Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Getting Meta: The Diegesis and the Fourth Wall

Media and Story
You can't tell a story without a way to communicate it. The way you tell a story may be with pictures or sound or written word but there is a separation between the story and the medium. To describe that separation literary theorists, the highfalutin' bunch they are, came up with a word to describe this separation between the conventions of the medium and the story. The diegesis, the classic example everyone and their uncle brings up to explain this is a movie's soundtrack.

We the audience can hear Eye of the Tiger, but The Italian Stallion doesn't have a Walkman. (That's right I still have my old cassette Walkman you fancy I-phone having sons of...

Sorry I started shaking my old man fist there for a second.) Theme music, most of the time, is non-diegetic. It doesn't exist in the universe of the story, but rather is a convention of the medium.

The Fourth Wall
Pretend you're going out with your lady friend. (I'm a straight male so lady friend came to mind. If you're of another sex or persuasion change it but lady friend rolls off the tongue, and I'm watching Deadwood while writing this so yeah I'm sticking to lady friend.) going out for a nice evening on the town. You decide to see a play. The actors are surrounded by three walls, but generally do not acknowledge the audience. The audience is behind an imaginary 4th wall.

Remember what I said in my continuity article about hoping the audience forgets it's fiction and just rolls with it? The fourth wall is a manifestation of that idea. It's the idea that the agents/characters of the fictional universe try not to let on that they are in a fictional universe. This normally accomplished by having them ignore non-diegetic elements of the medium as well as the audience.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

What do Malcolm of Malcolm in the Middle, Iago from Othello, and damn near everything Tex Avery ever drew all have in common?

They all love talking to the audience. They love to break the fourth wall. There are sorts of reasons to break the fourth wall, to impart the audience with privileged information, to crack wise while not quite behind a character's back,

Messing with the Diegesis

Comedy is often found in the difference between what the audience expects and what occurs. Most folks have been around the block enough to get what's diegetic and what isn't.

One of the trends in modern comedy is to play around with the diegesis and the fourth wall, and have characters who are expected to ignore non-diegetic elements and the audience interact with them. Character's commenting on their theme music, waiting impatiently for the slow motion to speed up, reading other character's thought bubbles, yelling at the camera man to get him to focus on what they want.

While I do think it's a tad bit old I do admit it is funny when ever someone says, "How can we lose with theme music this cool?"

There are two master thesi on the subject. The first is "Duck Amuk", where Daffy is pissed off at his animators not to mention his sound effect guys.

The next master thesis of playing with the diegesis is Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim. One of the major reasons people didn't "get" the movie is because half the fun is guessing what's diegetic and what's not. Scott has his (ex)band playing Death to all Hipsters, his kick ass theme music, interacts with text, and the jury's out on how the editing-spacial relationship works. It's subspace. Just go with it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Getting Meta: Continuity

Okay so in the famous words of Kevin smith, "I just hit a bit of writers laze. Sometimes you don't want to create, you just want to be entertained." Fortunately or unfortunately for you I find myself pretty damn entertaining. Yes, I know I am a narcissist. So rather than write I am going to do the thing all hacks do, write about writing. In Getting Meta I plan to write about some of the behind the scenes concepts of story telling, starting with continuity.

What is Continuity
You hear the word thrown around a lot when criticizing any type of story be it movies, books or comic books, but what the heck is it?

In general continuity is the established facts within a work. In a nutshell, it's everything the audience can be expected to know and believe about a story. Think about it. You're watching your favorite show, but you're trying to describe how good it is to a friend who hasn't seen it. Most of what you say, with the exception of fan speculation, is probably going to fit in the story's continuity.

There was this plane. It crashed on a weird wacko island. There is this doctor dude, and this chick who killed a federal marshal.

Why is it important
Generally, if a story is good the audience feels invested in it's characters and events. The problem is anybody with a lick of sense is going to go, "Yeah but this crap isn't real. Why should I care?" The writers already know what's going to happen. None of the characters are actually doing anything to change what has already been written.

Sorry Fred but the ending to the episode's script was already written when those words came out of your mouth and I bet ol' Joss already had a plan on how the entire season was going down.

The point is on some level people have to forget that what they're watching is fiction and just go with it. It goes a long way towards that goal if people don't have to stop every five minutes and go, "but according to the stuff I know, that could or couldn't happen in this universe."

Think of continuity as a big old giant dam. Now every time the writers accidentally or on purpose contradict continuity they blow a great big old plot hole in that dam, and a little bit a water (suspension of disbelief ) goes with it. If you have a lot of holes or the holes are too big this happens.

It becomes impossible for people to forget that the work is fiction and the whole thing caves in on itself.

Also it makes the fan base feel groovy when previously established events and characters that were thought to be forgotten become relevent.

Internal Logic
Okay to further explain I'm going to break up the concept of continuity further starting with internal logic. Internal logic is basically how the audience expects the world to work.

You're watching what you think is an old timey gangster movie, then all of a sudden 45 minutes in you have giant freaking flies eating the protagonist's leg. Whaaaaa.

The problem with getting internal logic right is that the authors have to look at what the audience reasonably expects.

Typically the audience expects the world to work the same way ours does or did unless the author flat out says it doesn't in some way, and even then the audience is going to think it only differs in the specific ways the author has suggested or flat out told the audience it does.

Think about it. You take a lot for granted about how our world works. Gravity, Newton's third law, the existence of certain countries. Unless the author tells you otherwise you are going to bring those assumptions with you right into the story.

And again once the author says, "Hey my world has magic that makes time travel possible," you expect everything in that world to behave as the author explained it. Why didn't they just use the stupid time turner J.K.? Why?

Character Continuity
I could go on a two year rant about this guy.

Mohinder was the character I most related to in Heroes. In a way I saw him as an older version of myself. He was compassionate, and curious, but he was also skeptical and rational. Then he did something that made my face contort in rage. He injected himself with an untested drug, which started turning him into the fly. This was the Mohinder who wouldn't chance 5 minutes of wasted time to check out whether or not what future Hiro told Peter checked out.

Part of what the audience starts to think they know about the fictional world are the basic personality traits of its characters. If a tagline for the next superman movie was "Superman will destroy us all," Fans would almost immediately start coming up with theories. Mind control. Nahh. Evil Clone. Nahh. Alternate Universe Kal-El. Nahh. Mitigating circumstances. Point is, nobody is going to just go with the idea that Boy Scout Kent got pissed off and decided to go on a rampage through downtown Metropolis to blow off steam. It's "out of character".

Historical Continuity
Put simply this is keeping the story straight. Events happened and they shouldn't be able to unhappen because the writer changed their mind where they wanted to go. It's mostly a problem in serial fiction where the story is released in increments and the writer got an idea they didn't consider earlier in the story. In order to make new ideas work writers will ignore or change things like what characters where doing or where they were. Don't! The audience will catch that shit. I love me some Titan A.E. But there is this chicken egg thing going on with the Drej and the Titan. The beginning says the Drej blew up the Earth because we were building the Titan. Korso says we built the Titan because we knew the Drej were going to blow up Earth. It can't be both. But I love that movie so I'll forgive it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

We are not idiots!

I just got NetFlix. It has tons of TV shows including Law and Order SVU. I used to like the show but watching around 10 episodes back to back I'm realizing something.

The writers think young people are stupid!

I'm tired of watching episodes where young people are made to look sympathetic because they're too stupid to realize what they did was wrong. If a twelve year old knows what sex is, he should know forcing someone to have sex is wrong. If a psychologist tells a 15 year old to take meds she should be smart enough to take them.

Maybe I was weird when I was a bit younger but I and 75% of my peers had some god damn sense. I'll admit young folks can be a bit impulsive and maybe a bit selfish but on the major stuff like murder and rape we know the difference between right and wrong.

The one thing that keeps ratling off in my head about the diffence between my genration and previous one is that we are skeptics. We don't believe anything unless we get at least 20 google hits from respectable sources confirming it. We call bull shit on almost everything. We have to. One of the things we had to figure out real ricky tick was figuring out when through ignorance or malice some form of media was being less than truthful. One of the first rules of life we learn is never take any piece of information for granted.

In short we are the, "pics or it didn't happen" generation.

My folks always tell me that sooner or later I have to trust what people say. Heck no. within minutes I can find out the truth, and whats more I know it. Its bad time in history to be a liar.

The point is we are not so easy to influence. We know that half of our heroes are made of bull and can say what they say and do what they do because they are rich and famous. Their world isn't ours.

We know that the other half of our heroes are stuck in their ways and are blinded by their own arrogance to see maybe that they don't know everything about everything.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Prince's Journey

A young warrior prince, and his army returned to his father's citadel after long campaign. While the retreating journey to return through the desert was harrowing, even more so was the battle leading to the retreat. Though his mind does not know why, his heart senses something of the battle does not sit right.

Before entering the fortress' keep he enters the hollowed out boulder the fortress' blacksmith has made his home to ask if he could repair his spear. He commands the men to return to his father and tell him of the campaign's outcome.

The smith's nature is laconic so it has become the princes habit to do the talking for both of them while blades are being forged and repaired. On this day his words turn to the battle. The blacksmith who has never spoken more than ten words to the prince in his score of years chooses now to speak two.

"Show me"

The blacksmith pores water onto the hot coals creating a thick miasma that surrounds the two. The prince senses a cut on his right shoulder but can not see from where it came. Grabbing a freshly forged scimitar he yells for his guard, but realizes he is too far off to be heard.

The princes calms himself and waits. He hears the steps of the smith and strikes for his leg. Before the sword meets flesh the blacksmith calls out to him and says. " I meant no harm but I think I know something of this enemy you faced."

I need to start working on older stuff, but... yeah here is another idea I want to put it here before I forget it because it was a dream. Also, in the dream the prince originally was one of Mozenrath's from Aladdin's generals.

Mozenrath by *ChemicalAlia on deviantART

I will save it for something else later.

P.S. I always thought Moze had good menace. I like that in a villain. Also in these types of stories I always related to the blacksmith character I'll get on that more in another post.

Facebook Comments

Note: These Comments are from all across this blog.