Monday, August 13, 2012

Story Notes: Favorite Bits

It's always dangerous for a writer to say "this is my favorite bit!"

Because, you know, readers may not agree.  Or worse, they may nod knowingly to themselves and say, "Yeah, we noticed, you self-indulgent noodle-head."

But you know, favorite bits are what storytelling is all about.  If it's not a favorite bit, then it needs to be the part that makes the favorite bit work.  (And, admittedly, sometimes it takes a lot of other pieces to make a favorite bit work.)  Furthermore, you'll never figure out how to do "favorite bits" better if you don't take 'em out and look at 'em.

So with that in mind, I admit to you that yesterday's episode is one of my favorites.  I'll also admit that I'm not sure why.

But on thinking about it, I have a couple of theories:

One reason is pretty basic: this is the moment when the main story kicks into gear.

Oh, sure, the episode with Lina's escape is where the action starts.  But in terms of the main problem of the story -- rescuing Thorny -- it's just a catalyst.  As long as Thorny was safely locked in the larder, with the benevolent Niko watching over him, he was reasonably safe.  His rescue is a problem, not a crisis.

Now he's in danger.  (In the clutches of someone who may bear a slight resemblance to Daffy Duck, perhaps, but still a desperate man with a gun.)  And Rozinshura, who has been keeping a careful lid on things, now has a lid on himself.  Even if he gets out, things have gotten away from him.  So it's up to Alex, and Lina, neither of whom know what's happened.

The other reason, I suppose, is just that I enjoy a good old-fashioned Warner cartoon villain, and his inability to ever fully win.

Pookiterin is the sort of character who, in a silent picture, is a magnet for cream pies in the face.  He's the kind of character who, in a cartoon, runs off a cliff, his own delusion and momentum keeping him going forward until someone reminds him of the law of gravity.

And Rozinshura, when faced with such a character, can't seem to help but do his Bugs Bunny impression.  I don't think he's such an inveterate liar most of the time -- more of a leg-puller -- but Pookiterin just brings out the worst in him.

And when I think about it, a little gullibility suits even a great competent villain.  There's a wonderful moment in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) where the charming young villain, Rupert, gets the drop on the hero, Rudolf.  On a rational level, Rupert knows that Rudolf is a goody-two shoes, but in his heart of hearts, he can't believe that Rudolf could just throw away his shot at taking over the country.  It's an opportunity Rupert will never have.

So when Rudolf pretends to be willing to turn to the Dark Side, Rupert is willing to listen, cautiously, to a possible bargain.   He lets Rudolf have a cigarette as they talk and Rudolf looks thoughtful and then makes an offer.

"Half my kingdom...," he says.

Rupert, for one moment, utterly believes him.  It's his dream come true, he's being offered half the kingdom.

"....for a match," adds Rudolf wryly.

Rupert, of course, recovers quickly and grins.  He's a masterful villain, and scoring verbal points like that is one of his own skills, so he appreciates the skill in others.  But it does get under his skin sufficiently to give Rudolf an edge, and within moments the swordfight is on.

(You can see the scene in this six minute clip on YouTube -- the bit I'm talking about is about 2 minutes in.)

Cloak and sword heroes and villains have to be good at mind games. And I think that's one of the reasons Rozinshura stepped, unbidden, into a larger role in this story.  Alex is a little too young and inexperienced to be quite that wily.

Rozinshura, however, needs to watch out.  Not only can his glib way of bending the truth get himself into trouble, it also can get ME into trouble.  He's the only source of information on many things for the audience.  A character who lies a lot can be fine for building in twists, but it also can be very confusing in something as tightly written and short as this.

It's tempting to write a trickster scene as a script -- just give the dialog and let the audience learn to trust or not to trust.  But while that's fun, you have to have room for set up and to establish enough reality so that the audience is comfortable and not confused.  But with this story, because so much is out of the realm of knowlege of the audience and even the characters, and because all of the characters have something to hide from each other, I decided that the veiwpoint characters have to play fair with the audience.

So I've been including a little more of a "scorecard" with what Rozinshura says. It may stick out a bit too much, but I think it's necessary.

Trickster characters have been a favorite of mine since Puss In Boots.  (And folks, if you only know Puss In Boots from Shrek movies, you gotta read some iteration of the original folk tale.  Much as I love the swashbuckling Puss with the Castillian lisp, the original kitty was less Zorro and more snake oil salesman.)

Hmmmm.  I may do something about Puss In Boots -- and modern variations like Lady For A Day or Pocket Full of Miracles -- for Friday Favorites this fall.

See you in the funny papers.

(Or perhaps I should say "Ah buh, the...  ah buh, the.... That's All Folks!")

No comments: