***But first let me say this… without naming any names: The day insurance companies and government reimbursed medical programs stop paying for men of a certain age, oh… I’m sorry, to speak in the vernacular… man-sluts to have sex (what do you call a man who gets paid for sex? A prostitute?) via the use of Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, is the day we can open a discussion about who pays for female contraception. And no, I don’t want to hear that erectile dysfunction is a medical problem. Sex is a choice, not a necessity.
Back to the subject at hand. J. W. Manus and I discussed this on Monday – what we can learn from story-fail.
Let’s begin with a simple question — Why do we enjoy stories?
From Chuck Wendig: “At the core of every good story is a character for whom we care.”
Soap operas are a good example of why we follow. i.e., watch or read stories. It’s the characters, baby. Soap operas are notorious for recycling story lines. Fans (not critics) remain loyal regardless because a true soap opera fan is watching to see what happens, either to a character he or she loves, or to a character he or she hates, and more importantly, how that character responds. A soap opera fan is invested in the characters and in the characters’ relationships and interactions with other characters.
That’s it in a nutshell.
The Walking Dead dropped the ball big time Sunday night. I’ve known authors to do exactly the same thing – kill off core characters– characters like Dale, who may be irritating, but serve a significant purpose in the larger story arc.
Dale represented the archetype of the conscience – a living remembrance of things past. His mere (and yes, sometimes annoying) presence reminded the other characters how the world was before the zombie apocalypse.
Dale may have become an anachronism, but he served a significant purpose. He was the one character who linked the others to their past lives.
At this point in time, even Hershel has come to accept that the new logos is survival of the fittest. Dale refused to accept that. Does that mean he should die? Absolutely not. He was an indispensable part of the group identity.
Writers – Once your readers are invested in a character and a group dynamic, kill off a member of that core group at your peril. And only then if it serves to move the story forward, never as a plot device.
My literary criticisms are as follows:
1. Keep your characters in character. Example– Daryl is nobody’s errand boy. He would not have done Rick’s dirty work. He would have told Rick to ‘eff off, reminding him that he, Rick, has declared himself the leader of the group, he rescued the boy in the first place, has kept him alive and now wants to kill him. Therefore, if there is any questioning and/or beating to be done, he would have told Rick to do it himself.
2. Always keep group dynamics in the forefront of your story arc. Zombies are neutral. They are entities to be feared and killed, but they can be lumped into one big character, nothing more than a backdrop for the primary focus – the inter-personal relationships, interactions and reactions of the survivors. In order for any group of characters to be interesting and engaging, there must be tension between characters… sexual tension, dominance, leadership, a clash of personalities, moments of heroism, cowardice, tragedy and triumph.
A great deal of that tension has been lost with the demise of Dale, and if spoilers are correct, we will soon lose the biggest contributor of tension on the show (and the main reason I watch).
3. Once your alpha has established himself as the alpha, if you, as his writer and creator, choose to knock him off that pedestal, you have two choices, kill him or utterly destroy him in the eyes of the group. Example– Rick cannot establish himself as the alpha male one night, yet wring his hands like a little girl the next, and still retain his alpha status. On Sunday night, at least in my eyes, Rick lost all credibility as the leader of this increasingly disparate band of survivors, yet the characters didn’t seem to notice.
4. Never lose focus on your core. Follow your core characters– your alphas and your betas. Your tertiary characters are set pieces. Example– The reason I lost interest in True Blood was not because the show strayed from The Southern Vampire Mysteries. For instance, I actually liked the fact that the writers kept Lafayette alive. True Blood lost me as a viewer because the writers decided to focus on tertiary characters, a whole mess of ‘em. No sale.
My husband asked, “Why is it that the best television series seem to lose steam by the end of the second season?”