Monday, April 10, 2017

Canned Goods

A good day spent writing means surprising myself.  Random shit happens inside the plot line, characters outsmart the author, or best of all, I discover that final scene that makes the entire audience, myself included, declare, "Well of course that's what has to happen."

In contrast, the bad days are canned and routine, full of words, yes, but in the long haul, deservedly forgotten.  But even with those limitations, I might do that kind of work willingly.  If there was a lot of money involved.  If I didn't have to do it for years at a time.  Which wouldn't happen, because after three weeks, I would grow bored.  I'd probably work on my own stuff on weekends and lunch hours.  Except that words are like miles for the runner.  Only so many of each can be managed in any given span.  Four months of extraordinary pay, and I'd still turn disagreeable.  Unwanted twists would be grafted into the plots, characters would reveal bizarre tendencies, and if that rebellion didn't manage to get me fired, then a crippling depression would take hold.  Probably by the seven-month mark.  Which is when I would quit.  I hope.  Otherwise something more grim would happen, followed by a brief eulogy by my former co-workers during at the next morning's production meeting.

I have never met a professional fiction writer who isn't a passionate consumer of media.  Books and stories, sure.  But also television series and movies, and that underrated source of dramatic tension, news stories in their myriad forms.

Fair or not, what I expect from the outside world is much like what I expect from my own work.  I want surprises.  I deserve tensions.  And more than most audiences and even quite a few SF writers, I expect the narrative to make some kind of sense.

I stopped watching The Walking Dead.  I stopped last year, just before the famous bat arrived.  I'm far from the only lost convert, judging by the plunging ratings, but my complaints are rather different from most people.  Yes, I'm tired of the shambling pace and the do-we-fight-or-not tone.  But those aren't the killers for me.  I'm tired of Carl growing tall and masculine inside the very limited time frame.  (A far more believable and compelling story is to make every year cover a year, pacing the story to the boy's maturation inside a new world that he will possess.)  I admit that I have no relationship with the original source material for The Dead.  What I know is the series.  And within that framework, I can see a host of production issues, not limited to budgets and sets and the dictates of a corporation where important meetings have only one point:  "Kill our profits and we'll bash in your brains."

No, the worst sins in this show is the clumsy stupidity exhibited by characters who are far more simple than genuine people of very average means.  Really, at this point in the apocalypse, why would any two people stand on a hilltop, in the open, debating important principles of life?  The audience knows that enemies and their rifles are lurking.  And any soldier from any war has learned the same lesson, or she's dead.  To my mind, the only way to carry on a conversation is to find cover and sit down back-to-back.  Whispers and watchfulness.  That's how you keep the walkers and the humans from getting the jump on you.

Here's another big failure.  Farming.  Late in a previous season, a lady who's written to be smart draws a fanciful map of her lands being turned to wheat and other crops.  By "written to be smart," I mean that she knows exactly as much about farming as the writers who made her waste her final moments of life.  The kind of farming that can feed hundreds and makes life easy is going to require thousands of acres.  Fertilizers need to be applied or lived without.  The same for pesticides.   And this farmstead needs impossible walls that can't be breached by walkers or by humans.  No, if I was in charge of rebuilding agriculture, we'd do it like the Native Americans on the high plains.  Plant tough crops and move on.  Then come back again at harvest time.  A large sloppy technique, and your wheat would get raided.  But potatoes are hard to find, and on a substantial scale, those white gems would help feed hundreds.

The list of complaints continues, and plainly I watched too many seasons before quitting.

For instance, where can I buy a car that can sit for years and start with a turn of the key?  And how can any abandoned car still have air in its tires?  And for that matter, why hasn't the gasoline evaporated down to varnish inside the unused fuel lines?

Why in hell are the cities still standing?  Abandoned buildings practically want to burn; Atlanta and Washington DC should have turned to pillars of smoke and heavy falls of ash.  And the countryside wouldn't be spared.  Living and dead mouths have eaten every deer and presumably most of the mice.  That's why the underbrush would grow up thick, waiting for the next lightning strike and the resulting wildfire.

And now back to the daily business about avoiding starvation:  Insects should be on the regular diet.  Cicadas are a time of wealth.  And think of every funeral from this series.  Having life experience when it comes to digging holes, I know there's treasure in the ground, and the mourners aren't going to hesitate grabbing up the night crawlers, then sucking them down like pasta.

Finally, why doesn't anyone ask the obvious questions about this impossible disease?  Not that there's any virus or bacterium that can turns corpses into slow forces of nature.  I'm not saying that an origin should be found, or that the ultimate cure needs to be perfected.  I'm just proposing that smart people who dream about three acres of wheat might be more likely to spend time and risk death trying to make sense of a world-ending plague.

For some of these problems, there is an answer.  It's my writer's answer, assuming that I was hired to help find a suitable end for the shuffling the Dead.  We know everybody is infected.  We know because Rick learned that from a CDC doctor and then didn't mention it to anybody for a very long time.  Because he's a sensitive leader, I suppose, and he didn't want his people getting depressed.  Or for whatever other reason there is.  But what if it isn't just that Rick is infected, and Carol is infected, and one-eyed Carl too?  What if everybody who appears alive is not.  Our characters are already a little bit of a zombie, stupid and primal and at a loss to find answers.  Which has a historical precedent, as if happens.  A 19th century British venture, the Franklin expedition to the map the Northwest Passage, was lost.  And by lost, I mean that everyone died, and some died doing very curious nonsense.  For instance, after their ships were locked into ice, when they had no choice but to walk, they dragged a piano with them.  And why?  One factor was that this state-of-the-art mission that carried canned food, and the cans were improperly soldered.  As a result, everyone was suffering from lead poisoning.  Which is rather like a universe of full of walkers and foolish people who haven't quite turned yet.

Now that would be a very tragic turn inside a story that otherwise makes zero sense.

And sure, I'm fired.  But with my last paycheck, I hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment