#11 - Tropes: The Road Too Traveled
There’s a common trope in film, TV, and books, and that’s the idea that you can write the chase, but you can’t write the relationship. As Rob Thomas said of killing off a major character in the most recent Veronica Mars season: “There are not many shows about kickass detectives and their boyfriend at home.” He goes on to say: “There’s a reason shows end when the couple gets together.” (full article here)
I think it’s high time we start inspecting statements like “there’s a reason that ____” and “no story does ____”. Yes, there IS a reason shows and movies and books “don’t do that.” It’s because we assume that because there is this trope, then so it must be. Since it “works”, we can’t do something else. And so ensues repetitive and predictable writing. So goes the real death of many great stories.
To me, it’s gotten tired and boring watching the “will they or won’t they?” dance, knowing in your heart of hearts that they probably never will, and if they do, you won't get to see it. The Chase and Will They or Won't They? often go hand-in-hand. They're fine and they're fun...up to a point. It's like watching a house being built that never gets finished. Yeah, it's cool to make it and see how it's done, but if you never get to sit in it, if you never get to enjoy your life in it, what's the point?
It perpetuates the idea that the chase is the most important part. It’s where all the fun happens. Then you live happily ever after, or you end up in a boring, miserable relationship. We’ve black-and-whited an entire dynamic section of life. How uncreative is that?
The thing is, when I see a couple I want together, I actually want them together. I want to see them work their stuff out and make each other better and still be independent people. Hell, at this point, it’d almost be revolutionary.
As ridiculous of a show as Riverdale is, that’s one thing I have liked about it. The characters of Betty and Jughead began in that trope and, despite some blips, actually manage to be together for an extended length of time. It doesn’t ruin their dynamic or make them boring. They’re both nuts in their own rights, and so is everyone around them, so there’s plenty of drama to go around. It's actually not a bad example, even if the show is just stupid fun. They both go on solving the crazy mysteries and conspiracies of Riverdale, and they don't even do it together half the time.
That’s one thing I enjoy about writing LGBTQ characters. You figure yourself out, you get together, and that’s still half the battle. It can be for any couple, but it is particularly so when a large portion of the world still fights against you—when you’re still figuring out how you fit into a world you might not feel comfortable in yet. Even there, you run into those tropes.
Will They or Won’t They? and the emphasis on The Chase are two of the many tropes writers can fall prey to. Killing off beloved characters or making a character do something horrible to ruin a relationship are often cheap fixes to a problem that doesn’t need solving. It needs writing. So, be creative. If you feel like you have to do something in order for your story to work because everyone else did it, take a second, and ask yourself “Do I actually?”
Don’t always take the easy route. It’s often the road most traveled, and we will find no new ways if you never veer off the path.
How do you feel about the idea that couples getting together is the death of a story? Let me know in the comments!
I’m not one to go off about TV shows (at least not in writing), but I’ve watched Veronica Mars since I was 12-13 years old. I donated one whole dollar to the KickStarter campaign. Ya know, so they’d break the record of most backers. I’ve a vested interest. Obviously more emotionally than financially, but that’s beside the point. I’m a writer. When things go wrong (to me), I don’t just sit back and be mad about it. I think. I figure out what could have or should have been. If you’ve seen season 4, you know what I’m rewriting in my head. So, let’s talk about it.
Logan Echolls’ tragic and pointless death.
Decorated naval intelligence officer, beloved character for 15 years, dies by a bomb in a car, planted by one-season villain, Penn. That’s a level of impact that little toad definitely didn’t deserve. It’s beside the point, but it was extremely obvious that he’d planted a bomb when he tells Veronica to come visit him in prison if she’s “still around.” The OG Veronica Mars would have spotted that red flag a mile away and found the bomb.
But Logan had to die, right?
Kristen Bell said an an interview, “I would say that I hope people recognize without conflict, there is no show. They would be dissatisfied if we had a perfect show. It would be lame. It would not be a reinvention of anything. It would not make any progress in Veronica’s life.” (1)
Absolutely, but I don't think that's the conflict that had to be. Now, I’m no stranger to killing off main characters. When my books are published, I’m sure I’ll have my own backlash. I, however, avoid killing off main characters solely to “forward” the plot of another at complete disregard to that character’s entire existence. To me, that’s cheap writing. That’s a lack of creativity.
That’s what bothers me about Logan’s death. Its only purpose was to move Veronica’s life into a new chapter. A major character, with an abusive, murderous, dead father, a murdered girlfriend, seasons of turmoil and growth, dies for no good reason. He wasn’t even supposed to die. The worst part? We know who did it, and he’s already in jail. That’s it. End of storyline. No mystery, far as I can see. How’s that for “conflict”? Sorely lacking so far. Veronica moves on, with even more baggage and trauma than she already had.
The thing is, Logan could be killed, but Logan dying as a fluke is a disservice to the character, the show, and the fans. If you kill Logan, that should be a great mystery. THE great mystery, even. Veronica should become unhinged. She should search for his killer like she’s never searched for a killer before. It would be like a full-circle throwback to season 1. Veronica searches for the murderer of Logan’s girlfriend, Lilly Kane, only to one day search for Logan’s killer. It would propel Veronica into a whole new level of bitter PI. Of badass PI. Once that’s solved, she can go on to her new detective life in some new town, like the ending of season 4 implies.
Another thing that felt off about season 4 was the tone. It felt...lighter. Less real. Less gritty. For example, the two Mexican gangsters ended up mostly just comic relief. If you think back to the Fitzpatricks, another lesser level of villain, they were a little silly at parts, sure, but they were silly in a chilling sort of way. An unhinged way. Instead of spotlighting them, I would have made them mysterious and dark. Perhaps we don't know who they’re avenging or who they work for. Perhaps Matty sees the killing of “Big Dick”, but we don’t know who has done it. Matty snaps. She becomes obsessed with finding out who they are. Not exactly to find them, but because she just has to know. She has to make sense of what she saw. She uncovers something dark. It’s too much, and she kills herself, but Veronica doesn’t buy it. She investigates, and she finds out that it was murder made to look like suicide. She finds out that those machete-wielding guys? They work for some crime lord running a human trafficking empire from Mexico to the US. Government officials benefit. That secret society at Hearst? They could be involved. Maybe they’re provided girls. That’s the mystery Veronica could solve. Or you kidnap Matty, if murder is a little too much. But hey, Lilly Kane was a teenager when she was killed. It’s a nod to those times, but at a whole new level.
And Logan? He could be part of the show. He could be trying to keep Veronica level when she’s going nuts with guilt over Matty’s death. It's like a twist on how they originally were. Veronica is the one who needs to be controlled. He goes off on missions, anyway, so he doesn’t always have to be around. Imagine Veronica being around Wallace’s kid. Maybe Logan starts to want to have a baby, but Veronica can’t handle it because she’s so guilt-stricken by what happened to Matty. She’d feel like she’d get her kid killed.
I know Rob Thomas feels that a happy couple is the end of a show. I think that’s a little twisted thought. He also has said that he wanted to shed the teen drama side (more here). Being a married couple kinda does that… But hey, that’s just my opinion.
Another option: Logan could come back from deployment shell-shocked, drinking away his demons. Even killed. Veronica could uncover a whole government conspiracy trying to find out the truth, trying to avenge Logan, or if alive, lift him from his guilt and trauma. It’s drama, sure, but it’s not the teen kind. It’s the real-life kind. The character dynamics have always been the heart of Veronica Mars, after all.
The thing is, Logan can die. I can get behind that idea creatively, but not the WAY that he died. The pointless way. I’m sure Veronica will be dark and bitter now, and that’s not bad for her character. She needs that, but I don’t think this was the only way to do it. Throwing away Logan’s epic storyline, reducing him to a casualty tied up in a nice little bow of the killer-is-already-behind-bars, is not what I expect of Veronica Mars. It’s a fizzle of an ending to a fire of a character.
When it comes to writing, sometimes a pointless casualty is warranted, like in the case of a war. Logan’s death served no greater function. A well-written, fully fleshed out major character who existed fully outside of Veronica was reduced to a plot device. That’s a damn shame.
Who knows what will happen in season 5 of Veronica Mars, if it happens, but from what I’ve seen so far, I’m extremely skeptical. Writers can do what they want, and Rob Thomas is free to do as he pleases, but I don’t have to agree. Seasons 1-3 are great. Some of my all-time favorites. I would have loved to have loved season 4, but as it stands, I don’t think I can.
If you’re a writer, I strongly encourage you to dislike proactively. By that, I mean think about WHY you don’t like something and what you would have done differently to fix that problem. You can take that information into your own writing in numerous ways. It can be very beneficial.
If you’ve watched the show, how would you have ended it?