Over- and Underwhelmed

Well, I’ve got all 900+ posts on the blog all categorized… now I’ve discovered that I can’t pick up a new blog template from the old account without starting a completely new blog – at least not yet. There’s word in the Blogger literature that a conversion period is coming up, so maybe that will take care of the problem.

As it is right now, the links to the blog archives are all broken because the new system put it into a new directory, and I’m not able to pick up any code to fix it, nor to add category label links to the menu over there on the right.

As I said, maybe that will all come out in the wash. But I thought I’d already “converted” it over… well, only time will tell. If I end up having to go back to a manual workaround for both, I’m going to be unhappy.

Meantime, I watched bits and pieces of House last night between late farm chores. I haven’t been a real fan of this season – I don’t watch the show to see an out-of-control character, and some of the medical cases have been dark and unsatisfying. And while I haven’t seen every episode in the House Runs Afoul of the Law story arc, what I have seen is unimpressive – I guess there’s been a lot of grumbling about it among fans.

So last night House hit bottom and decided to take a career-saving deal offered by the obnoxious cop. Unfortunately, the obnoxious cop went back on his word, and now we get to see House on trial when the show returns in January.

I’m going to be plain spoken about it. This was a stupid turn of events. Once of my long-held complaints about the way TV handles itself is that they tease episodes like “The case that could end House’s career! What will he do!” Or, “The case that could kill off the A-Team! What will they do?”

Of course you know everything is going to turn out okay. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be a show left. Yes, I know that half the fun is supposed to be watching how the main character(s) get out of this latest jam, but to me such hyperbole is a stale cliche.

Let’s look at it. The teaser for The Return of House in January showed a scene with him at a trial. Do we seriously expect House to lose his license, go to prison, and open a successful jailhouse practice? Of course not. Something is going to happen to prove the cop is a jerk who had it in for House and entrapped him, and the good doctor will get a smack on the wrist. The season will close with him going in and out of rehab. Then, perhaps, in the fourth season, we can put this whole annoying business behind us.

There’s two writing applications I want to draw out of this. First., don’t be stupid. Don’t put your characters in such a tight jam that you can’t write them out again in a satisfying way. This might sound contradictory to advice I have given earlier – that is, don’t be afraid to beat your characters up and put them into deep trouble – but if you get them in so deep that your solution is:

  • “And it was all a dream”
  • “The hand of God comes down and fixes everything”
  • “Suddenly I am run over by a truck”

then you’re going to have an audience that feels cheated. This might work for TV, but that’s because it’s television. Viewers are used to being cheated week after week after week. And if I grumble about House and you remind me that it’s television, too, I would agree – but House set the bar high and now it can’t seem to get over it.

The other application is related. Make sure you have a climax that matches the situation you’ve set up in the rest of your plot.

Here’s a couple of examples. In Calling Dr. Patchwork, Ron Goulart has a futuristic detective tracking down a vile villain. When he finally comes face to face with him, the hero says, “You’re under arrest,” and the bad guy goes along peaceably. Didn’t work for me, having grown up watching James Bond movies with big, climactic fights at the end. Maybe that’s what Goulart wanted in a sardonic sort of way, but I felt cheated.

On the other end of the spectrum there’s Stephen King, who often writes himself into such a corner that he ends up going off the deep end in his use of surprise. The Hand of God business in The Stand. The friendly sheriff in Needful Things whose magic tricks inexplicably turn into lightning bolts with which to fry the bad guy. In both cases, the method of extrication was way too big for the story. The overall result is not unlike taking a shot at the mouse in your kitchen with a .44 magnum.

So please, think things out. Don’t be stupid. Treat your readers like intelligent folk. If you do this, you’ll be rewarded.

I promise.

Listening:
Sometimes I feel that we’ve been herded like sheep
We’ve been led out like lambs to the slaughter
And empty souls have kept the downtrodden down
And took the best and left us the fodder

(via iTunes shuffle play)

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