Monday, April 04, 2011

The Other Side of the Story

I'm on the home stretch of the current project, with only about a hundred more pages to write. I'm not entirely sure I have that much story left, but things keep popping up, so I'm sure it will all work out. This is the part I hadn't planned in that much detail, the part that comes between the "Ordeal" and the "Death/Resurrection," in hero's journey terms. I know the big, climactic ending, but I'm not entirely sure how I'll get there.

I loved that new TV series, Chaos that was on Friday night, which I figured was pretty much a death knell, and yeah, the ratings sucked badly. It probably didn't help that I had to go look for information on it, which is a sure sign that the promo is somewhat lacking. In one of the articles I was able to find, they were talking about being inspired by the 1970s Three Musketeers movie, which was mostly an action comedy. This is essentially the Three Musketeers in a modern setting, where they're spies and not musketeers. We've got the three veteran guys who've been working together a long time and dealing with the complicated politics of their situation, and now they've got the new guy, the idealistic rookie. It probably won't last the rest of the season, but I plan to enjoy it while I can because it's perfect Friday television. It's definitely pizza-worthy.

A few weeks ago (could be longer -- time is doing funny things to me lately), I talked about how I don't seem to have a "favorite" show right now. There's stuff I watch and enjoy, but there's nothing that's really capturing my imagination (at least, until Doctor Who comes back). I've since realized that the show that's most captured my imagination is the one I'm not seeing, one that's taking place behind the scenes of another show. I was never too deeply involved in the NCIS spinoff. It was mostly Sunday afternoon OnDemand fare, but it was perfect for that -- some action, some comedy, characters I found interesting. Then they retooled it this year for reasons that remain a mystery, and while I still generally eventually end up watching it, I tend to let weeks of episodes pile up, and I'll watch other things multiple times before I get around to them because I find the characters that they added to be highly irritating. One part of the retooling that bugged me was that they wrote out the character I liked the most, the psychologist. I think I could have dealt with that, since I'm used to my favorite characters being marginalized, killed or written off. But they didn't just send him off into the sunset, never to be seen again. No, they gave him this off-screen storyline where he's had to go deep undercover for reasons that remain entirely unknown (considering there was an episode last season mostly about how he shouldn't try to do field work), and he still pops up from time to time, always in some tense, crisis-laden situation.

Which means that there's a story going on about a mild-mannered, slightly nerdy psychologist who's been suddenly thrust into the world of international espionage and counterterrorism, going so deep under cover at times that even his colleagues don't know where he is or what he's doing, he's having to learn to use weapons and to do hand-to-hand combat, and whatever he's seeing or doing, it's giving him this dark, haunted look, like he's going through hell and barely hanging on. And I'm not getting to see this story. Instead, I'm being forced to watch a mediocre, run-of-the-mill procedural where the supposed "deep cover" unit's undercover operations mostly consist of stuff on the level of saying "Candygram!" to get someone to open the door. They're taunting me with my absolute favorite kind of story -- the ordinary guy gets thrown into extraordinary circumstances and learns what he's really made of story -- with added mysteries of why and how he's doing this, and they're not letting me see it. It's like when shows sometimes do those one-off episodes from the perspective of a secondary character, so that he's going about his day while there are glimpses of these major things happening just off in the periphery. So the show's focusing on solving the dead marine of the week or busting the smuggling ring within the military transport system while elsewhere there's a guy without the usual spy or law enforcement training, the guy they wouldn't even let touch a gun before, hauling around arsenals in his suitcase while tracking terrorists through the middle east, and all we get to see is him popping up with his small arsenal and haunted look to tell us what he's discovered while sneaking through back alleys in Yemen or monitoring an imprisoned terrorist from his cover as a prison psychologist before he disappears again. So, naturally, my storyteller brain keeps trying to fill in the gaps, which means that the show that's currently captured my imagination the most is the one I'm not getting to see.

I'm not sure how interesting it really would be if I did see it. The hints may be the intriguing part. But it does seem weird to me as a writer to create an entire offscreen storyline that involves a complete character arc and a transformation of a character. If you're going to take someone from innocent and physically awkward to haunted and badass, you should probably show the process -- especially if all the other characters you are showing are relatively static and aren't going through any real arcs or changes.

Now I kind of want to try writing one of those "ordinary person surrounded by the real heroes" stories -- the guy going about his daily routine and occasionally getting the glimpses of people trying to save the world in the background. It would probably have to be a short story because I don't think you could keep it up for an entire novel without eventually putting the main character in the center of the action. It would probably be a pain to write because you'd have to plot all the "main plot" stuff first so that you could weave the daily routine through it. It could be fun to do as a duology -- have the version from the viewpoint of the peripheral character and then the "real" version. I guess it's like that short film on the Wall-E DVD focusing on that little robot trying to repair the light while the events of the main movie take place around him.

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