Another Great Hook

I’ll admit to being a bit of a fanboy of superhero sagas. Don’t judge me, I’m not alone if the box office and TV ratings are anything to go by.

Recently Netflix released season 3 of Arrow. Having just finished watching season 2 of Daredevil the timing was wonderful. I sat down to watch it and accidentally started at season 1, episode 1, which I decided was a good place to refresh my memory from.

A TV show, especially a pilot episode where they’re seeking funding is very similar to the first pages of a novel;  you need a great hook to catch your audience. It’s not enough to be ‘okay’…it has to be great. With my writer’s hat on I marveled at how well the beginning of Arrow hooked me.

“I am returning, not the boy who was shipwrecked but to bring justice to those who have poisoned my city.” (1:36)

Within minutes of the show starting we know that the protagonist is out to get vengeance against the bad people in his city. He’s motivated by a semi-noble pursuit of righting the wrongs of his father.

He mysteriously speaks Russian and has the reflexes of a cat (not literally, Dark Angel fans) and super-bad ninja-like skills.

“Everyone is happy your alive. You want to see the one person who isn’t?” (12:29)

He’s also got a boat load of guilt and emotional distress (pun-intended). When he was shipwrecked he was in the midst of an affair with the sister of his girlfriend. The sister didn’t survive the shipwreck (at least that’s what we think at this stage). He of course still loves his ex, but she understandably doesn’t want anything to do with him. Smart woman, all things considered. However, there’s enough backstory there for some serious emotional conflict: He’s in love with her, but also  pushing her away so she’s not collateral damage in his war on bad people.

“Did he make it to the island? Did he tell you anything?”

He’s abducted by masked assailants (15:00) who want to ensure his father is dead, and what his father might have disclosed. The intrigue of a mystery and a hidden enemy loom large.

His younger sister is abusing drugs and alcohol (10:53), in much the same way as he did.

Bad guy, about to die: “You don’t have to do this?”

“Yes I do; nobody can know my secret.”

He’s an anti-hero, a bad guy killing other bad guys.

So in one episode you have plenty of hooks, external dangers and mystery with enough inner turmoil for the character to overcome. An excellent beginning.

(I’ve written before about great beginnings of TV shows in hiding the horrific through the eyes of children).

Advertisements

The Hunting Grounds

A few nights ago the beautiful Mrs Ezard and I watched an excellent documentary called “The Hunting Grounds” (2015). It is an exposé into how US colleges hide the rampant problem of sexual assaults on campus.

The statistics are staggering: 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while at a US college.

The universities show a disturbing propensity to close ranks; attempting to silence the victim through threat and intimidation in an effort to protect their school’s fictional reputations. Repeatedly the women say they are more victimised by the response of the college than the actual attack itself.

Call me old fashioned, but anyone who does nothing condones the behaviour. I honestly don’t know how the school boards, faculty etc who care more for the school’s reputation than the victims’ justify it to themselves. Money is not reason enough for a person’s “job” to override their humanity. Shame on them, and all who allow the problem to hide.

In the movie they also speak about the frat-culture and how it is linked to the suppression. Surely, even alumni frat members would rather expel deviants from among them than contribute to hiding them?

Good on the men and women who bravely stand to say that such treatment will not be tolerated; not by the abusers, and not by the colleges.

It’s definitely worth watching, but be warned it will make you angry.

Ugh-hoo-doh

It is the sound of layered feelings and emotions: tiredness tinged with joy, covered by a sad but inevitable postponement.

Let me paint the scene:

Ugh: It was the last night before a return to work after a long and relaxing holiday.

I had good intentions of getting my body clock back into work-sync; early to rise and early to bed. They were however just intentions, and de-railed by binge watching of seasons 1 & 2 of the great* scifi show “The 100”. (*I would call the show excellent if it weren’t for a few issues, detailed below).

So instead of getting to bed at an early but regular 2130 it had been closer to 2300 for the previous week. Rising had been anywhere from 0645 to 0830, a far cry from the required 0445 that was rapidly approaching reality.

Hoo. (As in, woo-hoo) I was in bed at 2200, still fairly awake when the beautiful Mrs Ezard returned home.

“A surprise,” she said, “I have for you.” One of my trusted and respected beta readers had returned hald of Vengeance Will Come, my first novel.

“And it is filled with tonnes of comments.” She annotated.

I remained in bed for all of about 13 seconds before announcing, “I’ll just have a quick look.” and sprung up with the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morn.

True to my word I only skimmed for about 15 minutes. In this I showed epic restraint. I tried to get a decent night’s sleep but the die had already been cast. Many of you will understand how excitement kept me awake, and woke me early (0330).

Doh. And let’s not forget that while it waits for me at home I must now go and spend the day at work, not-writing. Which I believe adequately explains the title ugh-hoo-doh.

‘The 100’: Just Great, not Excellent

  • I’m all for a bit of character evolution, after all, your character’s should have arcs. I love a well done transition from good guy to bad guy. But I can’t stress enough these things should happen over time. Evolution takes time, a lot of time – not within the space of a single episode.There are far too-many character’s having too-quick changes for my liking: reckless to responsible, responsible to reckless; pacifist to psycho, psycho to pacifist; patient to rash, rash to patient. It’s the characters are playing musical-mood-chairs.
  • It has touches of Lost (which I hated) where they need something new, and they put it in without foreshadowing (e.g. giant ape). Foreshadowing is important… otherwise it comes off looking like a tacky plot element.
  • In the same mindset: there’s a girl-on-girl kiss that reeks of popularism (“everybody’s doing it in TV so we should too”). There is absolutely no foreshadowing that it was ever on the cards. Not to mention the character is kissing-back the woman who just killed her boyfriend an episode or two ago…
  • Also, I don’t think a main character has died since S01E03, which is unrealistic considering the challenges they’ve faced. Yes, it’s scifi but don’t over abuse my willingness to dial-down my disbelief.

 

How to make an Opening

Now that Netflix has come to town I am finally able to watch more of Falling Skies. The more involved I get in writing, the more I find myself able to see how the storyteller constructs their work. (Also, the harder it is for me to turn off this internal review system, to actually enjoy the show!)

Season 1, Episode 1 of Falling Skies is a great example of this. The premise of the show is that aliens have come to earth and destroyed civilisation as we know it; leaving the few bedraggled humans to mount a resistance.

This is the opening dialog of the show, spoken in the voices of several children, and with numerous shots of accompanying art work.

I was in school when the ships came… they were really big, and they said that we weren’t going to attack them with the nuclear bombs because they mighta wanna’d to be friends, but they didn’t want to be friends…  not at all. Then there was a bright light that makes like all electronics stop working… computers, radio’s… cars, satellites, TVs… everything. They blew up army bases, ships, submarines, the navy and all the soldiers are gone… now mum’s and dad’s have to fight… after that they blew up all the capitals New York, Washington DC, Paris… all the major cities… they then came. There were millions of them… trillions… everywhere… we call them skitters and mechs… they kill grown-ups and catch kids… they put on harness things… they put it on kids and control them… they say it hurts a lot… my parents went out to get some help… but I know they’re gone, they’re dead…

Falling Skies S01E01Now if you think about what is actually said, it is a horrific idea. Millions, perhaps billions are dead, We are no longer the dominant species on the planet, and we’re fighting just for survival. Everything is destroyed and humanity is really in trouble.

In the first 55 seconds of the show they manage to deliver a great overview of the background and set the plot up in an ingenious way. By using children as the point of view they are able to gloss over the details that we would expect from an adult, and bring in a heightened sense of pain, loss and fear.

Within the first episode they set up multiple lot hooks:

  • “Tom Mason” is the main protagonist: a tough-but-also-very-scholarly Professor of History. His knowledge of warfare is going to be invaluable. He’s made second-in-command of his group (2nd Mass.), and we know he understands the duty of the role… but he is also torn by the competing desire to care for his three sons: one of whom has been taken captive by the skitters (pre-show). Tom’s clearly “the mentor” role, with a group of young fighters around him.
  • “Weaver” the commander of the 2nd Mass. who prefers his soldiers over civilians (with an inferred comment that he could be a threat to the civilians)… and doesn’t particularly like Tom Mason… or agree with the orders handed down to him… trouble’s a brewing.
  • The enemy fortress and speculation of how to destroy it.
  • There’s a budding romance and a young love triangle forming.