Dennis O’Neil: Graphic Storytelling… and Excess
The galaxy’s bowl?
Captain Power’s goal?
Enough poesy. What we’re dissertating on today is not verse, which I’m pretty sure I don’t quite understand, but goals.
But first, a brief look at what are widely considered the seven basic plots. I’ll be courteous enough to add, under each one, an example of what it is. This I will do in italics.
Here we go:
Overcoming the Monster – Gilgamesh
Rags to Riches – Cinderella
The Quest – Lord of the Rings
Voyage and Return – Wizard of Oz
Comedy – Modern Times
Tragedy – Oedipus Rex
Rebirth – Christmas Carol
Most of what I’ve just tossed at you are narrative germs that involve somebody trying to get or accomplish something – somebody with goals to achieve. (Tragedy and Rebirth are hereby excused. And Comedy can take a nap, if it wants.)
That’s mostly the stuff we see at the monsterplex and it is a sturdy beast that’s been transfixing audiences for…I don’t know – fifteen centuries?
But, I shall now claim, to be as effective as they can be, goalish-stories must have clarity: the goal itself must be clear and the obstacles between the hero and his goal must also be clear. In order to pull us to the edge of our seats, the storyteller has to let us see and know exactly what the hero has to overcome and in so doing, generate and the suspense and thrills and chills that we’ve paid for.
And here comes the kvetch: Some of our storytellers are failing, just a bit, by giving us too much. You’ve probably seen it: Good guy has to rescue good girl and to accomplish this he must get past the head villain’s henchman. Okay, fine. But – we don’t know who these henchmen are, how many there are, what they’re capable of. So good guy stalks through someplace that’s badly lit and has a lot of corners, and maybe a lot of door and-what the hey? let’s throw in a balcony or two, and a skylight would be nice. Now, the big action: out pops a bad guy and bangbangbang. Out pops a bad guy and bangbangbang. Out pops a bad guy and bangbangbang. Out pops a bad guy and bangbangbang. Out pops a bad guy and bangbangbang. And bang bang bang…We don’t know how many of these faceless nasties the hero has to vanquish so we can’t tell exactly what he’s overcoming, nor what progress he may be making. And he does pretty much the same couple of things to achieve his victories: a trio of shots from his Glock, with the occasional lethal martial arts move for lagniappe. Finally, he confronts the chief stinker and do we doubt that, after the hero’s dispatched legions, he’ll be stymied by this loser?
Are you bored yet?
Two words, Mr. Filmmaker: rising action. It’s part of your medium’s basic vocabulary and it is still as potent an audience-transfixer as when, way back, Laurel and Hardy used it to get laughs.
The same act of mayhem repeated and repeated does not constitute rising action.
And who the hell is Captain Power, anyway?
THURSDAY AFTERNOON: Martin Pasko
FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases