Something interesting I’ve noticed about stories. You have to be very careful not to trip over your own story. That sounds simple but as we move forward there is a new kind of risk there, there’s a veracity that can leap out and bite you on the ass if you aren’t careful. Suspension of disbelief will quickly become a problem if you aren’t careful. Here are two very common examples of what I mean:
When doing TV or movies and setting a story in the “real world” you have to be careful about guest players and how they interact. Because if it is the normal world, well then those extra actors you hire might be better known for being themselves than the characters you want them to play.
Take 30Rock for example. When they did an episode with Greenzo and had David Schwimmer play him. Fine. Except that Schwimmer was in Friends. A show that, not long before, a character on 30Rock was discussing watching. And referencing. And so when you see Schwimmer you expect him to be Schwimmer except he isn’t. And suddenly you wonder why no one is mentioning that, at least, he looks like David Schwimmer. When they have stars that weren’t on NBC shows it is a bit easier to swallow them as playing people not themselves. But when Steve Martin shows up? It twitches the story a bit. when you’re told Liz Lemmon watches Star Wars all the time because it’s one of the only DVDs she owns and they have Carrie Fischer on and it’s never mentioned, it rankles.
When you build a world with references you can’t trip over them. It’s annoying but it’s there.
Worse yet is remakes. Every remake has to, be default, ignore the previous version of itself. Otherwise it would be a continuation, not a remake. So, once it has to pluck it’s previous self out, you have the issue of ripples.
Most things don’t have a huge cultural impact. Take V. Sure, people liked the original a lot, but when they did the remake they just had to not reference V. V, in the world of V, never happened. So they’ll nod and wink a bit and say “Oh it’s like ID4″ and keep moving. Simple.
But when you look at Sherlock, the recent BBC Sherlock Holmes remake… well you have a bit of a different problem. Because that world is, by necessity, a world without Sherlock Holmes in it. Holmes never happened.
Think of it this way – Imagine a guy named Sherlock Holmes with a partner named Watson living at 221B Baker St and solving crimes in a world that had the Sherlock Holmes stories already told.
“I’m Sherlock Holmes.”
“Oh, like the stories?”
“But I’m really named…”
“Oh and I suppose he’s Watson, then?”
“And you’ll solve this here crime, I guess?”
“Yes… you see…”
“Oy, who’s pranking me now?”
So Holmes has to never have happened. But now imagine a modern world where Sherlock Holmes never existed. Think of the cultural impact the Holmes stuff has had over the long years. Now yank it all out. All the influence on detective novels, plays, movies – detectives themselves, and mysteries – all gone in a whoosh. It ends up being a very different world in so many strange ways.
But, of course, Sherlock isn’t telling the story of this very different world. It’s telling the story of Holmes. So it has to ignore the changes and charge ever forward. Because a lot of the time that is your only option, to charge ever forward and try to not trip over the interestingly shaped holes you’ve left in the world and tell the story you’re trying to tell.
It just is something you have to watch out for in a world that has characters, rightfully so, being culturally aware of their surroundings. Because they have to be selectively aware in a way that never draws attention to the blank spots that they simply can’t be aware of because they can’t exist. It’s a bit of a juggling act but not a death trap. Just something to be aware of.
The further we get in history the bigger these issues will be, as the weight of history only increases with time and the alertness and sophistication of the viewer grows every generation, if only because they have that weight on them informing them of tricks used in the past. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.
And yes, I will also discuss the use of tech in stories soon, no worries, because that is along the same lines as this stuff, but it is also ground that has been covered a ton. So for now, let’s leave it there – we all know the basic shape of it, anyway.