I recently binged through a Canadian TV series for certain specific reasons the least of which was the horrendous character development, dialogue, and contrived character situations. These least of reasons did inspire me to share something with you, i.e. how NOT to contrive dramatic situations.
Three contrivances that this series resorted to over and over to create drama were the following:
1. A character is presented with a possibility for success toward some goal and s/he throws one “what if” after another at it and an argument ensues. This is okay if the character throwing up the “what if” smokescreen suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but when all the characters do it throughout the series, that means the writer is out of creative ideas for character development. The drama becomes labored and contrived.
2. Two characters in an intense discussion/argument where one is about to reveal some deep secret or acquiesce in an apology necessary for the relationship to move in some dramatic direction and the interaction is interrupted by something – a phone call, a third character enters the scene, some emergency happens off-screen, etc. Again, this technique is fine to use once or twice in a movie, or in every third episode of a TV series, but when used over and over… and over… frustration sets in with the audience and it’s not a good frustration. It distracts.
3. Two characters in an intense discussion/argument and the distrusting/disbelieving one walks away… and the other character just stands there because the writer didn’t continue the scene even though it’s obvious that s/he would have pursued the other to clarify things, but the director has told the actor to stay in frame. Again, if the character that remains shrugs off the moment with the thought “oh, well, and c’est la vie,” or in slack-jawed confusion, that can be used once or twice depending upon the character, but when most of the characters, even the O-CD afflicted ones do it, I attribute it to the writer wanting to extend the conflict between the two characters. If this conceit is used frequently, it distracts the audience.
I continue to state that a dramatic writer must write each character from within that character’s skin and guts. You can’t bend a character to do, or not do, something that is against his/her nature just because you, the writer, need the story to go in a certain direction, or because you have another few minutes to fill out the episode. If all the characters sound and act the same, the story grows stale and the drama is muted.