Monday, June 10, 2013

MONDAY MUSINGS—SUSPENDING BELIEF




When you pick up a book or watch a movie a certain suspension of belief must take place to make the story real for you, the audience. The writer has to touch the audience’s emotions and make them care. Otherwise the world isn't real and you can’t buy into the characters, and therefore the story.

An audience is a tricky thing. While they willingly suspend belief when reading or watching a story, if the writer doesn't stick with the rules set out in the initial world building or the characters act contrary to those implied rules, your audience becomes irate. Writers, regardless of the medium, have to maintain a strong plot and character continuity especially in series. In a book, this is usually the point where I tend to toss the book across the room in disgust, “You have got to be frickin’ kidding me!”

My husband and I were having a discussion on the matter of suspending belief and writers, especially Hollywood writers, who have no regard or respect for their fans. Well, to be honest, it was more of a…heated debate.

As I mentioned last week, I've been watching the first season of Grimm. I really like it because it’s a mix of my favorite genres—police procedural, suspense, kick ass action, romance, paranormal, and a touch of fantasy. I’m a season behind Dan. I've actually seen parts of season two. I know more of what’s going on because when my husband gets disgusted with certain things writers pull, he has to tell me why something isn't working. 

Grimm season premiere promo
In season two of Grimm one of the main characters, Juliette, has lost her memories of Nick. This is a result of a spell. What is unsettling, to my husband, is the way the writers have changed the character’s core personality because it plays false to the original world and character building. 

Season one the writer’s spend quite a bit of time establishing Juliette as a strong and confident woman. She’s funny, feisty, supportive, and she’s likable. In season two she becomes a wimp and unlikable. If you read some of the show’s fan forums it’s apparent that Dan’s disgust is felt by many of the fans. They don’t like her anymore and they want her gone.

I suggested that part of the core change would understandable. If these two characters were living together for three years and their lives were so closely entwined, if separated it could leave her feeling out of sync —at least subconsciously. That sort of dichotomy could, logically, assault her sense of confidence and self worth and cause fear and other personality changes. She may not know what happened consciously but unconsciously pieces and sense of time are missing. Dan maintains there have been no foreshadowing or psychological clues of that sort of disorientation happening. He further maintains, as do many of the fans, that if she can remember everything but Nick, her basic personality should remain the same and have the benchmarks that would have drawn Nick to her in the first place.

I do understand his frustration. I've felt the same about popular shows. Like Lost (purgatory? Really?) and this season’s Bones. C’mon, this latest villain is a computer “genius” with more power and capability than is possible in the real world, even with a team of people at his disposal. The idea of one man having all that power, genius or no, is ludicrous. The writers have played false to the initial premise of their world building and the intelligence of their audience.


Star Trek wall poster
Another is Star Trek and the latest version of the stories for the last two movies. Basically, J.J. Walker has rewritten established franchise history. I've been a long time fan of the Star Trek franchise. I spent a great deal of the first movie thinking or saying to my husband, “wait a minute that never happened. How can they do that?”

What happened, of course, is Walker (with writers Orci and Kurtzman) created an alternate timeline version of Star Trek.  He made a choice to develop an alternate reality created by time travel. They needed the original story elements and characters (and fanbase) but wanted freedom from the franchise continuity constraints. Okay, I get it. It’s still disconcerting.  I can suspend belief under those circumstances.

Dan and I laughed midway through our debate over people in movies, TV shows, and books. These aren't real people and yet we discuss them as if they were. It’s all fiction and meant to entertain. Writers feel justified in taking leeway with established characters in the name of entertainment.

Howling Dane
Fans are a tough audience, though, and loyal. They feel betrayed when writers step out of sync with their favorite characters or world. When that happens, even if the story is good, they are distracted by the inconsistencies. They’re not buying into the story or the characters. Chances are the writer has lost not only the trust of their fans but also a portion of their established audience.

I don’t think that’s a place I’d like to be as a writer.

What are your thoughts?

13 comments:

YVONNE LEWIS: said...

Great to read , most enjoyable.

Yvonne,

L.G. Smith said...

I love that you and your husband have heated discussions over this stuff. :)

But, yeah, consistency is important to maintaining that trust with the reader/watcher. I sort of talked about this today too, about inserting believable motivation for when a character acts, um, out of character.

T. Drecker said...

Lol! I and my hubs just don't watch most series/movies together anymore. He's always pointing problems out or mentioning how somethings are simply impossible. Ruins my shows every time.
Funny thing is, he's a big science fiction fan and claims that most things are possible in those and therefore, make sense. Good thing my kids are getting older ;)

Melanie Schulz said...

You're a book thrower, too? I've been known to do that from time to time.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've stopped watching shows before (like House) because the writers 'jumped the shark' with the characters.
I've been all right with the changes in Star Trek since it's an alternate universe though.

Johanna Garth said...

The more adept I become with my own writing, the less patience I have for other writer's sloppiness. I've even started giving up on books halfway through *gasp* which is something I've never done before. But I guess I feel like if they can't take the time to make there book work on multiple levels, I can't take the time to finish it.

~Sia McKye~ said...

LG, yah, we do and we don't always see eye to eye. Both of us write, too, with different styles and processes. But, both of us agree that a writer owes it to their fans to be true to the established world/character continuity. :-)

I read and enjoyed your article.

~Sia McKye~ said...

T--I hate flawed logic based on liking a show or not. We don't so we pick at it. As watchers (or readers) we can choose what to buy into and that willingness has a lot to do with the premise of the show or book and characters. There are movies, TV shows, and books that Dan and I don't share the same interest.

Melanie-yes ma'am, I've been known to do so. I've also stopped watching a show because of it and as far as reading series, I've stopped buying the books when the author forgets character/plot continuity or starts making things ridiculous.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Alex, house was a good premise but it's become a mess. I'm okay with Star Trek now that I understand what they're doing.

Johanna, I know, lol! I used to stick with books to the end. Not anymore. I've been known to give up after a few chapters. I've been asked to review books that I did stick with for much longer than I would have normally. You're looking for the redeeming factor. Sometimes there isn't one in either interest or characters. I don't do blah.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

The moment someone says "That character wouldn't do that!" the show or book is sunk. We all have moments, but our basic personalities dictate that we'll usually react a certain way.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I loved this post! We've had family discussions on stuff like this too - from our kids' shows to "grown up" shows we watch. It's frustrating when the show's writers seem to completely change the direction of a character, or when they break the rules of the world they've created.

We are currently watching Heroes (we're hopelessly out of date, I know), and we've all felt frustrated with the "change of rules" that seems to happen with each season. First the mutation seemed to be in the blood, then possibly the brain and the dna, then the adrenal system, and now? We still like the show, but given those changes, plus the way that certain characters seem to flop from villain to possible hero has seriously strained our trust.

I wouldn't want readers to stop trusting my writing either . . . although I did kill off a character in my first book that everyone seems to have loved. (and I'm not bringing him back because that would break the world behind the story)

It's interesting thinking about it from both sides of the issue.

Jo said...

Not seen the Star Trek movie, but I do agree with Diane, if I feel the character wouldn't do that, then I lose interest in the whole shebang.

My hubby doesn't watch or read this kind of thing so no-one to discuss it with.

Tammy Theriault said...

It would be so tough to be a tv writer... i have stopped shows because of changes in characters