Friday, January 22, 2016

How to Not Write Good, Vol 3: Land of Confusion

Last month I finally got around to watching MARVEL's AKA Jessica Jones and nearly stopped watching after that first episode.  The problem is the pilot didn't make a lot of sense because it just plopped you in the middle of all this stuff and didn't see fit to give you much of an idea of who or what anything was.

Watching it, it was like, "OK, there's this lady working as a private investigator (for...reasons) who has super strength (or something) and she's freaked out about this guy (for...reasons) and she's watching this black guy (whoever he is) and then later she goes to see this lawyer who is a lesbian and is having an affair with another woman (none of which is relevant and yet strangely this largely irrelevant character is given the most explanation) and later goes to see a talk show host who is...what?  A friend?  Sister?  Old lover?  Who the fuck knows!?"

Now OK, I knew the black guy is Luke Cage and the bad guy freaking her out is "The Purple Man" but that's only from the promotional materials, not the actual script.  You can't expect the viewer to read your promotional materials to know what stuff is, especially not for a third-tier comic book character who never really had her own title.

This the problem when shows (or movies or books) try to get clever.  Not to go all Jay Greenstein but Dwight Swain says you should start at or very near the beginning and it's one of those points where we'd agree.  Just plopping me into the middle of this whole world and not bothering to clarify any of the relationships makes for confusion and irritation.

Something in Lawrence Block's book was sometimes you don't have to start right at the beginning.  An example being you start the first chapter where someone finds a dead body and then you go back to show who died and how.  Still, you have to get to showing people who died and why fairly quick or the audience is going to lose patience.

That's just something to keep in mind in writing your book.


  1. I've critiqued some stories where the writer brings up a lot of questions and the answers just never seem to come. Instead, the writer would just bring up more questions. He/she thought they were building suspense this way (as in making the reader keep going to get those answers) but instead it just came off as frustrating. In general, if you leave something vague in a chapter, it's best to clear things up in the next chapter. Readers won't wait much longer.

  2. I've read that a recent trend in screenwriting is to start with action and just keep hitting the action beats as much as you can for the duration of the work; they're even trying to ditch the "traditional" 3-act setup in favor of more action or as a way to try to mess with the audience. I've not seen "Jessica Jones" yet (or "Daredevil" for that matter), but it sounds like they may be trying this alternate writing method to try and attract the "modern" viewer

  3. Hey Pat,

    When they try to get too clever, they can pretty well spoil the ambience.

    Have a good Sunday, dude.


  4. I haven't seen Jessica Jones but I understand what you mean. Sure, the pilot doesn't have to explain everything about a character but some background is always necessary.



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