Den of the Cyphered Wolf

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Facebook Comments

Note: These Comments are from all across this blog.