Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
The Through Line
Too often, we see it on television or in the movies. A convoluted plot or a plot so disjointed, it makes little sense. Any great writer will tell you that the plot is driven by great characters and great characters a fully rounded and complex. That does not mean though that complexity is revealed through little unrelated side-scenes but through the situation of the plot. All parts of the plot should be in some way attached to the center element of the plot. It is called the "through line."
Here endeth the lesson...
Why this little literary definition? Simple, I am tired of unrelated material being used in television shows to give characters something to do. A show is established on the lynch pin of the plot, through line or spine. The through line runs the full length of the plot. If writers of a TV show build a scene to create "family" life for a character then that life needs to be a part of the through line. Take for example a series like Criminal Minds. The leader of the central characters is Aaron Hotchner or Hotch. The show carefully built a family life for Hotchner and the struggles that his life as a behavioral analyst cause. Eventually though this family life intersected the premise of the show which is to catch serial killers. Hotch's family, is thrown into upheaval when he is targeted by one of these killers. Eventually, the killer takes the life of Hotch's ex-wife. We get a well-rounded character and a seemingly unrelated subplot that is crafted to attach to the through line of the show.
Now take Bones. The through line of Bones is also to catch killers. The plot centers on a team of scientists and an FBI agent who catch killers. The main characters are Temperance 'Bones' Brennan and Seeley Booth. The show, which I do watch, frequently does leave the through line to create rounded characters. Unfortunately, these lapses are basically pointless. They affect the tightness of the series and give the watcher nothing. For example, in one attempt one of the scientist, Camille Saroyan, or Cam, has a foster daughter. The subplot line serves no purpose except to give Cam something to do and do badly. There is a host of these scenes. Booth has an alcoholic brother who falls in love with a former prostitute while on a trip to India. No purpose. Booth and Bones are a couple with issues as to where to school their daughter. The family plot line was a necessary conceit to cover the real life pregnancy of the actress Emily Deschanel. The rest serve no real purpose. It is the proliferation of these that are actually slowly, but steadily taking away from the spine of the show. It is killing the series.
If you want to know if these scenes are valuable, try muting one while watching the show. If the loss of knowing what the conversation is about makes no difference to your understanding of the plot, then you know it is a time filler and little more. Shows that leave the premise or through line frequently suffers from this writing. Ending sexual tension, leaving the premise, or unrelated scenes damage the series. Sometimes it is called the 'Moonlighting effect.' The name comes from the error of ending the sexual tension on the series Moonlighting which shot Bruce Willis to fame in the 80's. One must wonder how long it will be before shows like Bones and Castle will pay the price. Both have ended the tension between the main characters and Bones also has far too many unrelated scenes and both continue to drop in the ratings.
You would think the writers in Hollywood would learn, but they don't.
(I know a long winded literary lesson to get to the point of why we lose our favorite shows.)