Thursday, February 27, 2014

Genre Writing and Honesty

So let me talk a bit about Arrow, which is probably my favorite show currently airing on network television.  And it's certainly the best superhero-genre show, well, ever.  A big part of why it is lands on how it handles its subject matter.

Usually when superheroes go to TV or the movies, there are two ways it gets played: one is the Dark And Gritty method, launched with Batman Begins.  Everything is played with as much gritty realism as possible.  It isn't a terrible approach, but it doesn't always work.  Case in point, the recent interesting failure that was Man of Steel.  It treats its subject matter seriously, but does so by attempting to undercut the source.

The other way is to go full out, but with a bit cynicism.  It's as if the project knowingly winks at the audience and says, "Yeah, this is dumb, but roll with us here."  And, again, you're undercutting the source.  A prime example would be when the show Smallville first started.  The producers went on record saying, "No flights, no tights".  This was an explicit promise: don't worry, we won't be doing that stupid stuff as part of our Superman story. 

What Arrow does is own its source material with honesty.  This isn't the same as being grimly realistic.  Hell, it has a WWII-era Japanese experiment called "mirakuru" that gives its recipients super strength and healing, but at the expense of their sanity.  It has introduced Barry Allen, including the accident that will give him his super-speed as The Flash.  But it does all this as if these elements are simply part of their reality.  Taken seriously, fully owned.

And that's part of the secret of strong genre writing.  Write every element as if it's simply part of the reality the characters live with.  It's not fantastical or science-fiction to them, even when they learn about some element for the first time.  

Approach it with honesty instead of apology.

And so we're clear, I do think writing a exposition-heavy beginning, or even a prologue, can be a form of apologetic weak writing.  When done poorly, it becomes something like, "OK, I know this is silly, but here's a bunch of stuff you need to know to understand what's going on, and I'm sorry, but let's get through this bit, and then stuff will get good around, like, chapter five or so."

Screw that.  Write it real, write it honest, and you won't need to do that.  Trust your reader, that they're willing to get on board with you, and hit the ground running.

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