Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Unique Issues of Exposition in a Serial

I originally conceived The Misplaced Hero to be like a serial, not to be an actual serial.  And originally the story was to start with what will happen in Thursday's upcoming episode -- a conversation between Alex and his professor, Old Thorny.  All that you've seen so far, in the first three episodes, was covered as exposition within the discussion.

And I think it worked that way in a regular story.  I have a screenwriting background and I love dialog and a chapter-long conversation can be fun.  However, if I'm going with 600 words (or less) per episode, I can't do it that way.  A conversation has an arc, and a flow, and it just wouldn't break up well.

Furthermore, even though conversation can be efficient in conveying simple facts, it can also add a lot of overhead in terms of subtext and emotion.  If the audience already knows something -- has already seen it happen -- then a good portion of the subtext is already there for them.  They know how the character feels.  You don't have to wave a flag, for instance, to indicate that a character doesn't mean what he's saying.  The audience already knows that.  A writer can be more subtle and natural.

And I can also be more efficient, and more focused.  In Thursday's episode, the audience will already know what Alex thinks, so they can just concentrate on figuring out the conflicting emotions within his professor.

That's an interesting side-effect to doing a short-episode serial: To make these small scenes work, I have to dig out each dramatic element and give it its own separate moment in the sun. Even the boring stuff has to work all by itself.

And that is a cool opportunity.

Well, a challenge, anyway.  A learning opportunity.

The dramatic element in yesterday's episode was very abstract.  It was about literary theory, of all things.  Can literary theory make a good episode in an adventure story?  There are no swashing of bucklers, no swinging on ropes; just the sparking of synapses and the opening of an envelope.

And yet... and yet....  The sparking of synapses in the brain is where it all happens. 

Like Alex, I read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man in college, and it had a similar odd effect on me.  My response was not cynical though.  Ellison's book illustrated to me that superheroes and reality are not mutually exclusive.  Invisible Man is an origin story.  The superpower involved is truth.  The invisible man is hidden, buried in the insincere meaningless hollow crap of society, and the recognition of truth is like being bitten by a radioactive spider.  The synapses of this anonymous guy are firing.  And though I was never really sure if that man would get out of the place he was in, or if just his story would, but I felt like when he comes out, he won't be anonymous - they'll call him Mr. Tibbs.  He'll be Samuel L. Freaking Jackson.

If you want to talk about a real Inciting Incident, in life or in fiction, it's when the synapses fire.  That's where change begins.  Sometimes even when the actual thought itself appears trivial or impossible.

So I don't know if Episode Three is a very good episode in terms of being the most interesting episode, but to me, it's a great outcome for the experiment.

See you in the funny papers.

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