Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Stories without consequences

So like just about everyone else I've been watching Downton Abbey. I've now watched every episode, always a day or more late, since we don't have TV, only the Internet.* I can't say I have Downton-mania, exactly. I don't love it or hate it. Most of the characters leave me cold, and I've conceived an outright loathing for Mr. Bates that I can't explain. Even Maggie Smith's well-delivered witticisms seem forced. When the camera turns to her, I sit up with a chuckle at the ready, and am always a little disappointed with the zinger.

Yet I keep watching, because, I think, of the storytelling itself. More precisely: because of what seems to be very flawed storytelling. I have never seen a show in which huge plot points so often turn out--thus far, anyway--to have such minimal consequences. I guess the rest of what I have to say involves spoilers, so stop reading if you really don't want to know what's been happening. But, just of late: Only one minor character dies in the war, and his widow never loved him anyway. A major character is paralyzed for life, feels a tingle, and is dancing by the next episode. Same character's betrothed dies from the Spanish flu so that he is free to marry the woman he really loves. Headstrong daughter runs off with chauffeur, causing Lord Grantham to withhold his blessing and his money until...he doesn't anymore and everyone hugs. Lord G embarks on an affair with a maid, who then decides she ought to resign for the good of everyone, and leaves. Lady G gets deathly ill and then better within ten minutes.

So: no real freakin consequences. Or, not yet. If everything comes around again in some ingenious interweaving of these previously pallid storylines, I suppose I will have to print out this blog post, spread it with Earth Balance, and eat it. I will be especially delighted if (SPOILER) Mr. Bates really did kill his wife and has to do real jail time for it--even though he would be blameless because his wife was so purely, inexplicably evil. The bottom line is, these episodes feel like first drafts.

I've had the same problems in the first draft of my second novel. Now that I'm revising, I can see how often I wanted to leave my options open as I felt my way along. I could see plot lines heading a particular way, but realized that if they went too far, that character would no longer be around for the rest of the story--and I might still need him or her. So there's this repeated phenomenon of minor consequences for what seem to be major events or threats or screw-ups. The characters, Wile-E-Coyote-like, bounce up after being crushed by anvils, and then wait around to see what else I've got for them to do. At least when writing a novel you can, theoretically, revise once you get to the end, and do so more than once. Perhaps you don't have time for such with series television. You have to get it right the first time, which would be a pretty scary assignment. No wonder Lost went off the cliff.

*Which does not make us more virtuous than those who have TV, at least not anymore. I waste far more time in the Internet than I ever did watching TV.

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