04 November, 2010

More Than Fictions

The second sentence of this article was originally the first, but before you see it, I want to note that, despite its title, dealing with a favourite television show, it’s regarding an incredibly academic and astute article about writing in general; so please, if you’re interested in story, give it a read. In David Kociemba’s extremely well written ‘Buffy Vs Her Very Mind Itself’ (http://blog.watcherjunior.tv/2010/10/buffy-vs-her-very-mind-itself.html), he mentions fiction evolving into something more. “These characters are not real, but they're more than fictions after 118 episodes. I think there's something ultimately healthy about that, actually. It might be a necessary step for artists towards the production of meaning.”

What I find particularly fascinating is, while I never so much as crystallized the notion before, that I whole heartedly agree with it. Characters in any series of books, comics, shows or movies do indeed take on an evolved existence beyond pure fiction to, not in any sense become real, but indeed surpass the mere everyday creation. They transcend into dimensional characters rather than just the templates their authors originally penned. And it is a series result. For however wonderful a single story is – ‘A Study In Scarlet’ – it’s the result of the next sixty adventures over forty years that breathe life into Sherlock Holmes. Into Watson. Into Mrs. Hudson, Moriarty, Mycroft, even London herself. They are lives we come to know. And not feel like we know in the sense of the “friends” we visit on a favourite radio show every morning (and there’s indeed something to that relationship). We know these people. We understand them, sympathize with them, love them, hate them, defend them, miss them. As we probably spend more time with them than our real friends and family – think about it, if you’re a fan of ‘Harry Potter,’ it’s been seven novels, almost as many movies, over the last thirteen years (and still growing) – even more so than our real relationships.

Just as significantly, we give our time to these people – er, characters – rather than their clocking in and out of our real lives. It is significant because, unlike dutiful time we give anyone else – work, sure; but even lovers, friends, family – fiction is time we give ourselves. And we relax into it. Whether in bed at night, on the couch on a rainy Sunday afternoon, even traveling on vacation, it’s our time; held, grasped, coveted, sometimes withheld just for us. You may not share some stories and characters with your lover or best friend – Edward and Bella are yours – and perhaps your lover and best friend don’t even understand. Well, they don’t need to. After all, DUH, Edward and Bella are yours! Or perhaps you share this time with several people – a bunch of us got together every Sunday night for ‘The Sopranos’ – and we became part of Tony’s families over the years. To the point that, admit it fans, we were glued to the end of their story as Journey carried us out. And it was indeed our time, away from any duties the world held for us.

Think about how much you were affected at the end of a favourite book or movie – a single story – filled with hope or despair, laughter or tears, a renewed sense of self or pondering more questions. (And I’m not belittling a single story’s impact. I was a mess the first time I saw ‘Moulin Rouge.’) But think about how you feel at the end of a subsequent novel, or the end of a great TV season, or – God, what a great example – the end of ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ By that point in good series storytelling, we’re hooked. One of the great rules of storytelling is, “write characters people can relate to.” Well by the time a story has become a series, a good series; brother, we’re relating!


Mr. Kociemba’s article is really about having characters and storyline strong enough to be able to take a series’ characters beyond their normal “universe” into Capra-esque (Elseworld in Comic-speak) episodes where – because they’re developed so well, because we’re so comfortable with them – we’re intrigued instead of off-put by the “what if” story. In fact, in ‘Buffy,’ some of the show’s best episodes live here; “The Wish,” “Dopplegangland,” “Restless,” “Once More, With Feeling” and “Normal Again” (the crux of Kociemba’s article) come to mind. And as intriguing as his article on this is – and it is – I still found myself more fascinated by the simple notion that characters can be developed so well, we can become so comfortable with them, that they evolve from merely fictitious into something more. Something more concrete from which to build on. Something more on which we can rely.

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