Now that you are following my Twitter feed, you might notice that I'm a bit obsessed with different fandoms. (You should see my likes on Tumblr, but I won't let you because that stuff is private!!) I have a particular affinity for Hunger Games fanfiction, but I won't talk about that here until later. So, I plan on having a section of my blog dedicated to my love of certain Fandoms and what we can learn from their various story-telling styles. Today, we're going to explore the mid-2000's, part detective mystery, part teen angst drama TV show, Veronica Mars.
I've been thinking about why I've become so obsessed with a TV show that I never watched while it was actually in production. While the availability to stream it on Netflix might have something to do with it, I also have been thinking about the writing behind the visuals and the acting. (I'm sorry that it is no longer available to stream on Netflix. The full series and the movie is available on Amazon Video.)
Killer, Layered Stories
The stories are actually quite killer. (Ha! Because multiple story lines have to do with murder! Happy puns.) Multiple story lines over the course of a season arc, multiple episode arc and an episode arc. It's pretty obvious which story line will be resolved by the end of an episode (hint: it's usually the "mystery" that Veronica has to solve through her school or to save her own or a friend's behind), but it gives the audience a sense of cathartic release while maintaining suspense with arcs that occur over a period of episodes. In short, it gives me enough satisfaction to smile when the final credits roll, but enough suspense to keep me tuning in for the next one.
I think that there is a lot to learn from this about planning stories, especially in novel form. I would love to be able to plan a novel with multi-chapter and novel length conflicts with corresponding sign posts and climaxes, while maintaining a semblance of conclusion at the end of each chapter or scene sequence.
The characters on Veronica Mars are also something to study. I don't want to mimic the characters themselves, their mannerisms, qualities, etc. I don't need to match Veronica's stubbornness, Logan's pain hidden behind arrogance, Duncan's naivety or Wallace's loyalty. The overall qualities of the characterization is something that I want to recreate in my own work. These characters have layers, revealed slowly through the course of the show, which makes them feel real. These characters could be someone you know or who you want to be. They are fully dynamic and fleshed out characters without any pretension.
I've been reading James Scott Bell's new book on writing, Writing Fiction for All You're Worth. (It's pretty affordable for Kindle for $3.99) My favorite chapter is about his personal notebook or writer's handbook. It's an extensive list for creating fully layered characters and plots. Examples are: What is your character's biggest fear? What is your character's hidden flaw? What is your character's visible flaw? What does your character have to lose? While I've done these "voice exercises" for characters in the past, I never found it helpful until I related it to a show/book/film that I particularly enjoyed. That's where Veronica Mars comes in.
In the show, the audience doesn't always know the answers, but they know that every character has their own motivations, their own hidden agenda and their own painful pasts, which influences every move that they make. The decisions that these characters make directly effects how all the other characters act simultaneously or react. This contributes to the layered story, but it keeps the story lines fresh without seeming forced. When shocking things happen, the audience can kind of see that coming in hindsight when they see the actions of all the characters that culminates in the final tragedy.
Yet, What Can I Expect?
One of the best things about this show's writing is that it manages to be fresh while being...predictable. It's predictable because the audience sees stability and consistency within the characters. You know he's going to be hiding in the back seat because he's a psychopath on a mission. You know that Veronica is going to accuse her friends and schoolmates of crimes or misdoings in almost every episode. You know that the men in Veronica's life will be mad about her always being a meddling kid. You know that most adults won't necessarily believe Veronica's skills until she proves herself. GASP! Wait, how did you know? The writing is good because the characters are stable, while growing and changing over time with the setbacks and turbulence that happen in their lives.
The hard thug has a soft spot for Veronica because she's bailed him out a bunch of times, so he forgives her when she accuses him. The cocky rich boy loves Veronica because she doesn't give in to him and he's frightened and intrigued by her self-assertiveness. Now, I understand when people in my writing critique group say, "I don't think that Character X would ever say/do/want that. It seems out of character."
As readers or an audience, we come to expect something from our characters and we demand an explanation from the writers when those expectations don't match with writing. Consistency within characterization while allowing for understandable growth allows for the audience to fall in love with, or hate, or, at least, become invested in your characters.
Best part has to be Logan making heart eyes at Veronica all the time. I mean, this is a romance writer's blog. (We don't talk about Piz. Watch the movie. It all works out LoVe in the end.)