Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Whether 'tis better to avoid or embrace blatant stupidity

Michael Maier poses a challenge regarding:
Avoiding contrived BS situations in writing? I'm on a critical kick lately and while I loved the Firefly series, Joss Whedon's writing crews try to be cute at the expense of the story too damn often.

My brother makes amateur films and he gets mad if I analyze stuff he likes. But if you ignore blatant stupidity just because you like the overall product, does that help you become a better artist/writer/director/whatever?

Johnny the Screenwriter and I argue about this one all the time. He's forever saying, "Hey, did you see [insert title here]? Wasn't it great?" And way too often my response is, "It was a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." To which his rebuttal is, "Yeah, but tell me, didn't it look great?!" And then, as if in a casual afterthought, he'll add: "By the way: it grossed 37 mill on opening weekend."

When you're working in the realm of the fantastic, a certain amount of blatant stupidity is an occupational hazard. We even have a name for it: willing suspension of disbelief. We know that dead people can't really rise from the grave, transform themselves into bats, and feed on the blood of the living, but we'll accept it for the sake of a safe scare. We know that fighting spacecraft if they ever really come to exist won't really need to engage in swirling dogfights like Fokkers and Sopwith Camels, but we accept it for the sake of the thrilling adventure. We know that starships won't really be able to accelerate instantly to Warp 5 without also turning everyone inside the ships into sticky red goo on the aft bulkheads, but we accept it because otherwise it's a damned short story.

The trick, I think, is to get the audience to suspend disbelief without rubbing their noses in the fact that they're doing it, and while I manage it all the time, I have no clear idea of how I do it. Anyone else want to take a swing at this one?