asher63 (asher63) wrote,

Suspense and Plotting: Mortality vs. Morality

This post on two characters in the prequel Better Call Saul at theferrett's journal makes some excellent points about suspense and moral choices. Jimmy can't be killed in the show, because we know he's alive in 'Breaking Bad'. So there is no suspense in wondering whether Jimmy will (physically) survive; instead the suspense comes from watching him make the various moral choices that he's confronted with.

What’s hard here is watching all the characters in Better Call Saul choose to become the people they didn’t want to be. The violence is purely psychological as they realize that what they’re getting isn’t nice and who they’re becoming isn’t nice and what’s holding them back are those thin scraps of loyalty and decency – and yet they know, every last one, that those scraps mean something and they’re going to be truly damned if they just let them go.

Go read the rest at theferrett, who by the way is always worth reading.

I've never watched BCS, but reading this I was immediately reminded of something my high school English teacher taught me that always stuck with me: that real suspense doesn't come from worrying about what will happen to the characters, but from worrying about what they will do.

The teacher's words came back to me when I saw the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Early in the movie, the young John Connor instructs Arnold's Terminator character (who has a rather fuzzy grasp of the First Law) that "you can't just go around killing people." And the T-800 obeys (although he dispenses a lot of non-lethal gunfire that will probably put some people in wheelchairs).

Sarah Connor is another matter. Believing that she has a duty to assassinate Miles Bennett Dyson, the inventor of Skynet, she draws a bead on Dyson as he sits at home in his study. It's an excruciating scene, because you know if she succeeds in this cold-blooded murder, she'll lose your sympathy, and you like Sarah Connor and you want to keep liking her.

And that's exactly what made T2 such a powerful movie, and Sarah Connor such a powerful character. It's not the character's fate, but her choices, that keep you involved.
Tags: livejournal, writing

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