Tag Archives: Breaking Bad

Points for the Protagonist: Our Unyielding Devotion to Character # 1

Ed Davad → in Toys “Gotta love Harry”

A devout fan of the television series Breaking Bad, I became disgusted with myself one evening while viewing an episode with my husband. At a commercial break I began ranting about ‘what a bitch’ Skyler White, main character Walter White’s wife, was for wishing her husband dead. How dare she deliberately smoke cigarettes in his presence in hopes of his cancer returning? How could cause her lifelong partner such intense bodily harm?

Then it hit me: Why wouldn’t she want him dead?

He became a crystal meth proprietor behind her back. He murdered people. He poisoned a child. Truth be told, Skyler’s husband inadvertently dragged her into serious and potential legal problems. He endangered the lives of their children…and yet, I’m calling her the bitch?

More like Walt himself is the son of one.

It’s an interesting notion to ponder, because I’m definitely not the first, nor will I be the last viewer to deem Skylar the enemy. The thing is though, the story is not centered on Skyler’s point-of-view, if it was, then we’d certainly be ragging on old “Heisenberg” a bit more. But since this tale belongs to Walter, and we as an audience are following his journey from lowly high school teacher to number one drug lord of the American Southwest, we’re simply always going to be on his side. End of story.

*Some other examples from the networks:

1. Nucky Thompson from Boardwalk Empire

2. Don Draper from Mad Men

3. Tony Soprano from The Sopranos

*Notice all these protagonists are of the male variety?

Ed Davad → in Toys

Why We Always Root for the Main Character

Outside of television and inside of literature, this is nothing new. We can argue to the death that Odysseus of Homer’s The Odyssey fits the ancient Greek profile of a hero, but in reality, he was a cocky, philandering, manipulative, and war mongering individual. Yet, we love him. For centuries now, we’ve been giving him importance. We discuss his adventures at length. We analyze his motives. Why? Because The Odyssey is a great story. And whose story is it? That’s right. It’s Odysseus’s story.

Have you ever truly hated a protagonist’s guts? I don’t think it’s possible. Yes, I have encountered some disappointing protagonists (see examples below), but otherwise it seems most character-loathing is saved for villains, antagonists, or other secondary characters.

The protagonist though, despite her many shortcomings is basically the person we’re hanging with as we read the story. She may do some wicked and selfish things, but as readers we’re so appreciative of the story she’s telling us that we’re willing to forgive and forget. Besides, if someone (whether it’s told from first or third person) is essentially spilling her guts, we’re likely to find at least some redeeming qualities.

Examples of characters we hate to love:

Rachel: Protagonist in Emily Giffin’s novel Something Borrowed. Rachel has slept with her best friend’s fiancé. Yet as readers we find ourselves rooting for Rachel to get the guy. She does a great job telling us how she’s always been second-rate next to her alluring friend, Darcy. Plus, we come to discover that Darcy’s done some evil deeds on her own. Rachel basically becomes your buddy. Wouldn’t you take your buddy’s side?

Edna Pontellier: Protagonist in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. She simply up and left her family behind (anyone can be forgiven for leaving an unsatisfying marriage, but to nix your parenting responsibilities?) simply because she was having inner-yearnings of something better out there. Yet she was bold, honest, and fearless. And since we’re hearing about her grief on such a deep level, we’re supportive of her decisions.

Ed Davad → in Toys

Examples of disappointing, but not hated protagonists:

Amir: Protagonist in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Amir watches Hassan, the son of his father’s longtime servant, go through a horrendous experience. Amir, however, does nothing to intervene and then proceeds to feel guilty about it the rest of his life. An underlying motive may be jealously as Amir’s powerful father, Baba, takes an unusual liking to Hassan. Amir is not to be despised, but he proves himself to be a weak character throughout most of the story. It is arguable at the end whether or not the amends he makes does proper justice.

Gene Forrester: Protagonist in John Knowles’s A Separate Peace. Gene is studious and introverted—which is fine in and of itself, but he’s also insecure. Very, very, insecure. So insecure in fact, that he sabotages the athletic abilities of his sprightly friend, Finny by basically pushing him off a tree limb. Gene spends the remainder of the novel contemplating in an obsessive, incessant way whether or not he intended to do his friend harm.

Both Amir and Gene act on jealous instincts, which are essentially, human. They aren’t evil-minded guys, just vulnerable to life’s natural hierarchy. Despite their actions or lack thereof, they are both phenomenal storytellers, and without their keen perspectives, the books would not be nearly as enjoyable to read.

The truth is we let our protagonists get away with quite a bit, but if we want to hear the story, if want to be entertained, enlightened, mystified and moved, well then, we’re just going to have to put up them.

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Books and Literature, Characters

Four Current TV Shows that Influence My Writing Life

Despite the mudslide that is reality television, rest assured that there are some high quality programs for your viewing pleasure.

But before you tell me to turn off the TV and start writing, hear me out.

These four shows are magnificently written, superbly portrayed, wonderfully directed, finely detailed, and case in point, remarkably thematic.Like literature, these four ongoing series leaves room for debate, discussion, and analysis. They reveal a small piece of the world. They are allegories for a larger purpose, representing a larger idea. Plus, they’re wildly entertaining.

Here are four of my favorite shows on television today, and why they’ve made me a more insightful person, and as a result, a more insightful writer.

Mad Men (AMC)

Set in Manhattan and surrounding suburbs during the 1960s, this show exemplifies America’s (so-called) “Golden Era.” Sleek fashion and  flowing  libations are common motifs. At the center of the show is Don Draper, the greatest “Ad Man” on Madison Avenue (hence, “Mad Man”) there ever was. Don plays other roles of course: Husband.Father. Philander. All the other characters seem to filter in and around Mr. Draper (if that’s really his name!)

Why I love it: As a country we sacrificed—hard—for prosperity. After the war we had the world at our fingertips. Our homes were manicured, our cars were enormous, and our families were flourishing. Yet we still wanted more. Mad Men reflects this notion. The life we  fought for became stifling, stagnant. Spiritless housewives. Cheating husbands. Alcoholic bosses. Despite the wealth and power there’s an undercurrent of desperation that exudes from each character.  They’re  enmeshed in their own making. Stuck in their own traps. Perfection is desired, but it’s a long way off. And none of them will be the first to admit it.

Breaking Bad (AMC)

Set in current day New Mexico, this is a dark world; the powerfully efficient, yet overwhelmingly private underbelly of meth ‘cooking.’ Protagonist Walter White (aka “Heisenberg”) is a brilliant chemist, and former high school teacher. After being diagnosed with lung cancer, he fears leaving his family  in financial crisis. So he teams up with a former student and spawns one of the biggest, most coveted, ‘blue meth’ operations in the area. The fact that his brother-in-law is a high-level DEA agent is just part of the fun.

Why I love it: To go from a mild-mannered high school teacher to an elusive, murderous drug dealer may not seem plausible. Or does it? The show captures the notion of the stranger (Billy Joel song here) that lives inside us all. It begs the question: what we are truly capable of? How deep is our ability to surprise ourselves? In some ways it turns into a question of nature vs. nurture. What lies beneath us verses what the world has led us to believe.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Based on the comic book and set in Georgia during a post-apocalyptic world full of “walkers” or “biters” or for the non-viewer, “zombies,” the show portrays Rick Grimes and his band of followers. Rick, who was in a coma during the onslaught, woke to find his world in disarray. Finding his way back to his wife, son, friend, and a group of surviving strangers, Rick leads the gang in an odyssey of terror, fighting off walkers and other violent types along the way.

Why I love it: You don’t have to be a comic book fanatic to appreciate the human will to survive. In times of turmoil, people ban together. We become both afraid of and tender towards the existing human race. The Walking Dead represents a world in horrific conditions. Death is an everyday occurrence. Modern luxuries have all but disappeared. People betray one another. No one—except those you’ve invested in—are to be trusted. And yet, amazingly, it’s simply fear of the unknown that keeps us anxious to stay alive, despite the circumstances or situations.

Speaking of comic books…

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Set in modern day California, super nerds Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, Rajesh, and their sprightly neighbor, Penny, keep the canned sitcom laughter rolling. All four guys are scientists employed at a local university. They struggle with girls, friendship, and family. They favor Star Trek, Star Wars, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, and various video games. But in the end, their hearts are as big as their brains (except for Sheldon, perhaps).

Why I love it: It is 2012, going on 2013. Face it. Nerd culture has exploded. There’s no longer a stigma. We all love the internet, we all love cell phones, iPads, etc.  The more special effects, the better the movie.  The nerds are the new heroes. What’s sexier than a guy who can fix your computer? In truth, if the future continues to unfold the way it has (who am I kidding, of course it will) the nerdy guy will forever perpetuate the scape of land.

Related video & article:

Amber Case on TED Talks: We Are All Cyborgs Now

Lev Grossman’s Time Magazine article:  The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

How about you? Any television shows make you think a bit harder once the credits have rolled?

 

 

 

 

 

 

17 Comments

Filed under Inspiration, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Writing Life

Sensory details

“If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed quickly, to trap them before they escape.”
—Ray Bradbury

Bradbury’s right on with this one. We intrinsic writers need to tickle our senses. I’m learning that in order to grow and flourish as a writer, I need to surround myself with “things.” All things. At any given moment, I am reading a new book, listening to new songs, delving into a new magazine, cooking a new recipe…it’s imperative. Ideas, if we let them, run rampant in the sensory details.

It’s important to mix it up, too. If I read nothing but literary fiction (my personal taste) I will dry out. If I depend solely on FM radio to provide me with music, I’m frankly, screwed. That’s what itunes is for, that’s what Rolling Stone is for, that’s what Pandora is for. Even Sirius radio. See? Exploration. Different sources, different sounds. And while I’m a writer who reads lots of writing magazines, I’m not ashamed of my subscription to O (Oprah). Know why? Ideas are in there. Lots of them. Handfuls of fun and chunky ideas.

I’m currently reading a novel that would likely be dubbed as “Chick Lit.” Not my personal style, but I got to put Jane Eyre down once in a while. I’ll sneeze from all the dust. I’ve read trashy romances, rock ‘n roll biographies, astrology books out the wazoo, and atlases…yes, atlases. I love atlases. I had a child’s atlas as a kid. It’s the number one reason my geographical/cultural knowledge is broader than most. As for music, I’ve taken a liking to sixties soul. Sam and Dave, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Coasters, Three Dog Night (actually, they are mostly considered ‘rock’ but I feel there is some soul-influence in there). But again, I’m scouting.

I find reality television empty and unbearable, but some new TV dramas–Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter–are fabulous for stimulation. They’ve got all the right ingredients: complex characterization, crafted plot lines, superb dialogue, thematic undercurrents. I think television series are more closely related to the novel. TV shows expand and develop over time, they run deeper. Film are like short stories. Clean, one shot. Not as much time for evolution.

Ideas come from garnering information, as much as possible. But if you’re intrinsic, you know that already.

4 Comments

Filed under Inspiration, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Writing Life, Why We Write, Writer's Block, Writing Details, Writing Process, Writing Tips