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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I recently read a script with a lot of weirdness in it. You know, girl's sister disappears into an Otherworld, and girl follows, but is beset by various weirdos saying Mystical Things.

It is easy to write weird stuff and put it up on screen. Film is immediate and realistic. So oddness onscreen creates an immediate tension: when the images and dialog don't follow logical lines, you are still forced to accept them as happening in a way that you might not be in a comic or in an animated film.

But that only goes so far. I felt this Otherworld lacked an Otherworldly logic. The characters were spouting portentous gibberish. But they were only spouting it. In other words they were doing things only for the weird effect they would have on the audience, and the heroine. I felt it would have been much stronger if the characters were saying what they were saying because they wanted something from the heroine. In other words, talking for their own motivated character reasons. I think that adds a level of richness. Giving the weird its own logic makes it weirder. If all you have is weird juxtapositions of nonsensical stuff, the brain fails to detect patterns in it, and eventually brushes it off. It may be a romp like Head or Twin Peaks, but a romp gets tiresome after a while if there's no point to it. If your juxtapositions of stuff actually have a hidden logic, the brain will start to detect the patterns in it. The more it struggles, the more a feeling you create of true mystery.

I think one reason Alice in Wonderland holds interest is because the characters in it are all obeying their own logic. The Red Queen reacts to Alice, not as if she was written there to blow Alice's mind, but as a monarch in her own court might react to the inexplicable appearance of a terribly tall stranger: "Off with her head!"

In a drama, you always want to step into the shoes of your secondary characters to make sure their logic tracks. If they are hindering the hero, are they doing it for good reasons? If they're helping, are they getting something out of it?

It's easy to forget to do this when you're writing fantasy or science fiction. Who really knows what alien robots or unicorns might or might not say? But it's just as important. A robot spouting gibberish is rarely as compelling an antagonist as a robot trying to fit your hero into its own strange context. A unicorn who has to be persuaded, convinced, or paid to help will feel more real than a unicorn who just wants to help 'cause that's what your story needs at the moment.

The more there is to find, the more the audience will find ... and generally, the more they'll feel satisfied by your story.

2 Comments:

I think the first season of LOST did this very well. The events seemed random, yet weren't, and slowly the picture crystallized. Also, there was a consistency to the island 'weirdness'.
I also think that's why the story of Walt's origin was the weakest episode (IMO). It revealed too much, too soon about Walt and his ability.

By Blogger Milehimama, at 5:47 PM  

Cocteau movies are good examples of stories that don't make any real sense but have their own compelling internal logic. More than once, I've told someone how much I liked some Cocteau movie or other, and been befuddled when asked, "What's it about?"

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 8:55 PM  

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