Sunday, June 3, 2012

Story-Like Objects and the Totoro Nut

(For those just tuning in -- The Oaf is pompous. The Missus derives a certain mild entertainment from this. Joss Whedon is a television and film writer and director whose work combines action/adventure with soap opera. Buffy and Angel were interconnected, horror-based TV shows developed from a film; Firefly was a science-fiction TV show that led to the production of a movie, Serenity, that ended the storyline. Zoe, Wash, and Book were characters from Firefly and Serenity. Fred was a character from Angel, and she was not a guy. Chris Claremont is a comic book writer best known for his work on the superhero comic book The X-Men, and a clear influence on Whedon. Hayao Miyazake is a [wonderful] cartoonist and animator, and his movies Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro are favorites of mine. And by "Ugh!" the Missus means fighting and perspiring and people getting bitten and buried and hurled and bludgeoned and losing an eye and all such various forms of tsuris.)

The Missus: I think I might watch Serenity again.

The Oaf: Huh. I kind of assumed that I'd watch Serenity every time I went through a Firefly phase, but now that you present the option, I might skip it. It kind of left a sour taste in my mouth.

The Missus: I know what you mean. I was watching Buffy again, and I stopped when they got to the hyenas.

The Oaf: That's where we stalled out last time we tried watching it together.

The Missus: Well, who wants to keep watching all that... Ugh!

The Oaf: I hear you. When Whedon killed Book and Wash in Serenity, it was totally unnecessary.

The Missus: I think he did that for spite. He was saying, "Fuck you" to the people who run the movies.

The Oaf: Nah, I don't buy that. He was trying to make a big dramatic ending, and he did it the way Claremont would have, by killing someone. It's a product of the climate where he learned his storytelling chops.

The Missus: I guess. It still sucks, though. I didn't care that much about Book, but Wash...

The Oaf: That's because he and Zoe were in love. When he died, the audience lost that love. It was a cheap shot, and it didn't serve any dramatic purpose. It was like that shit that happened with Fred at the end of Angel; if it had been the result of a character failing or if it had somehow grown out of the situation, it would have meant something. That's what makes fiction different from real life. In real life, shit happens and it makes you feel, but in fiction, shit is made to happen and sometimes it feels like simple cruelty on the part of the creator. A lot of storytelling, especially cinematic storytelling, has been so systematized that it's more like filling out Mad Libs than any kind of creative process. That's how you get these things I think of as story-like objects, where the characters walk onstage at the right time and all the explosions happen where they're supposed to and it means fucking nothing. When Whedon throws out stuff like this and all the kung-fu vampire shit, it's just a form of packing material. I mean, I like his and all, but it's his affection for his characters that keeps me interested. The rest is filler, and sometimes it gets in the way. The man has comic-book cooties, I hate to say.

The Missus: You have bad guys in your book.

The Oaf: Yeah, and I literally tell the reader that all that stuff is bullshit and too much of it makes you feel stupid. But you're right. You're right. I weaseled with symbolism, poetry, and satire, but I weaseled some. That's one of my major creative goals, actually. To do something substantial that really feels wholesome. That's a tough nut to crack. That's why I've been watching Miyazake so hard the last ten years or so. There are some crappy people in Kiki's Delivery Service, but in Totoro, everyone just cares and wants the best for each other. The dramatic impetus comes from the woman being sick, and the way it's handled does seem like a natural source of difficulty rather than authorial cruelty. He got through a whole movie with nothing but good people in it. I want to do something like that someday. The difficulty is that it's such a simple problem.

The Missus: What do you mean?

The Oaf: All you have to do is write about people so well that the reader cares about them even if their problems aren't any kind of big special deal, or even if they don't have problems. That's all it takes. It's that easy.

The Missus: ...

The Oaf: That's all you have to do. That's all there is to it. It's simple.

The Missus: ...

The Oaf: ...

2 comments:

Rob Pierce - 2 Verbs said...

Of course, Wash also plays with toy dinosaurs. If you're looking for a really good book where pretty much nothing happens, I think I can help you. And you know I'm an action guy. Sometimes the writing changes the reader's requirements.

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