Tag Archive: screenwriting


Who’s Running this Playpen?

Inspired by an essay by Michelle Sagara West “More Than a Marriage of Convenience,” from Finding Serenity

Where are all the adults on TV?

No no. Don’t point at anyone above eighteen years old. Where are the real adults?

Where are the people in real, committed relationships? Where are the people struggling to make ends meet, working two jobs, where are the people that aren’t dancing around in a “will they won’t they?” Where are those that are past that dance?

Firefly fans will know what I’m talking about with this one: Where are Wash and Zoe?

To explain for anyone unfamiliar with these two: Zoe is a kick ass, level headed “warrior woman” and a very reserve, private person. Wash is a pilot that plays with dinosaurs in his spare time, wears Hawaiian shirts, has a strange, slightly silly sense of humor, and mad piloting skills. On Firefly, we walk into their relationship after they have been married a while. They are disagreeing about if to have kids, they are not ripping each other’s clothes off at every turn (though that certainly happens occasionally), and they are out of that young love stage. They are very different, but they are very solidly committed to each other.

The young love stage of a relationship, the “honeymoon” stage, only lasts for two years on average. I’m hitting that end point in my relationship. I know that looking at TV for an accurate picture of life is a stupid idea, but it would be awful nice to see someone like my girlfriend and I on the TV occasionally. The only couple I can really think of that is even sort of close to that is Ellie and Awesome from Chuck, and that’s only up to the point I watched, which was the end of season three. Even then, they weren’t married yet, and the wedding planning stage seems to always fall solidly in the honeymoon stage, or even prolongs that stage if the couple was starting to hit the end of it.

Point is, I don’t know of any couples outside of sitcoms (why I refuse to count those is a whole other ranting post about what cheap, poorly written bullshit American sitcoms are are), that has a real, established couple near the center of the action, that are in every episode, not just visited occasionally as a subplot. And age is not a limiting factor here. There are plenty of adolescent relationships amongst legal adults– House and Cuddy are just one example.

I know, I know, it’s more exciting when everyone has butterflies and can’t keep their hands off each other, when they’re running into the empty closets and exam rooms to have a hot fuck when they should be working. That part of a relationship is thrilling, we wish it could last forever because it’s so exciting. Everything is so new, so wonderful– and you haven’t realized that they leave their socks all over the floor, that they don’t wash their dishes for at LEAST two days after they’ve eaten out of them, or that they’re clingy as fuck and will call you at three in the morning because they had a dream you broke up with them and want to yell at you for it (laugh at that last one and how crazy it sounds, but it’s happened).

The problem here is that television is the main media a lot of people consume, and because of that a lot of people mistake what they see on television for what their life should be. We live in a world centered around media, and in part due to that, the American Dream seems to have morphed into living like a movie star with all the scandal, money, and fame one could possibly have. The general impression seems to be that if you are a normal person, with a job that doesn’t make you famous (or infamous) and makes you enough money to swim in, you are a failure. And what type of relationship does that “normal” person have? A marriage, and not just any marriage– it’s a terrible boring marriage where no one cheats, they “never” have sex, and they have to actually work to earn a living. Who wants that when you could be rich and famous and fucking whoever you want every night, but always have some sap to fall back to when fucking around doesn’t work as well as you hoped?

Well, one could argue that any sane adult wants that former one. The problem is, that first “boring” marriage means that both people have to realize that there is something a more important to them than excitement in relationships. They have to admit they want someone to walk through life with, they have to admit they want actual commitment, not just the excitement of new love. They have to not just throw up their hands and leave their partner at the first sign of trouble.

In my experience, it’s that last one people have the most problem with. Not only are you out of that honeymoon stage, but UGH, your partner is being all… human. Not like the couples on TV. If they’re mere morals, WHY would you WANT to work so hard to keep them when, obviously, you deserve a REAL relationship, one filled with passion and drama and a man that looks like Patrick Dempsey. REAL couples don’t HAVE to work to keep each other. They’re soooo in love that nothing else matters. That’s how it should be. If you get married and it turns into that boring marriage, then CLEARLY you’re not with the right person, and you should get rid of them so you can find “the One!”

I know the above paragraph seems absurd. Looking at it on paper, it SOUNDS absurd. Everyone knows TV is all bullshit. Right?

Honestly, I’m beginning to think that many people don’t. That many people, due to so called “reality” TV, people have a distorted view of what reality should be. I honestly wonder if these type of expectations are why the divorce rate is so high. People encounter one problem and boom, they’re not the right person any more. If having a baby doesn’t fix whatever problem you have (because all couples with babies are happy on tv!) then off to court.

Now, let me say something: there are many, many valid reasons for divorce. People make mistakes. Sometimes, a relationship worked at the beginning but just doesn’t age well. No one should stay in a relationship they are not happy in. It’s terrible for your mental and physical health. What I AM saying is that maybe people need to redefine what they think an unacceptable or unhappy relationship is.

I’ve wandered a ways from Wash and Zoe here, but I have a reason for it. That boring relationship up there? That IS Wash and Zoe.

Wash does not look like Patrick Dempsey, he’s not a male model. He and Zoe fight. He and Zoe do not have crazy wild monkey sex every night, but they still have sex. Maybe infrequently enough to be considered “never” by some people, especially if they’re used eo sex most nights of the week. Zoe and Wash sometimes yell at each other, they sometimes get frustrated, and they sometimes can’t stand to be around each other. They have to work at their relationship. Sometimes they have to work to see why it is they put up with each other, and it is no one person’s fault. Zoe wants children and for Wash to stop trying to rule in on situations he knows nothing about, Wash wants his wife to rank his opinions above her Captain and old War buddy Mal and he also wants Zoe to realize that it is a really, REALLY shitty time in their lives to bring a kid into this chaotic world. So, Zoe agrees, begrudgingly, to wait on children for now. Wash, after a few choice events, realizes that his opinion does matter more than Mal’s– but Mal will always have authority on some subjects due to his experience. Both of them compromise, and both of them realize that compromising is not a slight against what either of them want.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what a real adult relationship is in my estimation. Furthermore, I think the process of reaching compromise is just as dramatic as the screaming fits of “WELL YOU DO YOU LOVE ME OR NOT?” that are on TV now. Just as much yelling is involved. Just as high of emotions are involved. The stakes are just as high. So why isn’t it on TV more? Where are the adult relationships that I can sympathize with whenever I want scream because my partner and I are fighting over something as important as where to move to, if we should ever have children, on who should be in charge of what decisions that are not the silly, dumbed down version of those relationships that exist on American sitcoms? I want to see two serious adults resolve serious problems. I’ve had enough of the high school drama of who kissed who in what hallway and s/he loves me, s/he loves me not. I’m bored, and it’s because I see that dynamic everywhere. I want something new and fresh. I get that those new relationships are so popular and such selling points for their “living vicariously” value, but if you watch more than one show religiously, you’re going to get tired of going on the same ride three nights a week for months.

One last question before I go: Anyone else notice that all those shows that try to hinge their popularity on the “will they won’t they” dynamic of one couple go down in quality faster than you say “Just fucking get together already?”

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First off, I’m going to participate in the “post a week” hoo-hah that is going on. You have all been warned.

Second, I have made a decision of my life path. I don’t know, maybe it’s the fact that my dear friend over at The Uncomfort Zone has some terribly ambitious plans in the making, and is making them happen by studying for the LSAT and being all adult. Those of you that follow my twitter and have read my delusions of grandeur know what I’m talking about.

I’m gonna be a screenwriter. Preferably for TV.

You know how shows seem to fizzle at the end of approximately two seasons, and that’s if you’re lucky? How House has gone all to hell because (House Cuddy ) Huddy is fanservice. Bad. Fanservice. That would be fine except for the fact it is OUT OF CHARACTER for both of them? How Chuck is dead to me because of the shit they pulled in season three? (Aside rant: Chuck is not James Bond, people. I don’t give a flying fuck what magical computer he has stuck in his head, he’s still been a dork for how many years of his life? And NOW he’s Mr. Superspy? Oh no. Also, the only reason Superspy Barbie (Sarah) hasn’t been hauled out and shot in the head for some of the stupid shit she pulls is an act of Deus Ex Machina, nothing more. I hold to my idea that she is what murdered the show because the writers keep trying to set up chemistry that ain’t there. If Chuck has any sense at all, as he seemed to demonstrate early on, he would have taken this yo-yo thing and gone “You know what? Go cry in your ‘daddy’s in jail, I trust no one, I’m a hardass spy and cannot love you–OMGPLZDON’TGO I NEED ATTENTION IN THE FORM OF BLIND ADORATION BECAUSE NO ONE LOVED ME’ corner. Fuck this. I’m going to go find someone sane.” )

See that, right there? That’s why I’m going into screen writing. Because apparently, character continuity does not exist. It’s all about “omg, MAKE SEXUAL TENSION. MAKE IT NOW. Now beat it to death! Do it, do it!” Further more, there seems to be a trend of perpetuating the idea that you should keep pining over people that treat you like shit that needs to stop. The idea that you should let them treat you like shit, and that this is good writing and television, disturbs me. Huddy is an example (really, Cuddy? You’re the “tough” chick on the show and suddenly you NEED a baby and are letting House treat you like garbage?) and so is Chuck/Sarah. There are other examples in popular literature at the moment (Twilight, anyone? “OMG, I love you so much I’m going to take away all your friends and your decision making ability! I KNOW WHAT’S BEST”) but I’m taking on fixing TV. Why? A little history.

I have always been into two things: characters and the way they talk. I love mind hacking characters, I love figuring out why they do what they do, and I love the way they say what they do and don’t say what they do. I have been writing fanfiction most of my life. Yes, I know, I just lost all respectability as a writer. Stay with me.

Why did I turn to this hobby? Well, combine a shitty home life, school life, and a fascination for people in a little sixth grade body. Add in a dash (okay, more than a dash) of wanting to talk to someone. There you are. My writing process for getting to know characters in a nutshell. I drag a character in, sit them down, and talk to them. I’ve been poking around other people’s brains and lives ever since, learning from their mistakes, their biases, pondering the questions of what it is to be human and to be alive. Why one should bother to be alive is a popular topic, especially with the pessimists that claim to hate humanity.

Perhaps it is because of the way that I deal with characters, as beings I have little control over, real living breathing beings that have their own agendas and thoughts despite whatever I come up with and are not simply playthings for me to fuck around with and puppet as I please, that dialogue is a strong suit. How I first get to know characters, how they first charm me or repel me, is how they speak. What the say. I listen, however offensive I may find it. I spend a very long time having conversations with them before I dare to try to write for them. As a result, I always tend to get high marks for dialogue in assigned work even if the rest is crap. It’s from all those years of imaginary conversations that I kept writing until they rang true, not just settling for making the character say what I think they should to make me happy.

The other stuff, meanwhile? The long-winded ramblings of setting, back story as provided by an omniscient narrator, writing that “This happened, then this happened?” Ehh. I can, but put in that form, my words come out as clotted cream, not something you would want to put in your coffee. Dialogue, or text that sounds like dialogue, is how I tell a story, other wise it comes out dead and flat. That’s a problem in books. You gotta summarize something sometime, and describe things sometimes, and I just… suck. Believe me, I’ve been trying really hard to fix it, but I still suck. Screenwriting, on the other hand, is all dialogue and actions. You CAN just imply other action, or skip it entirely. You can cut between scenes much more easily, showing what is important rather than the important bits AND a whole bunch of summary AND description. You set the dialogue and the scene, but the rest is implied via stage direction and other suggested action.

Maybe there’s a way to write books like that. Maybe. But at the present, I’m leaning toward screenwriting as being the place I wanna be. It plays to my natural strengths. All that stuff, the arguing around the table with a bunch of coffee driven writing fiends, the deadlines, the being a part of something that’s a hit but still being able to walk down the street unmauled– I like that idea. I really do. Plus, I’m overqualified for the job, which helps. I’m gonna have a degree in English and Psych both here soonish. Now, all I gotta do is convince the folks out at Warner Bros. to let me in their elite screenwriting program once I get the hell out of this damn college.

Wish me luck.

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