Quandry Modo

Woke up to a fresh new rejection today, this one to “The Organization,” a flash piece I wrote a while back. It’s a sort of romantic comedy/GIJoe-super-espionage parody piece. I like it, but I can see why they rejected it. If you’re not familiar with the sort of genre the piece is having fun with, it would seem like a lot is being left out. I suppose I could expand the story, really flesh out the universe and everything, but it seems like the people who would have fun reading this story might find that unnecessary and even tedious. Like sitting down to Get Smart but having to sit through twenty minutes of someone explaining to you what a spy is.

That’s part of the danger of writing genre I suppose, especially these days. We often rely heavily on what’s been written before, and simply stand on previous writers’ shoulders.

You can see that flaw really well in Cameron’s Avatar. All the characters and even the technology are derived from archetypes that are used all the time in science fiction. One glance at Sigourney Weaver’s character will tell you she’s the Compassionate But Stubborn Scientist that we’ve seen so many times before. Five seconds after he appears on screen, we understand that Giovanni Ribisi is the Greedy Corporate Guy. Then meet Hardass Military Dude. He’s got scars. Trust me when I say they do deep!

Similarly, most of the technology in the film we’ve seen in dozens of video games and even Cameron’s old movies. Those dropships and armored exoskeletons all look awfully familiar!

It’s all shorthand. The writer doesn’t have to spend much any time developing these personalities because we immediately know who they are, how they’re going to act, what their motivations are, etc. It’s just unfortunate when the writer doesn’t bother to take them further than the attributes and stats on the pre-generated character sheet (which Cameron, unfortunately, doesn’t do).

It is handy for some situations, though. In flash, for example, you don’t necessarily have space to do more with a character. So you can reassure the reader that this is Standard Security Guard Sleeping At His Post or Pseudo-Lesbian Who Doesn’t Shave And Wants To Save The Whales and move on. Nothing particularly lost. In parody and satire, you’re relying on those sorts of archetypes, even if it’s your job to show how they’re silly or shatter them. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was based purely on reversing the Blond Running From a Monster Does Something Stupid and Dies archetype.

Either way, if the audience doesn’t know the archetype, the effect is lost. So do I try to shop the story elsewhere, where the editors and audience will immediately recognize the genre parody, or do I try to expand the story and try to net a larger audience? Hurm.

(You can do it in comedy, too – one of my favorite running gags in Monty Python’s Flying Circus was that any time someone started to tell a “If I could walk that way…” joke they would be interrupted. We all know how that would have ended, so there’s no need to finish it – you can basically get two jokes with one stroke by interrupting them.)

3 thoughts on “Quandry Modo”

  1. Nice post, Alex. Makes me think about that “short-hand” stuff and how dicey it can get. Where’s the line between short-hand and cliche? I think your stuff is anything but cliche. You always strive to make something familiar into something fresh. Think about going through your piece looking for small opportunities to add a word or two of clarity and send that piece out again. You’ll find a market. I know you will.

  2. Sounds to me like an instance of needing to find the right market to fit the story. There are times and places to use that shorthand.

    Good luck!

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