Friday, June 12, 2015

In the Name of the Moon, You Will be Punished!

My roommate and I have started re-watching Sailor Moon. Because nostalgia and nerdery. Fifteen episodes in, I've realized that there's a great opportunity to talk about some good and bad storytelling habits here! Of course, it's also a great excuse to remind you all how geeky I am, but I don't actually need excuses for that.

Anyway! Let's start with three good storytelling things Sailor Moon does in most episodes:
  1. The protagonist (Usagi/Sailor Moon) does all the heavy lifting. Even when the other sailor scouts or Tuxedo Mask help, Sailor Moon is almost always the one who deals the final blow to the monsters. 
  2. A wide variety of character types. Each of the sailor scouts has their own unique personality, strengths and weaknesses, which not only helps us tell them apart, but also helps create unique situations and stories. Every story is more interesting when the cast compliments each other and the protagonist.
  3. Balance of drama and humor. If there's one thing Sailor Moon does extremely well, it's making sure none of the episodes (at least so far) get bogged down with too much seriousness, to the point where it becomes tiresome or overdramatic (when it's not trying to be). 
And now some things to not do like Sailor Moon:
  1. Dues ex Machina. Dues ex Machina everywhere.  In every single episode, Sailor Moon gets herself into a seemingly impossible situation, then magically saves the day once Tuxedo Mask says something inspiring or Luna gives her a magical new gizmo, or one of the other sailor scouts suddenly discovers a new power with no explanation whatsoever. Don't do this. Find some other way of writing yourself out of your corner without a sudden, surprise intervention that makes no sense. 
  2. Incompetent villains. Jadeite (the main villain of the first 15 or so episodes) has about a dozen second chances and continues to screw up, pretty epically. Then, when finally gets some useful information, Queen Beryl freezes him solid before allowing him to tell her what he learned. In order for villains to be scary and for your readers/watchers to take them seriously, they need to at least be competent enough to not shoot themselves in the foot every three seconds. 
  3. Obnoxious protagonist. As much as I love Sailor Moon for the nostalgia factor, Usagi is really, really annoying (at least at the beginning of the series, and not just because of her voice actor). She has plenty of flaws, which makes for a good rounded character, but she spends more time sobbing helplessly and complaining than actually trying to get stuff done, and I'm not really sure we've actually seen much character growth where I'm at yet. Which is kind of a problem. Characters, especially protagonists, need to grow and change and develop as the story progresses, and they need to be capable of not falling into the same traps over and over again. (Seriously, if you've watched the first several episodes: the baddies are always opening up new businesses with big, flashy lights to attract young ladies in love in order to harness their energy. After the first two or three times, Usagi should have been able to pick out the pattern.) 
What are some writing lessons you've picked up from television or movies recently?

Emily isn't ashamed to say that she wanted to be a sailor scout so badly when she was little. She's also not ashamed to say that might still be a thing sometimes.

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