Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Booze Blood Broads and Bullets

Essentially what you have there is your barbershop quartet of what makes comic books fun and engaging.  You look across the spectrum of top sellers and they all have some aspect of this in their DNA.

I'm not about to attempt to deconstruct this.  Nor is it my desire to deny it.  I embrace it, in fact.  I think that the use of comics as a glorified adrenaline boost is precisely what the form is meant for.  Let's be honest with each other here.  You never read the Classics Illustrated version of Oliver Twist, did you?  I didn't think so.  But faced with a copy of Classics Illustrated: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea , you had a different take.  And when given a copy of Kick Ass, you then knew precisely what I mean.

I think the greatest failing of comics (and one I find myself being guilty of more often than not is to expect too much from the medium and the patience of the folks participating in it.  Too often we creators see our readers as willing companions on this ride with us.  The truth is they are passengers on a bus, able to get on or off at any time and completely unaffected by all our protestations.  They notice when we're late but take for granted our hustle to be on time.  They are simply along for the ride as long as it suits them. 
And I am more than OK with this.

This presents us as creators with a huge task.  We have to be able to attract attention.  We then have to maintain attention.  Finally we must create the need for future attention.  "What happens next?" is the comic writer's biggest question.  If he answers this well, the reader will want to know.  If he fails...he loses another passenger.  We are expected to provide titillation.  This comes in many forms...specifically the four that make up the title of this story.

Booze, Blood, Broads and Bullets

Readers are way more sophisticated than writers give them credit for.  They appreciate a well told story and can spot a piece of garbage from a mile away.  The thing about it is, writers are of the mind that readers have no taste.  Sometimes, as with the success of neuro-rot such as Twilight, the writer is proven right.  Other times, as with S.King's masterpiece The Dark Tower, the writer is shown that taste is precisely what the reader has in spades.

But the number one thing that these works have in common is Booze Blood Broads and Bullets.  You add any one of these to your story, and you raise an eyebrow or two.  You put in two of them and you have given the reader reason to turn the page.  You get a majority of them worked into your tale and you have a bestseller on your hands.

Writers often fail at being clever.  We can out think ourselves quite easily.  We fall back on the tried and true.  We use symbolism.  We use plot devices.  We try to outsmart the reader.  The reader can see through this veil.  How often have you found yourself as a reader involved in a story with a clever ruse involved only to lose interest as the writer held on to his Magguffin as if it were solid Gold, refusing to let it go till the end lest he give too much away?  I have put down hundreds of stories that just flat-out refused to give up the gold. The writer had leg but refused to show it till the end of the show.  This works when everyone KNOWS what the leg looks like...but when you are dealing with an unknown quantity, that old maxim SHOW not TELL is often the best advice.

Why are readers attracted to these four horsemen?  That is a good question. 
They want to see Booze because it allows them to express a little freedom at someone else's expense.  They get the joy of inebriation without the hangover.  They don't suffer the effects of alcoholism unless the writer wishes to take them down that path.  Often times, they simply revel in another's misery, safe in their warm chair.  It's voyeurism, pure and simple. 
The same goes for Blood.  Though many of us get furious stuck in traffic as rubberneckers slog along at the scene of a horrific accident?  How many of us actually refuse to look at the carnage when we get even with it?  It is in our nature to see the pain of another because in that, we feel more alive.  Someone else's blood cannot be our own.  Often the reader is allowed the freedom by the writer to peek behind the curtain of a murder and see teh world as he does.  Even if only for a moment, this peek provides enough charge to keep him coming back for more.  Just look at how many people are murdered on Prime Time TV today?  American Television kills more people than cigarettes....if only fictiously.  It is the promise of that peek that keeps us coming back.
Broads are self explanatory.  Our peepshow tendencies kick in anytime we get offered an opportunity to look at what we ought not.  When we see someone begin to remove clothing, a switch flips in our brains.  We become facinated.   The more skin we show (As witnessed with Power Girl's costume or Supergirl's panties or the inescapable phenomenon of Catholic School Girl uniforms) the more people become engaged.  It falls on our basic inclination to look at beautiful things.  Liek food or models.  They all stimulate the same brain parts.  And they are equally addictive.
Bullets fall in mainly because of the need for Alliteration.  (Another case of the writer being too clever for his own good) but they hit on the points of the first three.  Violence is just as voyueristic any of the others.  Seeing someone allowed, if only just momentarily, to release their demon upon an unsuspecting world allows us the opportunity to release our own.  If only for a moment.  How many of you have watched Dexter?  How many of you same people have thought about how YOU could do that if given the chance?  I think it's a safe bet the numbers are very close.

What does this mean?  I've reached the point in this tale where the reader expects a wrap up.  The facts have been presented, the story told.  It is the job of a good writer to put a bow on it and walk away.  So here it is.  If you want to be a writer.  No.  If you want to be a successful writer, you need to incorporate these into your style.  Write horror, romance or action, but fail to have these in there and you will fail commercially,.  The people demand it.  You must deliver.  Write the Grapes of Wrath on your own nickle.  There is a small percentage of the world that will appreciate that.  But if you insist on making a living at this craft, you damn well better be able to write a gun-toting, whisky swilling, lingerie-wearing supermodel.  Because if you do THAT, there are 50,000 people out there who will buy it.  But you damn well better keep it simple and get to the point fast because there are 100,000 writers just like you out there who are doing it better, who are showing more skin, and who are digging deeper into the cobwebby recesses of the human frailities that the people demand.

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