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[personal profile] lookingforoctober
Is there one piece of advice Joss has given you about showrunning?

Whedon: He has a lot of good tidbits, but the main thing for him is that we build the story from the emotion first. He will not respond to the story if we pitch him the moves. He wants to know what the characters are going through and what they’re feeling. If we build it from that, we’re in a good place. Making sure that we’re putting them through their cases and making it realistic with how they’re reacting. The character is way more important to him than the other stuff, so those are our marching orders. (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/agents-shield-eps-expectations-lessons-631719)

I don't think I've ever seen something that explains so succinctly why I don't trust Joss Whedon as a storyteller. This isn't about like or dislike, I enjoyed the hell out of Firefly while not exactly trusting it. I like Buffy, but in the later seasons I didn't trust it. In the early seasons I did trust it, and I allowed myself to fall deep into the story, and I feel like I was rewarded for that. It's a completely different experience when you trust a story.

I learned not to trust Joss Whedon, and I made a lot of excuses for it. The later seasons are just weaker, story-wise. The Buffy-verse is better when it's grounded in the real world, like when they had high school to frame what they were doing. But I wonder if on a deeper level, it's all about putting emotion first. Putting characters first. Eventually, that has an effect.

I truly believe that there is no aspect of a story that should always be put first. Story is about balancing: character, worldbuilding, plot. If you don't...

Well, what happens when you always put character first? Judging from Whedon's stuff, you end up with an inconsistent world. (Plot is affected too, but not as much, because plot is rarely completely ignored like worldbuilding often is.) An inconsistent world reflects back on the characters, because if the world isn't solid, then the characters can't be solid. Characters grow out of their experiences, and they grow out of the world they live in. The audience judges characters based on an understanding of the world, so having a consistent world is part of what makes characters and their emotional reactions ring true. Especially in science fiction and fantasy worlds, where aspects of the world are pure creations of imagination, because the real world doesn't contain vampires. Or starships. Or people with superpowers.

Here's a thought experiment to showcase the importance of worldbuilding. Let's say you're writing a story about a human visiting another world, where the inhabitants are not human. And then let's say that the visitor observes one of them, completely out of the blue, pulling out a device, pointing it at another of the inhabitants of this world, and activating it. There are no visible results, but the other inhabitant turns around and heads off in a different direction than they were originally going.

Now, what do you think about the first inhabitant of this mysterious world? Was what they did an appropriate action? Neither the audience nor the visitor have any idea. There's not much information in this single event.

Now let's say that we as the audience know that the visitor in this story has been living on this alien world for a while. They are in fact the ambassador to this world. When this same thing happens, the ambassador doesn't react to this event at all, just continues down the street like it was nothing. Now the audience is probably going to think that the event was pretty normal on this world, right?

But now let's change the story and say that the audience has been observing this alien world for a while, and it's the audience that knows that this event is not in fact shocking, that it happens all the time. And then the a human visitor shows up and reacts with shock, compares the device to a gun, complains to the embassy about violence and feeling unsafe on the streets, and refuses to accept that it's just normal life on this world...it tells you something about that human visitor, doesn't it? About who they are and what their history might be and what they're going through right now, what might make them react to the world the way that they do.

But if you didn't know how to interpret the world, you wouldn't be able to interpret the character.

You learn about characters as you see them over and over again. But unless you also learn about the world they live in, and unless that world is consistent and knowable, you can't tell whether a character's reactions are reasonable or unreasonable, you can't know what they're going through, and you can't fully understand who they are.

(Also, unless purely emotional things are done just right, they tend to feel either simplistic or manipulative.)

Date: 2013-10-10 02:58 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] torrilin
Something that's maybe not obvious... he's usually building based on a few specific characters' emotions. He doesn't necessarily make it a point to make sure that the emotions and motivations work for everyone involved.

Can that work? Yeah. Romance novelists can write compelling stories like that any day of the week. It's a very easy emotional structure for "love conquers all". Many successful careers have been built on it. But it tends to fall down if the themes of the story and the plot are not designed to go with the simple emotional structure.

Most stories tho will do better if the writers care about more than a couple of characters. If you've got antagonists, they'll be more convincing if their emotions are thought through too. A lot of mystery novels get by on just a couple characters too, usually the detective and the villain. You get more story options that way.

I think with Buffy, Whedon was trying to focus largely on her emotions and he was trying to keep the story simple. Didn't work so well. The other characters kept caring about stuff and doing things.


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