Monday, February 28, 2011

What Are The Rules

I'm not ashamed of the fact that I'm a Vampire Diaries fan.  The show, not the books; I've never read the books.  It's entertaining, fun, I don't have to think too much, and the writing is witty and never dull.  A lot of shows have maybe one WTF moment in an episode. Some only one per season.  Lost was famous for having that one WTF moment near the end, the moment that reversed everything, turned the world on its head.  But TVD has so many of those moments that they should really just call it: WTFVampires.

One of my concerns has always been that, as they pile on those WTF moments, the internal logic of the story will begin to crumble under the weight of so many reversals.  I thought that had begun to happen during an episode a couple of weeks ago.  Our trusty anti-heroes found out that the Big Bad they were supposed to kill could only be killed in one very specific way.  With a knife dipped in some special ashes.  And that after, the knife had to be left in for the Big Bad to stay dead.  It was a WTF moment that irked me.  It threw a wrench in our anti-heroes' plans and I felt like it was silly.

"Why don't they just dismember the body, burn the pieces, and bury the ashes at remote parts of the world?" I asked my editor via email conversation.*  It seemed silly to me that they'd just leave the body of their most formidable enemy to date hanging out in their basement with a dagger sticking out of his chest for anyone with hands to come along and pluck out.

So there I was having this existential crisis over the illogical turn WTFVampires had taken when my editor came along and saved me.  She's SuperEditor.  She told me that dismemberment and burning of vampires had never been part of WTFVampires' mythology.

Duh!  SuperEditor hit the nail on the head.  Internal logic preserved.  The writers had never created the expectation that killing a vampire in that fashion was part of the norm, therefore the readers (watchers) shouldn't expect it either.  It made me think about my own books.  The lesson I took from this is all about managing a reader's expectations.  Story logic isn't always real world logic.  Maybe if YOU locked yourself out of your house, the first place you'd look for a spare key is under the flower pot but if the character in your story always kept the spare key on the ledge over the door, it might not occur to her to check the flower pot, no matter how much you yell at her.

You can do almost anything you want in your book so long as you manage the expectations of the reader.  Give your reader no reason to expect a character won't do something (in fact, give them plenty of reasons to think that he won't) and they won't roast you alive when your character doesn't do that thing, no matter how stupid not doing it might seem.

And in case you're wondering, our dashing anti-heroes on WTFVampires, did make an attempt to burn the body in following episode and discovered that even in its dead state it was immune to the flames.

*Yes, this was an actual conversation.  And yes, I love my job.

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