Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Good, the Bad & The Continuity

Well, it's official. Disney has announced that it's working on the new Star Wars film, to be released 2015. Ever since they acquired the license from George Lucas, people have joked about what they could do to it, how they can ruin it and all of this.
But as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter. Because I'm not a Star Wars fan. I think the movies are pretty average, to be honest. But one of the things I've heard a lot is:
  "Oh, they should TOTALLY use some of the E.U. Stuff!"
Which I don't really know how to feel about. I mean, for one thing, it's a whole world of resources to build a story from. But for another thing, I don't really want to see a movie about any of the background Star Wars characters who were on-screen for less than sixty seconds. But in doing research for an upcoming blog-fiction here [because I TOTALLY don't already have enough stories to work on, as is . . .], I've been thinking more about it. Not just Star Wars, though, but with other franchises, stories and continuity in general.
So, the Word of the Day is 'EXPANDED'.

Like I said, I think Star Wars is pretty Average. In fact, it is perfectly average. The story is based on the 'Monomyth', and anyone else familiar with it probably found the whole  "Luke, I am your father." thing a lot more predictable.
But Star Wars is the pinnacle Space Opera, which is why it was so popular. What made it so great is that it made Sci-Fi suddenly became popular, and so young writers looked at the potential of space and decided it could house their own stories. But not just any space, rather the "Expanded Universe".

Expanded /eks'panded/ adj. 1. Having increased in area, size, scope or volume. etc. 2. Spread out; Extended. 3. Expressed in greater detail; developed.

Expanded Universe is fiction which, extends, extrapolates and explains more about the Star Wars universe while telling their own stories. And this should be a good thing. I mean, I like the sci-fi stuff in Star Wars, but I think the story is boring. So: Star Wars - Lame Story = Good Star Wars       . . . right?
Well, you'd think so. But there's a few snags.
For one thing, Expanded Universe stuff is essentially . . . well, fanfiction (*shudders*). But what makes the Expanded Universe kinda cool is that George Lucas & company decided that it was all canon. This means that every story ever written by a fan ACTUALLY HAPPENED in the Star Wars universe. Or, to put it in terms you geeks can understand: ALL UR FANFIX BELONGS 2 UZ!!!11!one!!

Then again, this also makes it quite uncool. Because it means that every story (no matter who writes it) affects, and must be concurrent with, every other story that either HAS or WILL be written. And so writing with canon would just be a huge headache.
I know. Because I've danced this dance before . . .

If you've read my blog-fiction "Furby, Herbie & Kirby in the Starlight Derby", you'll know that I have explored other people's characters in my own work. Now, I wrote that story as a bit of fun. But because I am manically obsessive about my own continuities in stories, I decided to make sure that story 'made sense' in all three of the other stories universes. For example, Furby toys are said to live on a cloud near the sun. Kirby is from Dreamland and Herbie from California. Also, all of Furby's 'gibberish' dialogue is in Furbish, and follows their style of grammar. And Kirby's dialogue of  "Poyo!" is the word he says in the animated series instead of words (a lot like how Pokémon say their own names).
I did quite a lot of research (considering the length of the story) to get that right. And the reason is that I don't want a real fan of these works to take less enjoyment out of the story just because I made something up when I shouldn't have, or forgot something important. If I include a character, I want to do it properly, and the same would go if I wrote a story about those characters within their own universes, (even though I wouldn't want to. Because, fanfiction, amirite?)
But that is the kind of story I like to read. And the reason I bring it up is that a LOT of people aren't as obsessive as me about this sort of thing. Just look at the number of people who say "Indiana Jones & the Crystal Skull" just flat out DIDN'T happen. What kind of lazy bullshit is that?

But then again, Star Wars & Indiana Jones are easy. I mean, they were all made in order (or at least, with numbers in their titles) so you know where everything goes. But what about stuff that isn't so easily defined? 
Did you know that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein twice? Once in 1818, and then again in 1823. The second version is apparently more "conservative", and it's more well-known; but scholars say the first "better captured Shelley's vision". So, are we supposed to just read them both? Or, do we discard one, and read the other? And if so, which is the proper one? It's a nightmare!
Or for something more familiar to non-classical readers, how many
 of the 90's Batman films are canon with each other, not to mention the rest of the comic books?
And I really mean that, by the way:
don't mention comic books. The only comics I ever read came free in my newspaper, or off the web. And although some of the stories sound interesting, The complete lack of continuity just pisses me off. Tell me, at this moment in time, who exactly is Hawkman? Huh? HUH?! Any takers?
Didn't think so.

The point is, once you start to expand on a story, you change it. And while this can be a good thing, and even make the story better under good circumstances, the bigger a story gets, the more likely you'll run into these issues of continuity.
Hell, some stories can't stay in continuity with themselves, never mind sequels, prequels, spin-offs and the rest of the franchise!
And some people can argue that continuity doesn't matter, but that doesn't sit fly with me. Sure, in The Simpsons, it doesn't matter if they break the laws of physics, or Bart is technically 40 years old or Homer & Marge have told the story of how they met about sixteen times or whatever, because it's all a joke, and often the different continuities are to help the comedic absurdity of the show. If you're taking shows like that seriously, then you're doing it wrong.

But in shows where there is established character, setting, magics/science and plot; ignoring continuity is just lazy. Since all you have to do is READ (or watch) your own work! You're asking the audience to look at your work, so why can't you?
But now I hear you say: "What about those long comic-book, or just long-running television shows? Does that mean they ALL have to be consistent?"
Well, for the most part, my answer is simple:
Stories need to have an end.

  "The star that shines brightest, is all the more glorious for its brevity." [thanks be to Zero Punctuation for that reference] So if you think it's too difficult to comprehensively read through & fix a continuity: YOUR STORY IS TOO LONG. End it.
Superhero comics seem to have provided their rebuttal to that idea by having their 'stories' end, while their 'characters' live on. Which I can kinda dig . . . and with some of the interesting things they've done with their characters, perhaps actually reading a comic book will change my opinion.But for now, I firmly believe that poor continuity (even if you retrospectively fix it) is just poor storytelling.

Stories, ideas and imagination are infinite. There are so many ideas out there, you don't need to hang onto one idea and try to keep getting more out of it. I can understand wanting to expand on an idea a little. It can expand on that joy, and continue it.

But if the story is getting so big that it's starting to lose coherency, and you're idea isn't staying fresh, just stop and write a different story.

That's all I have to say about Continuity for now.

Of course . . . there is another way to keep a story 'fresh'. And you don't have to bother with continuity at all. Lately, Hollywood has been using this notion of taking an OLD idea, and starting again, from scratch.Remakes, huh? Well, I've got a lot to say on the matter . . . which is why we're gonna talk about that, next time.

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