jenett: the milky way emerging from silhouetted hills (Default)
jenett ([personal profile] jenett) wrote2013-09-25 09:32 am

Salon: The question of narrative.

Welcome to this week's salon. As per usual, please invite people along, talk about whatever other topics you like, and so on and so forth.

Today's topic: I mentioned that I had just finished watching all of West Wing and how I found it actually aged surprisingly well (and how I think part of that has to do with the fact they all have and use cell phones.)

This got me thinking about narrative shapes, and how some things kick me out of story, and some things don't, and how that works for me.

So. What kinds of stories or narratives are you drawn to? Why? Do you have moments where you get shaken out of them? What shakes you? (And do you still enjoy stuff that does, or not?)

For me, I have huge narrative buttons labelled 'coming of age stories involving schools', 'competent people being competent, and competent and well-intending is even better', and several others. Stuff that kicks me out of a narrative includes people being stupid in ways that haven't been set up well, stupidities about technology, worldbuilding stupidities that lead to massive inconsistencies.

Today's food: I have mushroom soup in progress at home (caramelised onions overnight, put mushrooms and stock in this morning, will have soup tonight, yay.)
twistedchick: (Default)

[personal profile] twistedchick 2013-09-25 03:14 pm (UTC)(link)
I love the West Wing also, and Buffy and Angel. And, thinking about them, what strikes me is that those have the long view and the freedom over time to develop characters slowly, so that the accumulation of small details and individual incidents creates a richness that just isn't there in other forms a lot of the time. Some movies hint at this richness -- Brokeback Mountain, for instance -- but most aren't capable.

I'm drawn to stories by strong characters who are trying something new, or different, or dealing with realistic adversity in creative ways. What throws me out is when the writers ignore reason and forget the backstory -- or little things like the fact that sublight weapons fired in transwarp situations will backfire on those who have fired them, as should have but did not happen in the recent Star Trek movie -- because this jerks me into thinking that I'm watching a story instead of participating in it.

There has to be personality visible. There has to be a person acting, not an automaton, not just someone who is doing a job. I want to see what is happening from inside someone's viewpoint onscreen. Acting can be divided into internal and external -- the actors who take you inside and show you their emotions, and the ones who work on an excellent technical level but do not convey emotional content. If there aren't emotions there, it's boring and I don't want to see it. Many cop shows do that to me now; I have stopped watching police or medical procedurals to a large degree, except for Bones, which has personalities and emotions, and depth of characters.

kakiphony: Chihuly exhibit at the KIA (Default)

[personal profile] kakiphony 2013-09-25 04:39 pm (UTC)(link)
I too tend to like longer running shows for the character development, but I think they run the risk of hitting a point of diminishing returns when they have to make characters behave in out-of-character way to keep the narrative "interesting." It's sort of the soap opera problem -- no one can ever be happy for too long because you need conflict to keep things moving. I think Buffy started to fall into that trap when Angel was spun off (the Riley season is just...not good), but managed to snap back fairly well by introducing new and interesting characters by letting some other characters (Spike) start to develop into real people.

But shows like Northern Exposure and Monarch of the Glen just went on too long for their own good. Their later seasons are miles below the earlier ones in quality and just make me sad.
twistedchick: (Default)

[personal profile] twistedchick 2013-09-25 06:49 pm (UTC)(link)
I have watched every episode of Doctor Who from the first... till this year. The way women have been treated in the last season killed my affection for it. After a point I have to say that I don't care how good an acting job it is -- I just don't want to put myself through watching the torture.

Bones has lost some of its intensity, I think. It could regain it this season, with what I've seen so far, but a whole lot depends on whether Boreanas regains his smolder and the writing regains its sense of humor amid difficulties.

leanne: (Default)

[personal profile] leanne 2013-09-25 03:14 pm (UTC)(link)
I am too tired to come up with useful narrative thought right now -- though I think you can find what I actually prefer by analyzing the comics I write.

But I did want to say "mushroom soup yum!" and I'm coming over for dinner. (:
alexseanchai: quill, ink bottle, and calligraphy (Default)

[personal profile] alexseanchai 2013-09-25 03:15 pm (UTC)(link)
I go for fairy tales, mostly. Don't ask me to define a fairy tale. Especially don't ask me to define a fairy tale in a way that excludes the possibility of feminist fairy tales (whether new or retold from less-feminist originals) existing.

The only time I can remember being shaken out of a narrative, rather than looking back later and going 'wait did I seriously just [media-consumption verb] that' (howdy, Supernatural, episode with the black woman who is also a dog and who is owned by a white man, yech), is J K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. A character used a particular four-letter word beginning with C, on like page fifteen. I swear all the time, but not that word, because that word is misogynistic like whoa. I did not throw the book across the room, but it was close.

And, I mean, I kept reading Cherie Priest's Boneshaker to the end even after finding out it's a zombie apocalypse novel, a thing that (had I known it going in) would have kept me from picking it up in the first place. It takes a real hard kick for me to drop a narrative midway through. (That or putting it down for a while and just never picking it back up--I keep meaning to watch the last episode of Supernatural S8 but it keeps not happening; ditto the back half of Thor and the back half of Seanan McGuire's Discount Armageddon. But that's not the same thing.)

Oh, if you happen to have read Mercedes Lackey's Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms or Seanan McGuire's Indexing, I keep thinking that that premise could be turned to a horror story very easily. Just make the Tradition (if basing on Lackey) or the narrative (if McGuire) self-aware and manipulating which stories it tries to have repeatedly retold, in order to support the people in power and punish those without.
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[personal profile] theora 2013-09-25 03:45 pm (UTC)(link)
Stories in which characters have fundamentally different values and/or see the world completely differently, without anyone being cast as wrong or evil. Especially if two such characters value each other so much that they work toward understanding the differences. They don't necessarily have to get there (more realistic if they don't, even). But the process of 1) how can she believe something so ridiculous, 2) gee, wow, huh, the world she sees must be totally different from the one I see, 3) I want to see the world through her eyes, 4) damn, that's hard…I find that satisfying.

This is true for original fiction, which I don't read much of nowadays. A bit less true for fanfic, which I read more of and which is more of a comfort thing. I'll take cheap thrills from fanfic as long as it's well written and well characterized.
kakiphony: Chihuly exhibit at the KIA (Default)

Old Shows -- especially sitcoms

[personal profile] kakiphony 2013-09-25 03:57 pm (UTC)(link)
I find this topic fascinating this week because I have also recently been binge watching some older shows. (This happens at the end of the summer when I have blown through all of the past year's episodes...) I have been surprised by what I've found held up well versus what has not, and by what I found offensive, even in a historical context.

The show that shocked me the most is Hill Street Blues. I gave it a try since it's always listed as one of the best written shows of all time, and Hulu+ has the whole of it. I will admit that I'm not far in, but I find it difficult to watch. Many of things the writers took for granted in 1981, really get under my skin today. The best example is in an early episode in which two officers are called to a domestic dispute. The mother has caught her teenage daughter in bed with her husband (the girl's stepfather). Rather than arresting the man, the officers lecture the whole family. They tell the mom she needs to put out more, the daughter she needs to not walk around the house in her skivvies, and the father to concentrate on his wife. I was appalled and, frankly, I've had a hard time getting past it to watch further.

I've also been viewing some older sitcoms, notably Cheers and WKRP. I used to love both shows, although I watched them both in syndication since I'm just young enough that the first runs were on past my bed-time at night. Cheers is simply not as funny as I remembered it as being. A lot of the early jokes and the whole Sam/Diane relationship are quite misogynistic, and I find them rather tone deaf. I also find the characters of Coach and Woody extremely annoying -- jokes based around how stupid or naive someone is simply fall flat to me. The characters are either flat, stereotypes, or not allowed to grow and change much despite their long storylines.

WKRP on the other hand, I still find quite funny. Maybe it's because my expectations were not as high going in. (It doesn't the same level of love and admiration for writing etc and I remembered it as being silly, rather than "good.") I think it's that silliness that allows it to still be funny even when tastes and the radio industry have changed. It has a lot of good site gags, and the jokes that veer toward sexist/racist seem to have a lot more wink-wink/nudge-nudge behind them than those on Cheers. This is especially true of the stuff surrounding Venus Flytrap and Jennifer (Lonnie Anderson).

It actually reminds me of the way current shows like The League and It's Always Sunny sometimes take offensiveness no far that it becomes tame. Obviously, WKRP is NOT doing exactly that, but I think for some of its jokes to work the writers and actors had to have a really sophisticated understanding of just where the line between offensive and funny was, and also understand how sometimes when you crossed the line too far, it was actually a way of making something LESS offensive. I also think the show is a truly great example of why a really good straight man can make or break a show. Andy Travis is no Bob Newhart, but darn if he isn't close.

Speaking of Newhart, both The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart mostly hold up, although Newhart suffers from annoying plotlines and really terribly cheesy 1980s supporting bits (Larry, Darryl and Darryl).

Edited 2013-09-25 16:04 (UTC)
leanne: (Default)

Re: Old Shows -- especially sitcoms

[personal profile] leanne 2013-09-25 05:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Barney Miller holds up pretty well, though a bunch of those jokes would not be told on TV any more. I've just watched the first two seasons, and the only thing I *really* wanted to yell about was Chano's anti-gun diatribe on the poor guy who got mugged.
kakiphony: Chihuly exhibit at the KIA (Default)

Re: Old Shows -- especially sitcoms

[personal profile] kakiphony 2013-09-25 06:52 pm (UTC)(link)
That's one I hadn't thought to try. I don't remember much about it, so there's no real nostalgia factor, which could make for a cleaner analysis...
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[personal profile] aedifica 2013-09-25 10:37 pm (UTC)(link)
I also have a strong tropism for 'competent people being competent, and competent and well-intending is even better', which is why I read all nine books of that one Robin Hobbs series even though they're so damn depressing. (Very smart main character in the first and third trilogies.)

Things that throw me out include "wait, weren't her eyes brown at the beginning of the book? and now they're gray?" which yes, did happen recently, and it was a published novel. It didn't stop me from enjoying the book, but I did have to flip back to the beginning and make sure I'd remembered right.
kyrielle: A photo of kyrielle, in profile, turned slightly toward the viewer (Default)

[personal profile] kyrielle 2013-10-03 10:10 pm (UTC)(link)
Coming back to this late, but oh my stars yes, do NOT screw up your continuity people. Especially inside one book, but sorry, authors of long series need to at least try to keep track of it.

I read a book - not recently, fortunately - which was otherwise lovely but in which the main character (who had no disability or ailment or circumstance that interfered with memory) learned the same fact three or four times, at times figuring it out on his own and at others having it told to him, and *didn't notice or comment on it himself*. It's like the author couldn't quite figure out where to put that detail, tried it in several places, and forgot to take it out of all the extra places.

Professionally published. For the love of books, did the publishing house not have an editor read that?? (Possibly not, given the author is a long standing Name. Still....)
kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)

[personal profile] kaberett 2013-09-25 10:50 pm (UTC)(link)
Today's food included TRIFLE wot my mother made (it's not just the flavours - it's that I find trifle incredibly texturally soothing), and also at lunch I made a salad that I had been meaning to try to recreate at home. The original is quinoa-seeds-broccoli-peas-cucumber-goats' cheese/feta; I made it minus the broccoli and with only sunflower seeds, thereby confirming to myself that this is a thing I can usefully make and eat, and while I do not intend to buy quinoa (because, um, seriously, I think that shit is unethical since it became ~trendy~), we have two bags in the house we've had for YEARS (my uncle used to be an international expert on its genetics, y'see).

Stories and narratives: currently I am glomming hard onto anything that is about trust, and loneliness, and learning to be close to people. Elementary is doing this REALLY WELL for me, and the new season of Korra has... potential, provided I can get past the character assassinations various. And I am also watching Once More With Feeling about once a week at the moment. All of this is... not terribly surprising; they're the things I'm working on in counselling.

I've also been thinking recently about the Damn, Fandom Is Good At What You Do challenge, and that... is something I really enjoyed in the book I just got done reading (Kelly Jennings, Broken Slate, major trigger warnings for rape and abuse) - about people, yes, being competent people acting competently - but also about getting to read about rocks and people loving rocks. I was seriously impressed that in the entire 300-page novel there was only one point at which I buried my head in my hands and went "... no."

Things that kick me out of narratives... mm, I can't think of much fiction I've stopped reading recently; mostly when I've thrown things across the room it's been non-fiction. Things that will reliably get me to Not Read A Book include -isms that aren't problematised (e.g. I Could Not read Captain Vorpatril's Alliance; I tried, because I loved the Vorkosiverse, but by page 10 I was shaking and nauseous and just... couldn't, any more, with the cissexism); I'm thrown out by people who share major characteristics with me acting in ways that I can't even slightly understand (e.g. because they have been written, poorly, by someone who doesn't have those experiences and has made only a superficial attempt at understanding them). But these all feel like instances, examples, moments, rather than like things that push me out.
kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)

[personal profile] kaberett 2013-09-25 10:52 pm (UTC)(link)
Actually, that is a thing. Inconsistent characterisation, or things... brought up out of nowhere, apparently at odds with everything else we've been told, in order to... drive interactions. I feel very strongly that that is something that is currently happening in Korra, which makes me very unhappy, because I want to love this show and at the moment I... can't.
synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)

[personal profile] synecdochic 2013-09-26 01:26 am (UTC)(link)
as will surprise absolutely nobody, my One True Story is "there is this awful thing that absolutely must be done, and either i can do it myself, or it can be done by someone i trust less than i trust myself. fuck it, let's go."

or, for a shorthand: Magnificent Bastards, though not quite the way tvtropes uses the term. I have always, always, always loved the Magnificent Bastard. If there is a Magnificent Bastard in a cast, s/he is my absolute favorite: Citan Uzuki from Xenogears, both Tseng and Rufus Shinra from FF7, John Crichton from Farscape, Loki from MCU (not fanon Loki), John Constantine from Hellblazer, Locke Lamora from Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, Vetinari (and Granny Weatherwax), Melisande from Kushiel's Dart to an extent...

(Though, to be sure, not House, or Sherlock from BBC Sherlock, or a few others who go over the edge from Magnificent Bastardy to just plain no. My incarnation of the MB has emphasis on the magnificent, thankyouverymuch.)

latest example, as in, the ones i just reread: Lucifer from Mike Carey's comic book of the same name. a brilliant example of the trope, and his girlfriend/warleader/soulmate/i-don't-even-think-THEY-know Mazikeen is not far behind him.
synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)

[personal profile] synecdochic 2013-09-26 02:16 am (UTC)(link)

if you want your skilled and brilliant with complications, you will love Locke Lamora. so fucking much.

and yes, stright up heroic bores me, usually. i want my heroic with a bit of bite to it! (toby daye from seanan mcguire's series of the same name manages to thread that needle nicely, actually.)

mrissa: (Default)

[personal profile] mrissa 2013-09-26 01:32 am (UTC)(link)
I really, really, really love platonic friendships at the heart of narratives. I have no objection to love stories, but for whatever reason they are treated as obligatory in our culture, where friendships are not. (I also like love stories that are non-standard/non-obligatory. But that's a different thing.)
kyrielle: A photo of kyrielle, in profile, turned slightly toward the viewer (Default)

[personal profile] kyrielle 2013-09-26 02:42 am (UTC)(link)
Things that kick me out of narrative: inappropriate stupidity, and _embarrassment_. No, seriously. When I can see the main character about to do something that will be embarrassing or humiliating or awkward, I cringe - sometimes so badly I can't read the book again for days. I just can't make myself READ it happening for the longest time. Inappropriate stupidity leading to embarrassment is REALLY hard.

I like a lot of things, and I'm trying to figure out if I can tease a kind of narrative I'm drawn to out of them, but I'm not much braining at this hour of the evening, alas.
calissa: (Default)

[personal profile] calissa 2013-09-26 06:16 am (UTC)(link)
I am like this with embarrassment, too. It will be at that point I put down the book or wander away from the TV.
kakiphony: Chihuly exhibit at the KIA (Default)

[personal profile] kakiphony 2013-09-26 02:19 pm (UTC)(link)
Thirded on the embarrassment. I have been known to turn the channel until certain scenes end because they make me so uncomfortable. I had huge issues with the British Office for this reason.
kyrielle: A photo of kyrielle, in profile, turned slightly toward the viewer (Default)

[personal profile] kyrielle 2013-10-03 10:15 pm (UTC)(link)
Amusingly, my current nightmare for this is a radio commercial for State Farm (involving a ridiculously contrived call and some dude's mother listening in on him at 3 am). There I am happily driving along waiting for my traffic report, this thing comes on, I turn the volume to zero.

Sometimes, after 1-2 minutes, I remember to turn it back up and get my traffic report. Sometimes I don't.

State Farm is not winning my business this way. To put it mildly.
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Okay...

[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith 2013-09-26 07:42 am (UTC)(link)
I love fish out of water stories. I also love hurt/comfort for the ratcheting tension.