New Year special – writing sins that scupper a story Part 1: Caprica series pilot

Weak story links, lazy plotting, wrong point of view, unsatisfying endings… Although Chez Morris we’ve taken time off from writing, we’ve seen some DVDs that have roused me to write posts of protest. So, to keep your critical faculties ticking over until life resumes as normal, I thought I’d share them with you in this five-part mini-series. (And yes, beware spoilers…)


Today: Caprica – series pilot

Caprica started well enough, with a group of teenagers sneaking away to their secret online world. Then these characters are killed, and the focus switches to the fathers of two of the girls.

Writing sin 1: jarring POV shift.

Not all POV shifts are jarring, but this one is. We spend quite a few scenes with these teenagers, getting to know the world and what matters to them. After they die we need to shift to someone else – but instead of that being someone we are interested in, it’s the characters who so far seem to have had the least exciting lives. Although the parents will be trying to find out what their kids were involved in, we were promised the teenagers’ experience. For this reason, the generational shift is jarring.

Writing sin 2: character is inexplicably stupid for the sake of the plot. Later, one of the fathers tries to put the avatar of his dead daughter into a military robot. Inexplicably, once he has done this he deletes her from the computer – and this is clearly going to be important. Now, I’m no expert, but I never transfer a computer file anywhere without having a backup – and the only things I make are textfiles. A cybernetic scientist would, we would think, be neurotically careful, especially if the files were consciousness of his dead daughter. But for the sake of making the transfer a once-only thing, he had to do something stupid.

Tomorrow: Doctor Who Christmas special – The Runaway Bride

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  1. #1 by Dom Camus on December 30, 2010 - 2:46 pm

    Ugh – sin 2 is absolutely everywhere. Indeed, it’s so prevalent in film and TV that I honestly don’t think I could name five SF or fantasy shows that don’t suffer from it.

    • #2 by rozmorris on December 31, 2010 - 12:52 am

      Hi Dom! It looks as though you have a lot of people agreeing with you here. I think I’d name Fringe as one of the series that doesn’t use lazy solutions like this.

      • #3 by Dom Camus on January 2, 2011 - 6:17 pm

        Thanks – I consider that a recommendation! 🙂

  2. #4 by Ann Marie on December 30, 2010 - 3:39 pm

    I think pilots are almost all terrible: too much exposition, and the story lines are weird perhaps because they’re focusing on setting up the series rather than on the current moment. But Caprica’s sank my interest. The POV change wasn’t just a generational shift but political, as far as I could make out–the teenagers had an ideological position and the fathers sure didn’t look like they knew what it was, shared it, or would carry on the ideas.

    Dom Camus, sin 2 is one of my worst fears as a writer, to the point of paralysis at worst and pages of characters’ rationalizing dialogue at best!

    • #5 by rozmorris on December 31, 2010 - 12:55 am

      Hi Ann! I rather like pilots, because they are usually the biggest change in the characters’ lives. Certainly the pilots of yesteryear, such as the Six Million Dollar Man, were terrific – and then the shows that followed were routine and trivial.
      But you’ve put your finger on what can go wrong with a pilot – having to shoehorn too much in in one go. It’s the problem we all have at the opening of a novel, but some TV pilots get it wrong too. I think Caprica also suffered from this.

  3. #6 by Kevin McGill on December 30, 2010 - 3:48 pm

    I wanted Caprica to be incredible. But you were right, POV shifts and weak plot lines left the viewer confused.
    Truly, want to know what was the biggest point of confusion? Where’s my space battles?? Fine. Have your One Tree Hill plot line. But I want my space battles in exchange! Sorry. Fan boy got out of his cage this morning and still trying to coax him back in.
    In all, I could have dealt with the more urban plotline if the plot weaknesses you mentioned had been addressed.

    • #7 by rozmorris on December 31, 2010 - 12:58 am

      Hi Kevin! I was a little bemused at the lack of space too – even though I never saw BG. I reckon BG fans must have been even more confused at the family saga hybrid they were served instead.

  4. #8 by erikamarks on December 30, 2010 - 3:49 pm

    Hi Roz–number 2 is always a biggie…always. I feel the same way about the “convenience” factor in plots, which is essentially a version of the “dim” device…How many times have Ian and I glanced over at each other after a film’s reveal and said, “Hmm, I wonder how that’s going to ball things up down the road?” Because you always know it will. It can be tough to establish twists and challenges in plots, and so tempting to take the easy road out, but as you point out, the reader/viewer will always call you out on it–and deservedly so.

    Characters who make deliberately bad choices (ie Caprica’s parent) and then we the reader/viewer are asked to trust and have high regard for their intelligence and expertise soon after…well, that’s a rather big pet peeve of mine, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

    Happy New Year to you and yours!

    • #9 by rozmorris on December 31, 2010 - 1:00 am

      Hi Erica – and felicitations to you too! You’re right – a dim choice can make us feel we’re watching a schmuck rather than a character who is going to surprise us.

  5. #10 by Amanda Hoving on December 30, 2010 - 4:36 pm

    I especially agree with #2 (and also Erika’s comments). Intelligent readers want intelligent writing — which isn’t lazy or stupid.

    Very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Runaway Bride. Wishing you all the best in 2011!

    • #11 by rozmorris on December 31, 2010 - 1:01 am

      Absolutely, Amanda – let’s treat readers with respect! (But try not to confuse them…)

      Happy new year!

  6. #12 by Laura Pauling on January 3, 2011 - 7:55 pm

    Just goes to show how hard excellent writing truly is when even professionals make lazy mistakes. Some things are so hard to see in our own writing. We justify. We rationalize. We ignore. Lesson learned. HOpefully.

    • #13 by rozmorris on January 4, 2011 - 3:08 pm

      Laura – that is such a good point. Especially ‘we ignore’. That’s one reason why we need to take breaks from the manuscript, so that if something is wrong we have the stamina to do the necessary work.

  7. #14 by Jonathan Moore on January 5, 2011 - 1:21 pm

    Hi Roz,

    As you say, sin number 2 can be resolved by stepping back from your manuscript and being prepared to work hard to solve the issue. I think I can do this.

    Sin 1 is another matter. Is there anything wrong with having your POV character an observer of the main character and then changing to the MC’s POV? I think I avoid the pit fall you outline above, because the story doesn’t move from a more exciting character to a less exciting one, it’s just a way of considering the hero from the outside first.

    • #15 by rozmorris on January 5, 2011 - 1:36 pm

      Hi Jonathan! No I don’t think that kind of POV shift is necessarily a problem. Of course it’s hard to generalise as the author’s voice and the characterisation will make a lot of difference, but I think in this case the problem was that the parents simply weren’t as interesting as the teens, and the questions we were getting involved in were whisked away.

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