Thursday, November 2, 2017

World building telling

There are two current shows that are receiving a lot of … deserved criticism: Marvel’s Inhumans and Star Trek: Discovery.  Instead of trying to forge through all the problems they have, I’m just going to focus on one that, in my opinion, they both have, namely not following the “Show, don’t tell” mantra in regards to their world building.  And just so you know, there will be some minor spoilers ahead.

The basic story in Marvel’s Inhumans is that Maximus, brother of the Attilan King Black Bolt, has staged a coup.  The main reason, as the show goes on, is that he’s deranged and power hungry.  But something that has been mentioned a few times is that he has the support of the lower class.  Apparently, the Attilan upper class live in luxury while the lower class works in the mines.  But I think there have only been two scenes set in the lower class section, for a total of maybe two minutes.  We’re told the lower class is put upon, but we don’t see it.  Which makes it – unintentionally? – awkward since Black Bolt and the other royal “despots” are the ones we’re rooting for. 

And it wouldn’t take much to fix this.  In the first episode, there’s a scene where Black Bolt is walking through an upper class crowd, and if I remember right the people are cheering.  If instead the people had been more restrained and some of Black Bolt’s guards had thrown a few people out of the way, then we’d get that these people aren’t the nicest ones and they probably mistreat the lower class.  And there could have been a scene were Maximus gave water, or something, to exhausted mine workers showing why they like him.  Yes, it would have been cliché, but it would have been something.

As for Star Trek: Discovery, the first two episodes dealt with the beginning of the war with the Klingons.  And they talk about the war in every episode since.  But except for one small battle over a mining colony we don’t really see any of the war.  In the last episode we were told that – thanks to the Discovery – the Federation was starting to win the war.  Could we see that?  Could we have seen them starting to lose the war?  If the backdrop of the series is the war, then we should see it.  Instead it’s like a movie following some people at Woodstock where we never get to hear any of the music.  Then why set it at a music festival? 

The reason we don’t see more battles on the show is because it’s hard to shoehorn the main character into a significant role in a battle.  But there’s a bit of a way to work around it, and that’s Captain Lorca.  Lorca is portrayed as pretty gung ho wanting to do whatever is necessary to win the war.  This is the kind of captain who would probably have daily battle drills to make sure his crew is always ready to fight.  But we’ve only seen one battle drill, and that was a prelude to the battle at the mining colony.  Instead of the current almost whispered, “Oh yeah, there’s a war going on,” having a random battle drill in an episode would be more of a “THERE’S A WAR GOING ON.” Also, after a drill – perhaps where the Discovery lost – Lorca could tell them, “Those were the tactics the Klingons used to destroy the Voyager, find a way to defeat them.” This way we would see more of the war than what happens on Discovery, and make it more believable for the crew to follow Lorca’s gung ho attitude.  It’s not much, but it would be like hearing some music in the background.

So in summary, if you’re writing for … anything, really, don’t think that just an occasional line about this huge element of the world is enough.  Actually show us some of this huge element.  I’m not saying that this one simple step will make your work better than Marvel’s Inhumans and Star Trek: Discovery, but it can’t hurt.

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