Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Styles Change by Andy Scheer
But the essentials of storytelling are timeless.
The past few weeks I’ve been watching on DVD the final season of the original TV series Hawaii Five-O. While the series began airing in 1968, the shows I’ve been watching date from 1979-80.
They look like it. The cars, the clothing, the hairstyles, the technology all make what was once a contemporary program now seem historical. Even the length of the scenes, the amount of establishing material at the beginning of a shot, and the transition between scenes belies a more relaxed style of storytelling.
Despite that, the programs still work. They display a consistent, unified style. Most important, they make good use of the timeless elements of storytelling.
No matter that the people wore polyester, the cars were huge, and so was the women’s hair, the essentials of characters in conflict remain the same. The important characters still need to be three-dimensional, but with the unexpected aspects of their personality being revealed a little at a time, through their actions. The conflict still has to make sense, not feel forced or like something inserted to advance an agenda.
Dialogue remains an essential element, best delivered a few words at a time, without lapsing into speeches or needlessly inserting the name of the person being spoken to—and especially not dropping in chunks of information the other character would already know.
Bad guys remain the most interesting when they’re not merely there to be bad and to serve as a foil for the good guys.
Peripheral characters are still the most effective when they also provide a hint of personality.
If there’s a mystery, readers continue to try to solve the puzzle. They still need enough clues and distractions to keep them guessing. And the answer still needs to be plausible.
The setting still has the opportunity to play a key element in the story, especially when it’s a place with exotic flavor or the author can include enough details to make an outsider feel like a native.
And there’s still an appreciation when a familiar character gets to say a line the audience has come to anticipate, even if in season twelve, it’s become “Book ’em, Kimo, murder one.”