Category Archives: Leigh Galbreath

Television’s One-Off POV

There is a prevailing wisdom in the fiction writing world that says one should never introduce a new POV late in a story, especially if they do not have a prevailing impact on the plot. Usually, all the POV characters need to be introduced as early as possible, usually in the first act of a story. For films, this is pretty essential. There simply isn’t enough time for a new character, much less a new character with a distinct POV, to show up and get our attention when dealing with a medium that sticks to around 2 hours for the entire tale. In books, the rule can be finagled about, if you’ve got the chops, but instances where an author is successful when introducing a new POV after a story’s midpoint are more exceptions than rules. But in television, it can be a very different story.

Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about where a known sidekick gets their own episode to play around with. I’m talking about when completely new characters usurp an episode, showing us the same events and/or world, without benefit of a recurring character taking any control of the story. And, in most cases, you never see those new characters after the episode ends.

There are a few examples of this that have really stuck with me. The one that comes most readily to mind is an episode of Babylon 5 (yes, I know, I’m totally dating myself here). In “A View from the Gallery”, we get a day in the life of two of the station’s maintenance workers. For most of the episode, the pair are only tangentially affected by the crisis that would have (and in varying forms has) been the basis of any other episode. We get glimpses of what would normally be center stage, mostly through overheard conversations and the like. Star Trek – The Next Generation had a similar episode called “Lower Decks” where we follow 4 ensigns as they buck for promotion. While one of the characters had been introduced in a barely-there minor role in an earlier season, the experience of seeing through her and her fellow’s eyes as they vie for prominence aboard the Enterprise, created a completely different experience than any episode before or after.

If we want to look in the 21st century, Dr. Who has done this a number of times. There was “Love and Monsters”, where a group of witnesses to the Doctor’s antics create a support group called LINDA that is taken over by an alien. In fan favorite “Blink”, we follow Sally Sparrow as she, and the rest of us, get sucked into the first appearance of the uber creepy Weeping Angels, who can only move when you’re not looking at them.

Part of why I think this works for television has to do specifically with the type of show. All three shows are highly episodic. While there were overriding plot lines that traveled over multiple episodes, these shows were created in the pre-novel-adaptation era, where the soap opera aspect of carrying one storyline over an entire season, or multiple seasons, was almost non-existent. Additionally, in the first two examples, both episodes took place in the show’s last season, where the episodic format was so deeply ingrained that any deviation made us sit up and pay more attention. In Dr. Who’s case, while the show continues on well past these particular episodes, the show has been on and off the air for over 50 years, so if you’re unclear about how things work by now, you’re not watching enough Dr. Who. In any case, when the structure of how a tale is told is so set,  looking at that structure from a different viewpoint gave these stories something new and refreshing. And, as it’s only one episode in a weekly television show, it doesn’t really distract from the overall experience, especially in this day and age of binging your favorite show over a weekend…or two. These little side tales manage to keep the show going while giving us a break from the same old thing we get every other week.

Another big pro to one-off characters is how much they open the world up from the small cadre who seem to always be in the middle of everything. Suddenly, the events that might as well have only happened to five or six people, now have far wider repercussions. Additionally the propensity of placing powerful or special people at the center of the story, makes these one-off POV characters stand out, as they are usually run-of-the-mill everyman characters. You’re much closer to putting the audience in the story with a character who isn’t at the top of the chain of command or a Time Lord.

Lastly, and most importantly, I think, the one-off POV characters that work the best do so because the episodes in which they live are more about the characters than the crises happening around them. Sure, “Love and Monsters” has an alien killing of the members of LINDA, but the true focus is the love story between two of the group’s members. The alien attack in “A View from the Gallery” is more setting than plot for the two guys just going about their day. Sure, these characters are here and gone again, but we get a very solid understanding of who they are and empathize with them for the short time they are there. And while they may not have a prevailing impact on how the story of the main characters who we follow on a weekly basis ends up, the best ones usually make an impact that can stick with us long after they’re gone.

Chaos For It’s Own Sake

Whenthrough-the-eyes-of-the-joker-jared-leto-talks-his-suicide-squad-method-acting-heath-led-874125 the topic of great characters came up, I really didn’t have to think very long to figure out who I wanted to write about. I love villains, and one of my favorites is the Joker.

Of course, when talking about the Joker, some narrowing down should be done. After all, he’s been with us just as long as his arch nemesis, Batman. His first appearnce was in Batman #1 in 1940. That’s over 75 years of insane villainy, and as one would expect with a comic book character t
hat old, he’s gone though a number o iterations. Add in television and film adaptations, and you’ve got every kind of interpretation you can imagine, from the downright psychotic to the ridiculously silly.

Since I’m not writing a book here, I’ll keep it simple and stick with my personal favorite, and probably one of the currently more well-known renditions — Heath Ledger’s depiction in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. It’s an obvious choice, I know, but completely ignoring the fact that Ledger’s work was so good that he won a posthumous Oscar for playing a supervillain, I’ve come to think of this character as one of my all time favorites because, unlike so many great villains, he is pretty close to an perfectly unbeatable bad guy.

The reason I say this is because of the character’s motivations. In the film, we’re given any number of ideas for what the Joker’s end game is. He wants to bring down the city by destroying it’s favorite son, Harvey Dent. He wants to destroy Batman. He wants to show the world that everyone is, in the end, just like him. He’s a gun for hire working for the criminals of Gotham. He wants to show the world that no one has control over their own lives. He just wants to watch the world burn.

Most of these explanations are given to him by the other characters. Nolan nicely shows us each of these as the story progresses. He turns Harvey Dent into Harvey Two-Face, but while he sends Dent out with a gun, he doesn’t seem to pay much attention to what happens after. He kidnaps people to force Batman out into the open, but then sends the whole city after the guy who comes forward to give up Batman’s identity. He sets up two ferries to kill each other to show that people are crappy when the chips are down, but while he seems disappointed when they don’t he doesn’t seem all that put out by it and proceeds to try and blow them up himself. He goes through the whole rigamarole with Gotham’s criminal underworld so he can get half their money, but then burns it all.

While that last one might support the whole watching the world burn hypothesis, the Joker never really commits to any of the ideas tossed around throughout the film, even the ones he gives himself.

In short, no one really knows what he truly wants except him, and he’s repeatedly shown to be a liar. He gives us multiple different stories on how he got his trademark smile. After the explosion that takes half of Harvey Dent’s face, he tells Dent that he’s doesn’t have a plan, he just likes creating chaos. But really, only an idiot could possibly believe the things he does are all spur of the moment actions. This man has a plan, probably many plans. We’re just not let in on any of them, and this is a huge strength.

One of the biggest blunders people can do with a villain is explain. We get origin stories, detailed psychologies, megalomaniacal monologues, and sympathetic backgrounds.

I don’t want to sympathize with a great villain. I don’t want excuses as to why they are what they are. I want to be afraid of the villain. I want to be seduced into thinking the villain will somehow come out on top. I want a villain that will make the hero work for every inch. And honestly, I so would not want to meet the Joker in a dark alley. Would you?

To get this reaction from the audience unpredictability is a major asset, and the Joker is unpredictability in all it’s face painted glory. He has no boundaries, is completely psychotic, hyper-intelligent, and most frighteningly of all, creative. And all the while, he’s having entirely too much fun.

To bring us back to why I think he’s a perfectly unbeatable bad guy is this — it doesn’t really matter why he’s doing what he’s doing. One of the things I love about many of Nolan’s films is his conscious decision to leave some of the story up to the audience. He did it with that contentious ending to the film Inception (is it a dream or not and does it matter?). He does the same thing with the Joker. He leaves the motivations up to other people, which is a fabulous choice, and one I’d like to see more often. I tend to go toward the trickster-ish agent of chaos turning everyone’s plans on their heads just to see what they do, but that’s just me. What could be worse that a character who doesn’t want to establish a new world, but rather simply wants the upsetting of the current one. Someone who wants to poke the hornet’s nest for the sheer joy of seeing the resultant chaos and watching how people react to it.

Can you really beat a character like? The idea intrigues me, and is one I very much want to explore.

So, anyone else got a favorite Joker or another fabulously unpredictable bad guy? Leave a comment and tell us why.

An Obsessive’s Balancing Act

I often find it funny how much time is spent talking about “balance” in the writing life, and how often that equates to finding time to write. Me, I actually have the opposite problem. I don’t have much in the way of a social life. My family expectations are minimal and my day job hardly impinges on my off time. I only do the dishes or clean my house when I absolutely can’t stand the mess anymore. I’ve got time to kill. I’m an obsessive when it comes to stories.

Raise your hand if you have a tendency to become enamored with something (an idea, a story, your own personal real life macguffin) that is so completely awesome that you eat, sleep and breath it. You’re friends get tired of hearing about it. You’re distracted at the day job, lose focus in conversations, and are generally lost in the niftiness of your new “thing” that it pretty much takes over your brain.

I know I’m not the only one this happens with. As writers, I think just about all of us have that period when we absolutely fall in love with something to the point that we want to delve deep and write about it. The issue for me comes when 1) I can’t let go of the idea until I get so completely sick of it I can’t bear the thought of going near the thing, 2) while I’m in the throws of my obsession even talking to people can be irksome and I start entertaining scenarios in my head where I thwart my antagonist with something heavy and suitably cathartic, and 3) nothing else gets done…at all.

Now, while I’m in no real danger of going postal on some bystander who innocently asks me a question while my concentration is attempting to focus on my current obsession, the first and third issues stated above can be something of a problem.

Like I said, I think all writers have the eureka moment when they find a truly cool idea for a story and dive right in. That’s great when it happens. I love those bursts of writing frenzy when I just have to get it all down. But, inevitably, the burst will end. When this happens with me it’s incredibly difficult to get back into that story idea. I start floundering around until I get so frustrated that I give up on it. Not good.

The other issue with this particular scenario is when I obsess about things that I will never…ever…write about. I’m a habitual daydreamer, and most of my daydreams, while vastly entertaining to me, would not a novel or short story make. And like in the story idea, I can’t let go of it until it’s run its course, which could be days or weeks. Days or weeks when little or no effective writing is being done.

What have I learned from this happening again and again? Mainly that those writing ideas that I get so excited about are usually not the ones I finish. It’s the stories I make myself sit down to write, without the obsession driving me, that I stick with. The obsessions I can sometimes go back to after a long break, but it’s rare. As for the non-writing obsessions? I’ve started using those as writing exercises. They take me places that my normal writing practices don’t, so even if I never use them in a book, I’m still writing–still practicing the craft while I lose myself in a fancy.

As for the last issue, where nothing else ever gets done…well, with all the focus on trying to avoid distractions and finding time to write, I start to wonder if this is an actual problem or not? Perhaps this is just the inevitable conclusion to ignoring the distractions. The TV will go unwatched, the dishes unwashed, that cat’s litter box un…okay, maybe that’s not a chore anyone wants to skip, but my point is that there are only so many hours in the day. If you want to make time for one thing, something else will most likely go unattended. I feel guilty about dusty shelves and laundry splayed over the bedroom floor like a teenager on summer break. I’m an adult, I should have learned by now to make my bed in the morning, but in reality, should I be balancing out my day by doing these chores or is it okay to get it and let myself feel free to rampage through fantasy land?

What it comes down to is what exactly “balance” is to each of us. Is it catching that movie with your family rather than writing or indulging a new obsession with a story idea rather than gossiping with coworkers at the day job? Is it getting in a certain number of hours writing vs a certain list of chores in a day?

It is in the end about priorities. What is truly important, and what are you willing to sacrifice to make it happen? I am aware that my tendency for obsessing is excessive, but to be honest, I don’t think I can turn it off. And I’m not really sure if I would want to. I mean, really, why would I want to sacrifice the stories in my head for the humdrum of every day? To me, stories, whether they be written down for others to read or kept securely locked in my head, are where my bliss is. Perhaps that’s the “balance” that keeps me sane and happy. Maybe that’s all right and I should just accept that about myself. Or maybe I’m just crazy, in which case acceptance is probably a symptom of the insanity and it doesn’t really matter in the end. I don’t know, but I’m going to enjoy it either way, housework be damned.

Wrap-up: Writing from Experience

Thank you, our dear readers, for reading our posts this month. In case you missed one:

Leaving Books Behind by Greg Little

Gaining Experience from the Past: A Guest Post by Shannon Fox

The Unconscious Autobiography by Leigh Galbreath

A Game of Horns by Mary

Be Your Own Biggest Fan by Frank Morin

Stress After Iraq by Matt Jones

Two Must-Knows About Your Inner Muse by Ace Jordan

The Origins of Smooth: A Guest Post by Joy Johnson

Kilts and Coffee with Petra by Guy Anthony De Marco

The Dark Side of My Brain by Kim May

The Fantasy Librarian by Colette

Scientist or Writer? Why Not Both! by Nathan Barra

They Want to Kill Me… by Ace Jordyn

“Dear NSA Agent” by E. Godhand

Sorry, Past Me by Mary

Be Messy and Explore New Ideas: A Guest Post from Hamilton Perez

Life in the Cosmic Fishbowl by Evan Braun

Cultivating the Fungus by Travis Heerman

Tomorrow, we’ll have a brand new interview with Fictorian Frank Morin. Don’t miss it!