Saturday, 20 April 2019

Writing lessons learned from Magic City vs #TheWalkingDead #writerscommunity


Being a TWD addict and blogger as I am, I'm always interested to see my favourite actors from the show in other stuff they've been in.  Recently, I've been watching the 2012/13 series Magic City, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan.


I did enjoy it, but when I analysed it I could see why it was not a hit, and thus cancelled after just two seasons.  I recognised some years ago that watching TV drama can teach you so much about writing, particularly pacing and the building of suspense, but considering the weaknesses of Magic City (as opposed to The Walking Dead, now renewed for its tenth season) gave me a few reminders about similar pitfalls in the writing of novels. 

Likeable Characters
One of the reasons for TWD's enduring popularity is that we love Carol, Michonne, Daryl, etc.  We want to know them.  We're gutted when bad stuff happens to them.  I realised, thought, towards the end of the second season of Magic City, that the only character I actually liked was JDM's Ike Evans.  Generally, the rest of them were pretty objectionable.  Ike's two sons were a) self-righteous and sulky and b) underhand and sulky.  The women, almost without exception, were self-serving and bitchy, even when they were misunderstood victims.  The baddies were not multi-faceted, like TWD's Negan and Simon, or those you end up feeling sympathy for, like Dwight and Merle, but just one-dimensional assholes.  



Lesson for writers: 
Your novel needs at least a few likeable characters, even if it's set in the dark world of crime and gangsters.  There are few characters more fascinating than a 'baddie' who later reveals more tender traits, or a 'goodie' who shows his or her flaws.  It's hard to like or get under the skin of one-dimensional stereotypes—and it's very risky to make your main character unlikeable.  If readers don't have anyone to root for, they won't care what happens to them.


Plot Threads Left Dangling
Magic City contained the beginnings of some great storylines, but they weren't carried through.  For instance, JDM's dancer wife took amphetamine shots to enhance her performance, and went to a voodoo practitioner in order to increase her fertility; these ideas, among others, just petered out, undeveloped and with no consequences, as if the writers had forgotten about them - unlike in TWD, when a plot thread/storyline is seen through or picked up on later; the results are often felt seasons down the line.

Lesson for writers:
All sub-plots need to be woven into the main plot to become a part of the whole.  A side-storyline has to have relevance to the basic plot, or at least have an effect on the lives and development of the characters' story arc, or it can end up seeming superfluous, an unnecessary diversion from the main story.




Unnecessary Sex Scenes
By the beginning of the second season of Magic City, even my husband (who is, you know, a bloke) said he was fed up with seeing naked tits and arses in every third scene.  Very little was left to the imagination.  Now, here's the thing: it doesn't add anything to the plot.  It takes you away from the story.  Like 95% of sex scenes in books, these were unnecessary, sometimes cringe-inducing, and, to be honest, a bit 'TMI'.  Something else I love about The Walking Dead: there is no sex.  I loved Rick and Michonne as a couple, but I have no desire to watch them shagging and, thank goodness, I never had to.  The closest we've ever seen is a hint that 'it' happened at all.  No thrusting buttocks, no heads thrown back in ecstasy.    

Lesson for writers:
Fifty Shades is yesterday's news.  You don't have to add erotic moments into your otherwise non-erotic novels.  As in TWD, you can convey the feeling between two people - yes, and all the passion - without a step-by-step guide to the gory details.  For all the glamorous, erotic scenes in Magic City, I never sensed the depth of love between any of the characters like that between TWD's Rick and Michonne, Maggie and Glenn, Abraham and Sasha - or Negan and Alpha.
 

<<< not this.... this>>>


Gorgeous women
In Magic City, every single woman was beautiful.  Perfectly groomed, full-on gorgeous at all times, even when depressed, at home alone, whatever.  I get that it was a high glamour show, but isn't that whole Dynasty thing so over?  I believe viewers like to see a bit more realism, these days.  I get that you can't compare the post apocalyptic world of TWD to 1950s Miami (couldn't be more different, really!), but the main point is that not all the TWD women are beauties, and not all the men are drop dead gorgeous.  Most of them are fairly ordinary-looking; we can relate to them. 

Lesson for writers:
Your main characters do not have to be beautiful/incredibly handsome, especially if not called for by the plot; forget all those heart-shaped faces, jawlines you could cut glass with, rosebud lips, cascades of unruly auburn curls, and other such clichΓ©s to convey great beauty.   Your men and women may be kind of attractive, because we all like to look at and read about attractive people, but they don't need to be drop-dead gorgeous.  The vast majority of people aren't.  Take a cross section of the people you know.  Think of 10 friends.  I bet only one or two of them would turn heads.  Most people are attractive in their own way to those who know and love them, and that's about it.  



And finally ... don't let your stories peter out with no satisfactory ending, like Magic City did.  That goes for blog posts, too.... πŸ˜”πŸ˜•πŸ˜‰






 

8 comments:

  1. Hi Terry πŸ‘‹You are so creative & astute with advice. Always enjoy reading you!!

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  2. Just commented I thought but brought me back here! Love LOVE ❤️

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  3. Great post TT! I don’t usually read your Walking Dead blogs as I don’t follow it and have no clue what it’s about, but this got my interest...and yes! I agree...with all of it. I often find I don’t finish books if I don’t care about the main characters, and get bored if everyone’s too perfect. Good lessons can be learned about set up and structure from films as well.

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    1. Oh yes - great characters can totally carry a 'quiet' plot, but the best plot in the world will not be memorable if the people aren't. Agree re films, too!

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  4. Useful stuff here, Terry - even though I've never watched either of these your advice is so relevant

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    1. But you don't need advice from me, ha ha! x

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  5. I totally agree with your points about likeable characters, dangling plot threads, everyone looking like they've just come out of the beauty salon and too much sex - less is more!

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