Wednesday, April 14, 2010

You gotta have an arc... you gotta!

I have been majorly impressed with two television shows recently as they dealt with the romance of the lead couples. Glee being one (but I don’t want to talk about the episode if not everyone has seen it).

And the other is Bones. You all know I’m a fan. This week in the pivotal 100th episode our hero admitted his feelings, which we the audience have been privy to since the season premier.

The admission of love, the grab and kiss and then…. BAM! He was denied. She didn’t want a relationship with him.

Now for those who don’t watch the show – her prevailing arc has been she was abandoned by her parents who left her at age 15 - thought dead. Her 18 year old brother couldn’t take care of her. He left her to foster care, where we know she was abused in some of the homes where she stayed. A special child (she’s a gifted savant), she shut down all emotional connection with people and used her highly developed intellect as a defense shield.
In a very emotional scene she tells him she can’t love. She doesn’t have an open heart. And she doesn’t want to hurt him by failing to love him the way he deserves.

But what I loved more than the drama of it – was that it was so true to her character. She’s not done with her arc. She’s moving forward. For the past 5 years we’ve seen her developing this connection with the hero. We, the audience, can see by her actions that she’s in love with him. This season we see her touching him in simple ways.

But when pressed - her fear of abandonment kicked in… the way it should.

Am I worried that the relationship component of this show is over? No way. I trust the writers implicitly here because they’ve been so true to sticking to these characters growth arc that I know in the end they’ll get me to the Promised Land. (Although I’m probably going to have to suffer through the hero getting a new girl friend to get there.) But I have trust. This wasn’t the end of their chance. This was the first crack in her defense shield. If I was writing the next few episodes I would paint her as more agitated. She would have fits and outburst at odd times. The kind of thing to show us that she’s breaking down.

This is good solid relationship writing. The couples have internal conflicts that are legitimately hindering their chance at a relationship despite how deeply they love each other.

Every editor/agent/critique partner will say it. Your characters must have internal conflicts, not external. And they must grow over the course of the story. If you’re a writer and you’re asking yourself how do I do this? Watch Bones reruns from the beginning and start watching Glee now. (I trust those writers too.)

So many times movies and TV romances fail in this component. They set up the relationship – play, tease, fight, play tease, fight and then finally consummation. Inevitably people will complain that the “spark” is gone.

The creator for Bones rejects what he calls the “Moonlighting” curse. And I agree. Done right, the relationship after consummation can be just as interesting if your characters are still growing and working on that arc.

So you gotta have one. Who are your leads? What are their issues? Most people find this part easy. But how are they growing beyond just falling in love. The love in a romance is a given. It’s what your characters are going to change about the way the act, think and feel that makes them able to handle that love… that’s the challenge.


Karen W said...

I loved that 100th Bones episode! It broke my heart. And yes, I think we are going to have to suffer through watching him get a girlfriend before they finally acknowledge their love for each other. Sigh.

Glee - won't say much, but the "I'm a virgin" thing was a bit much. Just sayin'

Sinead M said...

I am going to have to catch up on bones through DVD, because I hear great things.
Glee, I just love, but I completely agree about the Arc.
Great post, Stephanie

Stephanie Doyle said...

And Karen - I think this will be the first time I don't mind the "other woman" character in a TV series. Usually it's just so much filler - to create tension and drama.

Que up other woman for audience to hate and make lead jealous. Boring!

But this time it will be done with purpose and I can sort of get behind that. Him struggling with trying to move on. Her watching it happen.

I think Bones (heroine) is in for some very difficult times as she confronts the idea of losing him and what that means. It should be good TV.

And Sinead - they play reruns on TNT everynight. Very easy to get caught up.

Eileen said...

"It’s what your characters are going to change about the way the act, think and feel that makes them able to handle that love… that’s the challenge."

Thanks, Steph! That was a totally awesome thing to read as I outline my new project.

Maureen McGowan said...

I never got into Bones, but I do know a lot of people who like it. Sounds like they did a good job of it.

And on Glee... it fit her character, I guess. That show is so crazy over the top they can do little wrong in my eyes.

And I'm with Eileen, that summation of what makes a good romance was awesome, Steph.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I've caught Bones off and on and I always wonder why I don't watch it religiously because it usually is satisfying. The science seems a little far fetched to me, which is why Fringe is another show I can take or leave. I am a real stickler for science...

i'm laughing at my own joke.

but the romance lightbulb Steph - well put.

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