Analysis

Themes of Abuse and Solidarity in Netflix’s Jessica Jones Season One

Trigger Warning – abusive relationships.

The goal with this blogpost is to build on the post I wrote the other day about the importance of themes in fiction. I’ll be exploring the themes and thematic importance of characters a particular work of fiction and their relation to the real world, in this case the first season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones is the story of a superpowered private investigator in the superheroic world of the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ – the world of The Avengers. The scale of the story is smaller, making the tone more grounded and noirish. The first season covers Jessica fighting against her abusive ex-boyfriend Kilgrave.

For the purpose of this analysis I’ll be focusing on the following key themes:

  • Abusive relationships
  • Entitlement and abuse of power
  • Trauma, PTSD and guilt
  • Heroism
  • Female solidarity and empowerment
  • Male allies and ‘nice guys’

and the following key characters:

  • Jessica Jones – a superpowered private investigator
  • Kilgrave – her superpowered, abusive ex-boyfriend
  • Trish Walker – Jessica’s closest friend
  • Jeri Hogarth – Jessica’s lawyer and employer
  • Hope Shlottman – Jessica’s client and a fellow victim of Kilgrave
  • Will Simpson – Trish’s love interest, a cop and an ally to Jessica and Trish
  • Luke Cage – Jessica’s on-off lover and ally
  • Dorothy Walker – Trish’s mother, a TV executive
  • Albert and Louise Thompson – Kilgrave’s parents
  • Malcolm Ducasse – Jessica’s neighbour
  • Dr Wendy Hogarth-Ross – Jeri’s wife
  • Pam the Secretary – Jeri’s secretary and girlfriend
  • Guy in the Jacket
  • Guy at the Bar

Continue reading “Themes of Abuse and Solidarity in Netflix’s Jessica Jones Season One”

Analysis

The Importance of Theme in Fiction

In fiction, theme is what the story is about. So a romance novel will be, on the surface, a story about two characters falling for each other. But looking deeper, the themes will be what the work of fiction has to say about the fictional universe which the story is set in, and to our universe. Love is worth the pain that precedes it; love is where you least expect it; true love conquers all, and so on.

For Jurassic Park the most obvious theme is that dinosaurs are cool, but few films can become as successful as Jurassic Park was if that’s all they have to say. There’s also a key theme that it’s dangerous for humans to think that they can control their new technology – Frankenstein ‘playing god’ theme. It’s a recurring theme in Michael Crichton’s fiction, including Westworld and Prey.  Another Jurassic Park theme is the importance of family, in this case the non-traditional ‘family’ that forms between the central characters in the process of protecting each other.

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Analysis, Close Reading, Egotism

IWSG: Lazy Reference Humour

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, which cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge 2016

The suggested theme in this month’s edition is ‘pet peeves’.

One of my biggest peeves is writers using references in place of humour. Both Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory get stick for this – rightly in my opinion – but during the last week I’ve read an extract from the Ernest Cline novel Ready Player One which takes this to an incredible extreme.

There’s nothing wrong with fiction drawing on references to real life of course – in fact it’s a good thing, as it connects the fictional world to the wider real world, giving the fictional world a greater sense of depth and a broader range of material to draw jokes from.

One of my favourite examples of this kind of humour is from the second ever episode of Family Guy. After Stewie Griffin opines that television is evil because of its influence on Charles Manson, the show cuts away to Manson’s jail cell where he’s watching TV. Manson says “If I haven’t seen it, its new to me” – a slogan NBC were using at the time to promote their repeats. On the surface level this is (darkly) amusing because of the contrast between the very serious image of the mass murderer and the very silly idea of him repeating back an advertising slogan.

Thinking a bit more deeply, this is also a joke about the nature of advertising. By attempting to mould viewers’ desires to suit their own, advertisers are basically trying to do what Manson’s paranoia convinced him that The Beatles were doing.
Analysis, Storytelling Geekery

Star Trek: Into Dumbness

A warning – below the dividing line is a long series of massive spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness, the latest film in the franchise, currently in cinemas worldwide.

During the last week I’ve watched the first 7 Star Trek films starring the original characters, as part of a review for Ann Arbor Review. This weekend I saw Star Trek Into Darkness in the cinema.

For those with only a superficial understanding of the Star Trek franchise, the first 6 films followed the original characters – Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and all. There were then 4 film starring the The Next Generation cast – Picard, Data, Worf. The 11th film, directed by JJ Abrams has a time-travel/history-changing central idea, and stars the original characters at a younger age, played by different actors.
Into Darkness is the 12th film in the Star Trek franchise overall, following directly on from the 11th.

Star Trek Into Darkness is exciting, fast-paced, filled with obvious references to previous parts of the franchise, but there were a few times that made me laugh at how little skill the material was handled with.

I didn’t find Final Frontier, a notorious mess, as bad as Into Darkness. I’m pretty certain I laughed more at The Voyage Home, but that’s actually meant to be a comedy.

I’ve been thinking about what I liked and didn’t like in each, and have come up with 4 components to doing Star Trek right. It should be

  • Superficially exciting
  • Have strong character definition and interaction
  • Have meaty moral or philosophical arguments
  • Take place in a well-structured universe with understandable scientific and political rules, even if the science differs from what we know to be true.

Most versions of Star Trek don’t meet all four – for example the first film (The Motion Picture) is incredibly slow, failing the first requirement. First Contact doesn’t have much in the way or moral arguments, and there are notorious episodes  that fail all four, even from the classic series, such as Spock’s Brain, where aliens steal… Spock’s brain.
Into Darkness certainly meets the first requirement – being up there with the best of Star Trek in excitement, and achieves a pass on the second requirement, even though it’s a mixed success.
The third and fourth it fails miserably.

I’ve been thinking, both while watching and reviewing the first 7 films, and after seeing Into Darkness, about what I like and dislike about Into Darkness. I’m going to put a few thoughts down.

As a warning, the following is going to be absolutely packed with spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness. Read on at your own peril.

JJ Abrams, by Gage Skidmore
JJ Abrams, by Gage Skidmore

Continue reading “Star Trek: Into Dumbness”

Analysis, Storytelling Geekery

Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet – The Waterboy

A while back, I posted what was intended to be the first in a series of analyses of films using Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet.
I’ve put off doing more since. Among the reasons are the fact that the second film I tried to apply the formula to was Cowboys and Aliens, which I found difficult to classify at a crucial part, and Casino Royale, which I thought did some interesting things with its structure when I looked at it analytically. (I intend to analyse Casino Royale, but want to do a few more examples of the ‘classic’ style of beat sheet first.)

The next film I analyse will be a comedy – Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy.
When writing I felt like I was being a bit humourless looking at a comedy in this way, particularly one with a style so OTT. But the structure is still there, and is quite easy to spot, which I think proves that even bold, silly films like this need to have a decent structure to function as a story.

Continue reading “Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet – The Waterboy”

Analysis, Storytelling Geekery

Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet – Planet of the Apes (1968)

Blake Snyder wrote an influential plotting guide, Save The Cat, which contains his famous Beat Sheet.
Tim Stout, himself a writer of a how-to guide on writing graphic novels, has put a condensed version of the Beat Sheet up on his blog, and I’m going to quote the whole thing:

Continue reading “Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet – Planet of the Apes (1968)”

Analysis, Storytelling Geekery

Story Structure

Amongst the ways you can divide fiction writers are the division between those who like to plan their stories out beforehand, and those who like to make things up as they go along.
George RR Martin, the writer of the Song of Ice and Fire books which have recently been turned into the excellent Game of Thrones television series, describes this division as being between Architects and Gardeners.
The Architect plans things out in detail before starting, while the Gardener enjoys waiting to see what things look like, then decide where things will go.

A writer of Ice and Fire. And a Gardener, surprisingly.

It’s easy to see Architect writing style as stiff and uncreative. I’ve read writers who’d probably describe themselves as Gardeners who say that a lot of the fun of writing is seeing where the story will take them.
But when I try to write in this style, I either regret the choices I take with the story, or end up spending ages setting up a relationship or describing the working environment, or introducing the hero and villain, with no solid idea of what they’ll come into conflict over.
I’d definitely describe myself as an Architect.

As a result, I’m fascinated by story structure. I’m sure there’ll be people who see structure as the death of creativity. I’m pretty confident there’ll be some big name screenwriters of the 70s and 80s who see the arguments put forward by Robert McKee and similar prescriptivists as being responsible for the lack of creativity in modern blockbusters. (The truth is, of course, that it’s entirely Michael Bay’s fault.)

Having said that, he does do a pretty good impression of a tidal wave.

The best way I know of to achieve this is a term I’ve only heard of in the last year, ‘breaking the story’.
In essence, you start with the story that you want to tell. That could be a story from your own childhood, something in the news that struck you as fascinating, or just a bunch of characters you want to play around with.
You then ‘break the story’ to get across the things you want to say, the jokes you want to tell, in the best possible way. Story structures, if they work, are rough rules for when things should happen.

I’ll start with a really basic story structure, which you’re probably already aware of – the three-act structure.
In basic terms, the first act is where characters are introduced and a conflict arises. In the second act, things get worse and tensions rise, and the third act is where the finale and ending occur.
That probably sounds really obvious – if you’ve ever seen a film, read a book, or told a joke, you basically know all that. But I just used a basic example to demonstrate that structure and creativity aren’t necessarily opposed.

Anyway, the point of all this, is that one thing I intend to do more of soon is to reverse engineer existing stories, look at how others have approached the idea of structure.
I’ll look at Blake Snyder’s 15-part Beat Sheet & Dan Harmon’s Circles soon, and others not long after.
I’ve done a little of this before (though not on the blog) and I find it both interesting and useful to look at how other writers have structured their stories. So if anyone else reading this wants to join in and link to their own reverse-engineered story plans I’d be interested to take a look.