Monday, June 25, 2012

Things that Vampire Diaries has taught me about writing

1. Every character has his or her own past that you can make full use of to drive the main plot. In other words, each character's history can serve as a subplot to the main plot. The result, if managed well, will be a multilayered yet focused story. In Vampire Diaries, the secret of Elena's parents' death is tied to her eventual meeting with the Salvatore brothers; the town's history with supernatural beings sets the backdrop for its current circumstance (i.e. Mystic Falls as the viewers see it now is a result of what went down decades and centuries ago); the vampires, who have lived through the ages, made countless nemeses and allies along the way, provide plentiful fodder for the show.

2. Every character has his or her own agenda. Everyone has wants, and everyone has one thing they want badly, and would go to all lengths to acquire. Thus transpires secret alliances, compromises and negotiations that may result in betrayals and shifting character dynamics. Damon is far from the straight and narrow, and his agenda is always questionable. You never really know (at least, at the beginning) if he's good or evil, the accomplice or antagonist to his brother Stefan. He makes secret deals just to get what he wants, and even the local sheriff bends the rules occasionally to keep her daughter's identity a secret. With constantly evolving morals and shifting definitions in the extent to which each character is willing to go to protect the thing/people they care about most, the story is given more fuel to run its course.

3. There is no resident hero. Stefan (see right) may be the male lead, but he's gone from the sweet and affectionate boyfriend/broody hero/reformed bad boy with a horrific past archetype in season 1 to the psychopathic serial murderer called the Ripper in season 3 (albeit under a stronger vampire's compulsion). He makes questionable choices, and you sometimes wonder if he's gone so far off the rails that he's never coming back. His love for Elena (and his brother Damon) is what brings him home eventually, and the only thing that grounds him to his humanity. While in season 3 Damon seems to swoop in to take Stefan's place as the hero - by trying to bring his brother back from the dark side and helping him keep his bloodlust in check - he eventually rejects being typecast as the hero, even though Elena strongly believes there is good in him that is simply dormant.

Case in point: season 3 episode 19.

Elena: Why don't you ever let anyone see the good in you?
Damon: When people see good, they expect good. And I don't want to live to anyone's expectations.

Elena makes for a pretty strong and relatable protagonist, though. She's not entirely Buffy the vampire slayer, but she's no Bella Swan either. She makes tough decisions, goes to all lengths to protect the people she loves but is not suicidal, doesn't live just for herself and Stefan, and isn't indomitable. When the audience first gets to know her, she's a regular high school student struggling to move on from her parents' untimely death and trying to stop blaming herself for it. That's when she meets Stefan and decides to begin a new chapter of her life by letting him in it. Over the course of three seasons, she's grown tougher but is still impulsive and often lets her humanity and compassion get in the way of things like, oh, killing vampires along with the Salvatore brothers in order to protect the town.

4. It never hurts to have pretty boys on the show. Just kidding. Well, not really. I just mean that the hero, while good-looking, needs to also be relatable. He needs to have a flaw - something that makes him human - as well as a redeeming quality. Stefan's flaw is his inability to move on from his past. It is what Klaus (big bad powerful vampire who compels Stefan to be his evil minion, hence forcing him to turn his back on Elena, going on a blood binge and turning into the Ripper) used against him to unleash his dark side. His redeeming quality is his pure and true love for Elena, which is what literally saves him from himself ultimately. Damon's flaw is his fear of caring. He cares, but he doesn't want to show his vulnerability. Elena brings out that side of him eventually, but he still behaves like a philandering, smart-mouthed jerk from time to time. But I guess that's just Damon (see below).

It's funny. I started out taking a shot on Vampire Diaries just to indulge in some eye candy a la Ian Somerhalder. But I became hooked after the first episode because of the swift introduction of the call to action, inciting incident (ha, terms learnt in EN2274: Intro to Screenwriting, a module I'm taking this term) and the foreshadowing of impending crises that kept me thoroughly intrigued. I'm just two episodes away from finishing season 3. After that is the interminable wait for season 4, which will only air in October. Oh, the agony! In the meantime, think I'll go rewatch Supernatural.

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