Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why is Everyone Always So Tired

Scott D. Parker

When's the last time you read about a fresh face in a mystery story? I don't mean fresh as in brand-new to the ever-growing number of mystery novels. I'm talking about the characters themselves. Let me explan.

In many--many!--mystery and crime stories, the main character seems to always be a wise, old veteran. And, more often than not, it's a he who has seen it all, done it all, and is currently bored with it all. The trope is tried and true, and most readers just eat it up. Heck, even I do.

Science fiction has its fair share of seen it all/done it all heroes, but it also possesses the newbie, the freshman if you will. Think of Luke Skywalker. He didn't know a thing, and it was left up to nearly every other character (including the seen it all/done it all Han Solo) to show him the wider world in which he lived. In SF, the freshman is the gateway to the new, imagined world.

There are mystery examples of "Luke Skywalker" too. Take Castle. He's a newbie to official police procedures being schooled by the veteran Beckett. Same with Monk and his assistants, and any number of other examples.

Why is the seen it all/done it all trope so effective? Is it, perhaps, that we are the newbies and the weary narrator/protagonist is our guide? Might it be difficult to have a freshman protagonist to show us "freshmen" readers the ropes? How might that work? Come on: I know they are out there, and I know y'all know it.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Superheroes can sometimes be the same way. As much as I love Batman--still my favorite--he is almost the quintessential been there/done that guy. There isn't anything he hasn't already experienced, planned for, or guessed at. Which is why the current storyline is the new "Batman" comic is so good.

The Court of Owls is, basically, a secret society that has operated in Gotham for decades. And it is something Batman never saw before. The writer--Scott Snyder--has even gone so far as to add nuances and new twists on the classic Batman origin story. Batman's vulnerability to this group has made this new series very interesting again.

It's a new take on an old character. Tomorrow, for those of us in America, the second season of BBC's "Sherlock" starts. Talk about a breath of fresh air! This series is splendid. It's been a long year over here that finally ends tomorrow.

Which brings up another question: are there any established characters who could use an update? Are there any characters that should never be reworked?


Gerald So said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gerald So said...

Veterans are necessary in procedural fiction and TV because audiences take some comfort in the fact that at least one of the characters, if not the main character, knows what he's doing.

There have been several book and TV with newbie characters. I think of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, hair stylist turned bounty hunter; ALIAS's Sydney Bristow; PSYCH's Shawn and Gus; COVERT AFFAIRS' Annie Walker.

Newbie characters are particularly effective at the start of series. As you say, audiences can identify with them. Newbie characters can become as tired as veterans can, though, if they never learn, if they're continually wide-eyed and naive.

One TV series that has had a good balance of veteran and newbie characters is NCIS. Gibbs has always been the jaded veteran, but early on Kate was the newest member of the team, then McGee. Even though McGee was the youngest he knew more about computers and high-tech crime than Gibbs ever would. After McGee, Ziva became the newbie. I don't know that they have one currently.

The reason for all this is to deliver something for everyone. Older viewers may empathize with older characters at the same time younger viewers empathize with younger characters. That way, a series appeals to the largest possible audience.