22 September 2005

Further Reflection on Genre Plot Devices

In "The Horror!!!" I mentioned the importance of written material in moving the plot along in horror films. Today, I will discuss the importance of NOT saying the right thing (like "I love you") in romance-oriented genre films, be them straight romance or romantic comedies.

Like sit-coms that rely on such-and-such character holding onto a lie or deception they set in motion early in the episode, characters in romantic scenes tend to hold back their feelings when confronted with a moment of strife between their lover and them. In many cases, those three magic words would solve it all. In many cases, a simple acknowledgment of how the other feels would go miles toward resolving the issue.

So, why do writers remove this simple measure to ensure the health of a relationship? Viewers, like readers, demand struggle in a story. I believe Faulkner said, "There is no story without strife."

I've searched for ways to make stories compelling without resorting to tension, but the stories don't hold up. I've searched for tales free of struggle but failed to find any. Even fairy tales contain an element of difficulty to them, even the washed-out Disney versions.

Perhaps, this demand for troubled plots roots from what seems to be a universal truth: "Without struggle, one never grows."

But, romance genres take it to the extreme, causing me to scream "just say you love her, dipshit" at the screen. Maybe romance writers think their depiction of a mule-headed character more closely resembles reality. Maybe I put too much faith in humanity, projecting my own values on to others. I mean, I tell my wife the right thing at the right time, but I believe television is to thank.

After watching enough boobs on the tube making stupid decisions or not saying the right thing, I learned how I should respond in situations. This ranges from stepping outside my own pursuits to talk with those I love when they need me to refraining from lies that could turn my life into that frustrating sit-com depicting a person too afraid to admit they ate the last piece of cake.

Occasionally, I run into a movie or show where the characters say "I love you," and it works. The writers don't resort to the usual just-tell-'em-how-you-feel-fool; they create authentic strife in the characters' lives that keeps them apart. A movie that exemplifies this approach is Normal—the story of a man who loves his wife, tells her so, but still wants to become a woman. If only the rest of the movie-writing populous could learn from such teachers, then I wouldn't have to pass up a third of the new releases based on their premise. I mean, are most men under fifty really so machismo in the U.S. these days?


theresa said...

Thank you for this post. You just described why I stopped watching television.

Predictability is so utterly mind-numbing.

Kyle Stich said...

Amazingly, that's what the majority of television viewers seem to want, predictability. I think it provides comfort in an already habitual world of routines.