, should not display robotic tendencies, unless the writer intends to use that stiffness or coldness to further the story somehow. (Or the “human” is a droid. That’s almost always cool.)

With a change of circuitry or software, at the whim of the designer, robots can be altered, predicted, controlled.

Not so with humans. Push, prod, bully, or demand, we’re stubborn, willful, changeable, foolish, scheming, proud, weak — all sorts of traits and addictions not easily controlled by ourselves, let alone by others seeking to change us.

Why, then, do authors try to impose their wills on their characters? Granted, characters should not run amok in a story, or behave illogically (unless, of course, that plays to character or plot). However, ever read a story where the author obviously had a goal in mind for certain characters, and forced them to adhere to that plot, against the integrity of the characters?

By integrity, I mean the truth of the characters — who they are, what they do, how they think and reason, what they believe, how they respond to authority figures, etc.

In the real world, questions don’t necessarily mean disrespect for authority, though there is the assumption that questioning a command equals insubordination. Questions are a search for information, for reliability, for a reason. Authors should allow their characters to ask questions and establish realistic identities: “Why must I say that? I would never do this. I’d never hang out with that guy. Even if she’s my relative, I wouldn’t just excuse her behavior. If you, the author, want this from me, you must first give me a reason.”

Just as valid a question in fiction as in the real world, have you earned the authority to make such demands of your characters? Are you a trustworthy storyteller? Do you keep your story’s promises? Give your characters logical motivations? Allow plot twists to arise organically from the story rather than, say, including gunfire or an explosion — or the cliched dead body — just to jazz up boring or dead-end material?

Even if they can’t always express it, readers can tell when they’re reading the work of a competent and trustworthy storyteller, and when they’re reading a story full of contrived circumstances and unrealistic characters.

My opinion: A tacked-on happy ending is less desirable than an organic, realistic tragic ending. (Although, to be honest, I much prefer happy endings to sad ones.) And give me a hero I can believe in, flawed or not, because he or she is written as if real. Warts, rebellion, and all.

 

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