So, we've survived the A-to-Z Challenge! This was my first year, and I managed to pull off the whole thing more or less on time, with only one slight cheat to the schedule (taking a break day on a Friday instead of the Sunday). I found some interesting new blogs,...
This is probably the biggest stretch of any of my letters, but shut up, it’s the end of the month. Anyway, we all know that beginnings are hard. You have to very quickly orient your audience in your new world and get them rooting for the right characters, and you have to do it in a way that feels natural while making the whole thing interesting enough to keep people hooked. We’ve already looked at a couple of examples of this balance that were less than great, so let’s go for one that does it really well.
I’m not the first person to express admiration for the opening credits of Guardians of the Galaxy, and I’m probably not going to be the last, but really, it’s glorious. After the gut-crushing cold open, we see the adult Peter landing on a dead planet. He takes off his imposing mask, slips on some headphones, and starts grooving. Right away, it establishes the tone of the movie, alternating between grandiose and goofy. But more importantly, it establishes the character of adult Peter within seconds. By the time that title card appears, with Peter dancing his heart out underneath it, you know who this guy is: he’s a space pirate with a shameless sense of fun. There’s a little more to him than that, but you’re already on board after that opening. (Cleverly, there’s actually plot being foreshadowed with this sequence too, since Peter dancing to his mix tape winds up being a surprisingly crucial part of the climax.)
Okay, I’ll admit, using “yoga” to describe this concept is a bit of a stretch, twisting what I have (an idea for a blog post) into the not-necessarily compatible position that I need it to be in (a tricky letter in this alphabet challenge). But that makes it quite a perfect metaphor for the topic at hand, really. The trope of the day is Contrived Coincidence. You all know this one: the plot gets stuck in a corner, and some outlandish, utterly improbable occurrence comes along to get it moving again. This is mostly an acceptable break from reality as long as it’s not too egregious. After all, insane coincidences happen in real life all the time, and depending on the tone of the story, the audience is frequently willing to just go along with it to keep the story going. Hell, sometimes it gets explained by there being some force within the story that’s manipulating events to its liking (instead of it just being, you know, the author doing exactly that).
Still, it’s kind of a lazy technique, frequently the mark of a writer with two preconceived story points and no reasonable way to connect them who just said “Fuck it” and moved on. It’s laid out in one of Pixar’s rules of storytelling: “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.” Once you get past a certain point in the story, the audience wants things to connect, to pay off the setups and tie everything together.