Shock and Awe

This past weekend I went to see the new Harry Potter movie. The movie was fine, I enjoyed it. But there was a scene that reminded me of a common storytelling event that I’ve grown weary of – amazement at the fantastic.

Mostly this annoys me in stories in which the character should be a veteran of the incredible. Harry, for example, has battled dragons and giant snakes, rode a flying car to escape spiders the size of horses, and routinely encounters ghosts at his school. Is he really going to be impressed when someone waves their wand and cleans up a room?

Look, this is cool and all, but can you show me that trick with the chandalier again?

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a sense of wonder imparted to the viewer. But don’t have Harry staring like a slack-jawed yokel every time someone levitates a pencil or fixes a crack in a window.

This is one of the reasons I’ve grown a little tired of the “origin” story and tend to not write them for my superheroes. How many scenes do we need of someone looking at their hands in wonder, or trying to figure out how their powers work for the first time, often with “wacky” and “hilarious” results.

Wait, my power is to stab people?

We see this so often because of the standard storytelling device wherein an outsider is chosen to tell the story. This outsider offers basically the same perspective as the audience, and provide someone normal that the reader/viewer can identify with. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s an effective way to tell a story. But I think when it comes to these fantasy and science fiction stories, especially late in the story when the character should have long since acclimated to the fantastic happenings around them, it’s a little bit of a stretch. We should consider, too, that the audience has likely seen something far more impressive in other stories.

Save the awe for when something genuinely awesome happens.