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Avoiding "Look, I've seen the show!" Syndrome

Posted: Jul 5th 2003, 6:36 pm
by lizardcub
One problem I've encountered in writing my first fan fic is distinguishing between actual continuity that develops organically out of my scene and things I'm tempted to put in just because they refer back to something in an actual episode.

I want my fan fic to be something that could pass for an actual episode of the show, not something full of MSCL fan in-jokes and references to earlier episodes that I only put in because I can. But sometimes I have trouble determining whether a particular reference (to a character or event we've already seen) is a nice continuation of the story, or an overly coincidental repitition that rings false.

How have other fan fic authors dealt with this problem? When you need something done and it doesn't much matter who does it, how do you decide whether to use a major character, a minor character we've seen before, or a character you made up? When you need characters to make small talk, how do you decide whether to make it about something we've seen before or about something new? And do you worry about your episodes coming across as full of references to the show that are cute but that seem a little too pat? etc.

Thanks a lot for any help. I hope this question isn't hard to answer in the abstract.

Posted: Jul 5th 2003, 8:59 pm
by TomSpeed
Although I don't refer too much to actual events that happen in the show, I do refer to the show in my major themes. I think you have to have some stuff from the show, or you might as well write something else. It's a matter of I degree. It might help you to think about the themes you want to develop. Maybe two or three themes would be a good start. Two of the themes I've used are the characters' interaction with food and the development of Angela and Brian's relationship as a parallel to Graham and Patty's relationship. I also mix and match things from the show with my story. I don't know if the stories I've written stand on their own or not. I need to get cracking on my second one though. Anyway, write for yourself. If you enjoy what you write, you've accomplished something.

Just my $0.02

Posted: Aug 31st 2003, 12:49 am
by _MackTuesday_
I'm not a big fiction writer and I certainly haven't written any fan fiction for this show, but I know what I would do. I would start by dividing the world into two parts: Parts the show has already exposed and parts the show has yet to expose. I don't mean that to sound as chronological as it might sound.

The information you have to start with consists of two things: what the show has exposed and what you can infer about the exposition. So for the first part of the world, gather all the knowledge you can and analyze it to the best of your ability. Attempt, as much as possible, to gain an honest and comprehensive perspective of the state of the world as presented by the show.

The second part of the world is stuff you get to make up. You can create literally anything you want that is consistent with the first part.

Maybe you already know these things, but they answer your question. You make stuff up and the characters react to it. A lot has already happened in the show for the characters to react to. You can have them continue to react to that stuff or you can throw new stuff at them. Based on your understanding of the characters, ask what they would do in the situation and setting you want to treat, come up with the best answer you can, and write it down.

In other words, two things drive the plot: an honest and realistic portrayal of the characters, and stuff that you throw at them. If you don't like how the characters respond, throw something different at them. Keep throwing different things at them until you can manipulate them to your liking.

Other than that, you are free to do anything. When something needs to be done but it doesn't matter who does it, pick the character that you would most like to see do it. Or pick the character that you think others would most like to see do it. Of course you will develop some motivation for the character. You might consider taking whatever gives that character motivation and having it drive some other character to do something, or make that thing into its own subplot, or make it an element of some overriding theme for the episode. Maybe draw parallels with some other character's subplot. Try to make it connect up with something else in the storyline.

As far as small talk goes, in good fiction, there *is* no small talk. Every scene advances the story in some way, by developing a character, or developing a character's reaction to something, or developing the plot itself. If it isn't necessary, throw it out. If it isn't consistent, throw it out. The same goes with putting in trivia just because you know it. Forget about yourself and document the actions of the characters. Content from previous episodes will show up when and if it is relevant.

Sorry if you knew a lot of the this stuff. I just figured I'd err on the side of caution.

Posted: Sep 2nd 2003, 10:26 am
by lizardcub
_MackTuesday_, thanks, that was helpful.

Re: the "there is no small talk." I've read this many times, and I agree in theory. But then I watch actual MSCL episodes and I'm struck by how much it seems like we're watching my actual friends and family interact, and I think, how do I do that solely with functional dialogue?

Recently I was watching Betrayal and you know the scene with Patty and Graham early on where he doesn't want to talk to Hallie on the phone because he hasn't read the prospectus? This does sort of establish a major conflict for the episode, but in terms of actual information conveyed, the scene is almost totally unnecessary. We learn very little, IMHO. On the other hand, we see a little bit more of how Patty and Graham interact with each other and it feels like a real scene, not just something narrowly meant to explain something to the audience.

I guess the real problem might be that I'm not skillful enough, yet, to have a good intuition about which casual dialogue is really revealing something new about the characters' relationship, and which is just taking space?

Posted: Sep 2nd 2003, 11:27 pm
by _MackTuesday_
I went and read the transcript for the scene you mentioned. I have some opinions, just remember that I don't pretend to be any sort of expert.

I think that scene established two things: first, that Graham hadn't read the prospectus and knew that was going to cause some conflict with Hallie; second, that Camille and Patty were working together on the clothing drive for church.

That little thing about the prospectus appears to be a point of contention between Graham and Hallie later in the episode. It seems to lead to a tiff.

The clothing drive allows Camille to meet Hallie and form an opinion of her. This leads Camille to inform Patty about her theory regarding cheating husbands, which becomes very important in our and Patty's perceptions during Betrayal and the final episode. Furthermore, in that same scene we see some development between Patty and Camille, which is explained later when Patty confesses to having slept with Camille's ex all those years ago.

So in and of itself, the scene you asked about doesn't amount to much, but it does set up some very important devices.

I find myself wondering why it was necessary for Hallie to call during that scene. What if she hadn't? Hm... ... ... the only thing it seems to do is drive home that Graham really doesn't want to deal with Hallie at that moment. I don't know. Maybe it was just an error on the part of the author. Writers aren't gods, you know. Or maybe I'm right and just don't understand why it's so important to the story. Or maybe I just don't know what I'm talking about. Maybe there are things going on inside Graham that haven't yet been exposed.

So how did the author decide what the characters should say between phone calls? It looks to me like s/he just took the subject at hand and had them talk about that. All that was needed was a few lines to provide the proper timing between the calls, and people naturally say a few sentences to each other about what just transpired over the phone, especially when it's somewhat interesting news or involves an event that will affect them directly.

What do you think?