(you’re reading APADO, my wittle one-post-a-day-for-a-whole-month series that i somehow haven’t failed yet.)
(a bunch of disclaimers: i’m not a master author, in fact i legit just called myself a fauxthor™ and it’s true. however, i’ve received a lot of praise for the characters i come up with. i’m going to try to ride the line between hoarding the knowledge i have and puffing myself up bigger than a wacky arm-waving inflatable tubeman. let’s hope i don’t step into either too much.)
(and now i’m like “isn’t it a bad thing to doubt myself? but isn’t it also a bad idea to think you know more than you actually do?” hello anxiety, i haven’t missed you but here you are.)
(now let’s turn this into a series)
Characters are an integral part of fiction. Actually, they’re more than half of what storytellers worry about. They can make or break a story, and they often do – which is what we’re going to take a look at today.
Trigger warning: my preferences are weird. Even if you don’t agree with everything I say, please be nice about it.
I recently sat down and watched Interstellar.
Let me first preface this by saying that I’m not a scientific person and only understood about 52% of this film’s dialogue. There was a lot of infodumping, which I’m not a fan of.
(quick, poorly-written plot rundown for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie: earth is dying and no one’s sure how to fix it. cooper, our main character, is alarmed that his daughter’s bedroom seems to be alive – there are morse code patterns in the dust in the floor, books falling off the shelf in morse code messages, etc. they say pretty much two things: a set of map coordinates and the word “stay”. visiting the map coordinates reveals the secret location of nasa’s last base and the main plot: earth is about to become really uninhabitable and cooper, due to his experience as a fighter pilot, will be needed to help execute one of the two plans. “plan a” is to relocate all of earth’s population to another planet. “plan b” is to leave the population to die and take 700 new embroyos to a new planet to start a new colony and save humanity. all the characters are on different sides of this ethical question. cooper and his team fly off into space to have a look at some planet prospects. long story short, nothing looks good and everything’s sad and we lose one of the crew members. they’re running out of fuel, too. in order to get to the last chance of a planet, cooper volunteers to go off into the black hole that’s messing with the time of everything and honestly i didn’t catch how all of this is working because infodumps. once in the blackhole (which somehow works as like a time sphere/way to communicate with the past and future?) cooper realizes that this was a horrible idea and he should never have come and tries to tell his past self to “stay” (books coming off the shelves and stuff). i have no idea what happened here. murph is grown up now and gets stuff going back on earth because he can also somehow communicate with her through this watch that he gave her. everyone evacuates, somehow they rescue cooper, cooper learns that his female friend went to start that embroyo colony on the last planet and that she’s all alone and vows to go rescue her. THE END.)
I was extremely disappointed at the end of it. I was expecting this movie to be amazing – it’s Christopher Nolan, for crying out loud. Though I will give it props for its amazing visual effects, terrific music, and interesting take on the “end-of-the-world” idea, it commits a sin that makes me never want to see it again: blank, thin characters.
Now, I understand that I am not the target audience for this film (it’s very popular in the nerdy, scientific circles) but this is a problem that could have been fixed with just a little more time and a little less word salad.
Yes, they have a few motivations and remotely memorable personalities, but they don’t seem to do anything. Things are happening all around them, and they react to them, but their reactions are the only thing they’re giving to the movie. The black hole, the space travel, the time discrepancies and the emergencies push out the characters and take over the plot.
And we never answer the big ethical question this movie asks (save the living or start over?) because the characters don’t have enough screentime or enough depth to make a choice. They’re weak, passive, and almost forgettable.
I could have loved this movie if the characters had been given more time of day. It was visually beautiful, sported terrific world-building, had a larger-than-life stake, and would have made an amazing point if they had gotten around to answering their ethical question. They didn’t answer the question because the characters were too weak to form a good opinion.
Interstellar was a frustrating movie because the characters weren’t allowed to lead the plot.
Now, an example of a horrible plot with terrific characters: Thor: The Dark World.
(Please lower your stones.)
This is a hated movie. This is a weird movie. This is one of the “worst” Marvel movies in the entire franchise, and yet I enjoyed it way more than I should have. Its merit is with one thing and one thing only: the characters.
(quick plot rundown: there’s this creepy alien liquid virus called the aether, unleashed in some ancient battle, and it’s super gimmicky and the sole reason why this movie is weird. after the events of everything in all the movies leading up to this in the MCU, loki’s being imprisoned for invading earth, thor is trying to make peace in what’s going to be his new kingdom, and jane foster, his girlfriend, is really wishing he were around more often. there’s going to be a cool cosmic convergence thing happening, which will make people be able to travel between the nine realms and meet eachother, yay. a portal has already appeared in a warehouse. although jane and darcy don’t know where it leads to, it definitely takes things places. jane, without realizing it, follows a similar portal and gets infected with the aforementioned space virus, the aether…and it really doesn’t make sense. meanwhile, back on asgard, heimdall, everyone’s favorite gatekeeper/living nest camera tells thor that he can’t see where jane is anymore, prompting him to go to earth to find her. he finds her, she’s full of aether juice, and it’s not good. we learn that the aether is connected to this creepy pale dude named malekith who plans to take over the nine realms…or something. he wants the aether cuz it’s apparently able to be weaponized. he attacks asgard looking for it, because thor brought jane there, and frigga, thor’s mother, dies protecting her. malekith and his dudes are barely repulsed. thor has a plan, and it’s a hairbrained scheme, really, but it just might work and it’s all they can do. with the help of loki (who thor convinces to help him based on frigga’s death), the warriors three, sif (who’s causing tension because she’s romantically interested in thor), and jane, thor goes to try to find and stop malekith. which he sort of does. thor and loki trick him into getting the aether out of jane, but they fail to destroy it and loki dies (well, he doesn’t really, but we don’t know that yet). the aether isn’t in jane anymore (?) but it’s now roosting in malekith. the convergence is imminent. the warehouse portal apparently led to the place where they were, so thor and jane (minus loki and everyone else) go to earth to try to beat malekith, who’s planning to unleash the aether while the convergence thing is going on and so destroy all the worlds. they have a big fight, thor beats him up, he gets crushed by his own ship and dies, the aether is contained in an infinity stone and stashed away, problems have been solved and yay life is good until the next thor adventure, which i didn’t like but oh well. THE END.)
Yes, we have a similar weird space-themed plot with confusing element (what exactly does the Aether do again?) and word salad. Yes, we have a movie almost devoid of anything good. It’s the exact opposite of Interstellar: the plot is horribly paced and confusing, yet… I liked it. And I certainly wasn’t the only one.
It’s obvious now that the main difference between Interstellar and Thor: The Dark World lies in the characters. In T:TDW, the characters are actively driving the story, despite the Convergence-thing being out of their control. They’re going after the cosmic liquid space virus. They’re reluctantly teaming up.
In fact, most of the conflict is character-centered, despite this movie’s overly-massive stakes. This doesn’t make it any less confusing, but it makes it infinitely more likable.
If the characters had been reactive, this movie would be utter trash. It still kind of is. But the characters bring it from a -70 to a 5/10.
yes, I just praised Thor: The Dark World and trashed Interstellar:
If your characters are flat, uncompelling, and make no choices of their own, they can take your A+ amazing plot and turn it into something without a soul.
If your characters are well-rounded, decisive, and bounce well off eachother, you can take something confusing and weird and make it mostly enjoyable (even if it’s still confusing and weird.)
A story is only as good as the people who are making it happen. As an author, the very worst thing you can do is just make them react to what’s going on.
tl;dr: Good characters are proactive.
Sayonara for now,
(what have i done?)