September 29th, 2019

Charah coffee

On How Not to Write

I have just completed a five-day short story writing course at Faber Academy, which was more fruitful and helpful than I had anticipated. My biggest take-away from it is characterisation: knowing who the character is as a fully formed person, knowing what he/she wants, putting obstacles in his/her way to create conflict, and letting these things drive the story. It is a very useful way to look at how to approach writing a character-driven short story, and I am currently revising something that I wrote for the 30-day writing challenge that I talked about in light of what I have learned from the course.

This entry, however, isn't about writing; not exclusively, anyway. It is about the new season of Veronica Mars and how my excitement that my favourite show ever was being revived eventually turned into bitter disappointment and heartbreak. Incidental to the Veronica Mars content is a few things about writing; or rather, how not to write. The instructor told us, during the writing course, that the writer needs to convey to the reader that the writer is trustworthy; that the reader can trust her to tell the interesting story that she has set up in a coherent and authentic manner. The pay off has to be true to the set up; the conclusion has to begin again in some way. Perhaps more importantly, the character's arc has to be true to the character. And in order for the writer to do this, she has to know the character inside-out.

(Warning: Spoilers for Veronica Mars Season 4)

The new season of Veronica Mars makes me wonder if Rob Thomas actually knows his character - that is, the character that has evolved over three seasons of television, two books and a movie, or whether he is still clinging on to the version of the character that he had in his mind when he first started the show. The new season of my favourite show has taught me an invaluable lesson about how the writer should not attempt to disrupt the character's narrative arc; that when it has gone in a certain direction, trying to reverse it because the writer cannot let go of his initial vision must be done exceptionally well - or it simply undermines the character altogether.

I have pretty much lost all trust that Rob Thomas knows what he's doing. Even before I read his ridiculous reason for killing off Logan Echolls, the absolutely cheap and arbitrary manner in which Logan died suggested to me that his ideas are cliched at best. Surely the 'widowed just after getting married' trope has been done to death by now - and yet, Rob Thomas says that the reason he killed Logan is because he wants to move the show away from teen romance/soap opera territory. If this was meant to be self-referencing irony, then he picked the wrong character to show how clever he is.

Rob Thomas says that he killed Logan because he wants Veronica to be on her own. He says, 'But I feel like for this show to work as a detective show, it has to be with Veronica as a single woman. I think it’s more interesting to write. If you can’t have your detective have romantic interests, it’s hard. And it teeters on phony trying to get Logan involved in the case somehow to keep him present. If he’s just going to be the boy she goes home to at night, that’s less interesting to me. I can’t say that it’s impossible. But it didn’t appeal to me as much.'

One of the many problems with this is that the show had developed in such a way that Veronica wasn't a single woman. If he wanted to keep her single, why did Veronica and Logan get married? Was this pure fan service? There were so many options in the season in terms of breaking them up. In fact, Veronica spent most of the season treating him so badly that I wish Logan had broken up with her: she mocked him for going to therapy and becoming a more mature person, she told him that she liked him better when he was his old angry, destructive self, and then goaded him into having sex that disgusted him. Why was he still with her after that? Rob Thomas could have written him out of the show in a manner that was true to the characters, instead of having him die in a stupid explosion that blown the plot hole wide open. (How did Veronica forget about the bomber's backpack in her car? Why was the backpack still in the car when he was arrested? How did the police/FBI not scour the car to make sure that every item belonging to the bomber had been removed?) And it is also because of the inconsistent and incoherent manner in which Logan died that makes it even more insulting and frustrating.

More importantly, the suggestion that she wouldn't be interesting to write as a married woman is not only sexist, but, to me, shores up the limits of Rob Thomas' imagination. The idea that being in a relationship, presumably one that makes her happy, makes a woman less interesting is sexist, for it suggests that women are only interesting when we are alone and unhappy. But what I find more troubling for Veronica as a character is how her creator seems unwilling to let her get out of her teenager mindset (ironic, considering his complaints about LoVe being too teen romance-y), which then translates into his notion that she wouldn't be interesting to write as a married woman. What was really striking throughout Season 4 was how immature and messed up Veronica still is despite being in her thirties. What annoyed me about her reaction to Logan's proposal wasn't (contrary to what you think, Kristen Bell) that she turned him down; it was that she ran away like a child, instead of talking about it with him like an adult. It was frustrating to see her act in this way because she was a character that I felt I had grown up with - and yet, she had not grown up very much at all.

So instead of letting Veronica grow organically, Rob Thomas seems intent on holding her back - and not just holding her back; holding her down. In order to keep her 'interesting' as a single woman, he decides to inflict on her one of the most devastating heartbreak anyone could ever go through: the loss of a spouse. This is on top of all the trauma that's she's already gone through: her best friend's murder, her mother leaving her, her own rape. I mean, if this is how Rob Thomas treats a character that he supposedly loves, I don't want to know how he treats those that he hates.

As for why his creative decision shores up the limits of his imagination: there are so many directions he could have taken Married Veronica, but he decided that none of them are interesting. Instead of subverting genre expectations (he talked about how no one in the noir detective genre has relationships), he thinks it's more interesting to adhere to them blindly even if the character in question would be done a huge disservice. So it sounds to me like Rob Thomas was no longer interested in the way Veronica had evolved; that he's more interested in writing a purely detective/mystery show.

So why even bother with Veronica Mars? Why not start a new show entirely? But here's the fundamental problem with his new direction for the show: the mystery isn't even that good. He simply isn't a very good mystery writer, and it shows in the leaps of logic that both Veronica and Keith take in this season, especially towards the end. (E.g. when they were in the interrogation room with the pizza guy, who was trying to convince them of his innocence, Veronica suddenly brought up some random college guys who were barely in the show as related to the bombings. I had to rewind the episode to see what the connection was; and it was literally 'if anyone in the world could have done it, why not the college kids?' Well, why not the pizza guy's love interest, or his murder group members? Why the college kids? Oh, because anyone could have done it. Great logic.) As such, I didn't watch Veronica Mars for the mystery; I watched it for her, and her relationships.

I have absolutely no interest in a stripped back Veronica Mars that's all about the not-very-good mysteries that she solves. While the show is likely to remain an all-time favourite if I pretend that it ended with the marriage scene, I will not watching a Season 5, if it happens.

(And yes: I cried when Logan died. Cried for about 15 minutes more over the phone to E when I turned off my computer.)