October is upon us, and that means it’s time to start planning our novels for NaNoWriMo! Last night, S and I started plotting things out on dry-erase boards. And we got the long roll of butcher paper down from the office upstairs, so we’re ready to start plotting out S’s novel and taping it up on the walls. This morning, while I slept in, S has been hard at work, naming her characters.
In the weeks to come, we’ll probably post more about what we’re doing to get ready, but in the meantime, I wanted to say a little something about a show we watched recently, Magic City. It was on Starz a few years ago, and it ran for only two seasons. And while there were things we enjoyed about the show, it was pretty obvious to us after a few episodes why it got canceled.
First, there are few surprises in the show, and nearly all the surprises are bad ones. Everything you think is going to happen, ends up happening sooner or later. You think, “Oh, I bet that guy is going to get shot,” and sure enough, he does. Every ponderous move of the plot is telegraphed so thoroughly, you see it coming a mile away. And as I say, on the rare occasion when the show manages to surprise you, it does so in a way that fatally undercuts the character. For example, when Ben Diamond, the violent, over-the-top, mustache-twirling villain, finally catches his wife in bed in bed with the older son of the hero—a moment the viewer has been anticipating with bated breath for several episodes—the outcome is almost cartoonishly silly. It turns out Diamond likes watching his wife have sex with other people. It’s a moment from a sex farce that the show tries ludicrously to play straight, while demanding that the viewer continue taking Diamond seriously as a threat.
Many of the show’s sins stem from inconsistent characterization, in fact. Ben Diamond is the worst offender, of course. The writers seem to have been aiming to create an “unpredictable psycho,” but what they achieved was a character whose reactions are so out of proportion to the actions of others, and (as above) occasionally so silly, that he becomes tedious. It’s the same problem I have with many depictions of the Joker in various Batman series and movies. Hollywood seems to have this odd notion that chaotic villains are somehow more terrible and terrifying than villains who are thoroughly rational in pursuing their evil aims. It seems to me that a few moments’ thought should show why that isn’t so, either in real life or in fiction. Irrational villains get high and trash a liquor store; rational villains build concentration camps.
Then again, its probably fair to note that I’m not really fond of mob movies or TV shows. Other than the first two Godfather movies, I really can’t think of any mob-related story that I ever enjoyed.
Other characters in the show have consistency problems, though. Ike, the hero, is generally likeable and decent, but about halfway through the second season, he seems to get a personality transplant and start acting like a jackass to characters we like. Again, this is a surprise, and it’s not a good one. Several times, as we were watching the last few episodes, S turned to me and said, “Who is this guy, and what happened to Ike?”
But anyway, we’ve finished the show now, and at the very least, there was a lot of pretty 50s and 60s set decoration, and a lot of very pretty people wearing very little, and it was all filmed very prettily. The show certainly looked good; I’ll give it that. And it was nice to see Jessica Marais again, playing the aforementioned wife of the villain. We remembered her from Legend of the Seeker, one of our favorite cheesy-good-fun shows. In fact, all the way through Magic City, we referred to her as “Mord-Sith Denna,” rather than by the actual name of her character, which I’ve already forgotten. (Wikipedia tells me it was “Lily.”)
As an amateur writer, it’s sometimes just as instructive to look at bad writing as it is to look at good writing. So I guess what we can take away from Magic City is the necessity of consistent characterization, and the need for characters to act rationally according to their motivations. If there are surprises about one of the characters, they should come because we’re showing the reader a previously-unseen, but perfectly logical facet of that character. The reader’s reaction should not be, “Whoa, that guy’s nuts!” But rather, “Ah, of course. I hadn’t thought he was that sort of person, but looking back, it makes sense.”
And speaking of characters, I need to start doing some work on mine. I can’t let S get ahead of me in the planning and outlining!