Sometimes I think they WANT a stupid character


The other night, I was watching the new television series Alcatraz, and something started to bother me about it. Now, it’s not a bad show, “decent but flawed” might be a good way to put it. But it suffers from lazy writing sometimes, and the episode the other night made that quite clear.

Twice in the same episode, the main character, a police officer, had a clear chance to shoot the violent assailant and end a string of bombings. Both times, it was clear that the bomber was happy to kill anyone in his path, in fact the first time it came up he threw a mine at the cop. A cop who had her gun trained on him while he turned around, armed the mine in his hand, slowly bent over, then rolled the mine a good thirty feet towards the officer.

Originally published by Apex Book Company, February 2012

She’d been standing there the whole time watching this, with a Glock pistol aimed at him the entire time, ready to fire. She watched some more, waited until the mine had rolled nearly to her, then dramatically dove out of the way just as it exploded.

She never fired a shot. This despite having enough time to empty her entire clip into him had she wanted to. She did, however, have time for a, “funny quip”.

It’s lazy writing, and it’s terribly annoying. Sure, the episode probably would end if she kills him before the first commercial break (which I think would be awesome to see happen, then onto a second story). But the writer should never have let that situation happen like that in the first place. Leading to that same spot could have happened many different ways, with the outcome the same (the bomber briefly gets away). Quite a lot more care could have been put into building something out of it. The writer shouldn’t just force a situation to feed the story, it needs to all flow together.

Let’s compare it to a different film, but similar situation. In the film The Bourne Ultimatum, the title character is chasing after a C.I.A. man that might have some answers. At the same time, an assassin is following the C.I.A. man, who has now jumped into a car to get away. The assassin tosses a bag at the front wheel of the man’s car, and starts off in the other direction. Bourne runs up just as the assassin is leaving, and Bourne might have killed him. Except, the assassin saw this situation coming, and the bag he tossed explodes, killing his victim and knocking Bourne down. The assassin gets away, and Bourne, though he failed, gets to go on another chase.

Alcatraz at dawn on San Francisco Bay

Alcatraz at dawn on San Francisco Bay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It works perfectly in the film because it leads up to it well, the tension seems ratcheted up, and nothing seems out of place. Bourne doesn’t have enough time to react, and barely gets a chance to even see the bag before it blows up. He’s failed, and worse for him he’s now knocked out. The plot, and the ensuing action sequences, move forward in a sensible way.

In Alcatraz, however, I was pulled completely out of the scene (and show). It makes no sense that she wouldn’t have tried to stop him, especially since he had just blown up a park and killed a bunch of people. She had plenty of time, and the only reason she didn’t was that the plot would have ended there. The writers painted themselves into a corner that they couldn’t get out of, and the only way out was to do something illogical.

Speaking of “painting”, this naturally brings up artists. Artists are not immune to doing the same thing, creating illogical actions to make something “cool”. I’ve seen quite a few covers where a character is doing something that makes no sense, and even interior art where the angles don’t work in the slightest bit.

Creating drama is great in the scene, but sometimes you’ll see a piece of art where the artist didn’t really think it through. Case in point, the women of swords and sorcery. Many covers of women in a fantasy image show them dressed in the tiniest of bikinis, showing more skin than Skinemax (as if I would–AHEM–know anything about that).

These women, painted to look perfect in every possible way and posed in the sexiest way imaginable, then have to fight giant monsters. Usually they are fighting in a swamp, or some horrific landscape, often even in the snow. The monsters are gooey, terrible things, a thousand times larger than the wee girl in the bikini. She’s still brandishing her sword as sexily as possible, though.

It’s like the bomber thing again, just with a monster.

It’s completely illogical that she’s dressed like that, and that she’d be silly enough to stand there and pose for the camera. It’s a wet dream fantasy for men, on the cover of a book that (I hope) the author would want the reader to take more seriously.

But, as with The Bourne Example Above™, there are ways to remake that image so that it really is exciting, and makes me want to pick up the book. Say, the woman is in full armor, feminine but still practical. Our angle shows us that she has a plan, be it magical or practical, but she’s obviously already been fighting. Her pose is tough and ready for action, and the monster is coming in.

I’d buy that book in no time flat.

As a creator, think to yourself next time about how a situation looks, and how it could be better. It should make sense, and be part of the scene or story, not just in there for looks. Lazy writing and lazy art just keep people away from your creation, and that’s the last thing you want.

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