Fiction Law #37: The Bell Curve

I feel like a quick late-night rant on this, and here goes:

Especially since Captain America: Civil War (not an Avengers movie … I realized why it’s not an Avenger’s movie 25 minutes in … then why it’s not even a good captain America movie) it’s become clear to me that ‘Murica’s losing its taste for good plot.  Folks, if we’re to be a people with a good sense of HISTORY (his-story) and culture, well these things are oriented around our stories; and around the narratives we give our characters.  That is to say, characters themselves, those’re not stories.  Plots are stories.  Which is to say, Captain America is NOT a story.  The events around Captain America, the stakes within which his life plays out, and lends a polarity to, thaaat’s plot.

And a lot of our most successful shows, in my correct and super expert opinion, show wanes in quality.  We’re obviously not talking about the Avengers, we’re talking about everything on the modern screen.  Many series start off amazing, but once production gets loose with the money and instruction, often we’ll see changes in the writing that become super obvious when one marathons the series.
^I like IMDB, it tells who wrote what episodes, and how often this is true.


So here’s another rule in a big series of rules that I’m sure are held by good fiction, that’s being frequently diddled and then all-out violated by some of our more popular shows.   This one’s from Aquarious.   (Aquarious is not spelled that way, but the last book I read was written by a Brit, so my dumb ole brain thinks it was.  Deal with it.)

Anyway, Aquarious, when spelled correctly, is yet another detective show.  This time, it’s staring David Dochovny without a partner.   And I like Davey – he’s a phenomonal example of kickass thinking dudes all wrapped in one. He’s got smart, and man-child, and thoughtful, and thoughtful manchild, and disciplined, and passion, all behind brooding eyes, behind a human schnozz.  He’s great, and’s written, directed, and acted in a lot of great stuff, and lately he’s started producing too.  Even californication got me for a few seasons before its silliness waned off.   In the case of Aquarious, he’s an actor and producer, and, yes so what, I know. But I’ll tell you, what:

Aquarious is another show that started out GREAT.  It’s a show about horrible people being horrible, featuring the supposed exploits of Charles Manson.  Fine, niche audience, whatever!

But here’s why I’m done after 4 episodes:

Everyone, is full, of bullshit. Everyone.

And we get it, showrunners.  You want your characters to resonate with interesting conflicts.  You want the show to be vivacious with character natures, and where they’re driven to move the plot as much as the nature of the central conflict.  That’s noble, but you know what’s funny about nobility?  It’s frikken stupid, and a stark value if isolated —  you need a noble intention to be backed with a world-hardened context.   Noble virtue is noble in the face of the consideration of all virtues, otherwise you’re just an idiot white-knight sorta character. A toolbag. This all means we want writing to be good AND noble writing, not just noble writing.

(BTW : Stark value – see what I did thar GoT fans?)

But here’s the thing: everyone having some super-quirk FEELS contrived.  It also is contrived.  Because here’s the deal: no matter where you are in the world, even in whackadoo sci-fi apocalypses, people tend to abide by the law of bell curves:


This means

65% of people are normal.  They want normal things, within the context of that normal world.  They establish what’s normal.  You let them define what’s normal.  The top half of this portion are normal, but also barely above average.  The bottom half are also normal, but barely below average.

About 30% of people are special.  They have some moderately special specialness about them.  Sometimes they’re gifted, sometimes they’re idiotic.  Sometimes, they’re driven to feel megolomaniacal, but really, they’re not, because

another 4.5% are very, very special, and they can’t help it.  These are maybe the people who like My Little Pony, and the people who liked Game of Thrones before it was cool. This’s that weird kid in your class of ~25. These are people who run super fast, but not so fast you don’t believe they’re human, but you’re gonna want to see them in action, because it’s entertaining, and makes you question the norm.  These people, are super interesting.  And again, these aren’t people you’ll believe are inhuman, because:

There’s another .5% and these are your “Yo yer fucked up” sorts.  Fucked up in good ways, and bad.  This is the smallest section of your world that compose your outliers.   They exist on the outskirts, drawn against what’s normal.


So yes, this principal is totes made up by me and myself, but also so right because, when you don’t abide by this, writing becomes trope-filled, or rather, tropic-all – which sounds like tropical – which means it’s probably predictable and people only go there when they wanna escape from their lives and get really really pissed off when shitty writing accidentally incurs a monsoon. In plainer-speak, here’s what I’m saying:

People usually don’t like shows where ALL the characters are fucked up.  Unless something established is so plausible and baffling about an explored section of any written world, not everyone should be so conniving to cut each other’s throat.  And even in your black and white society, characters should be existing in shades of gray, on the outskirts, and some trying to be goddamn purple.  This means, Aquarious – even if your name is really Aquarius, you dun goofed! I don’t need your character introducing single parent issues, I don’t need everyone cheating, I don’t need secret homosexuality, I don’t need MASSIVE double-take making character revelations every 15 minutess that PROVES every single person you meet will be fakked up, because that’s not how the world works.  It’s just not, and never really be.  This show’s introduced 5 characters and given me 6 deeply ingrained bullshit issues that makes me think: the more characters I take on, the higher tolerance I’m supposed to have for people’s inner worlds of stupendous bullshit.

But that’s not how the world works.  I’ve met people, I’ve talked with lots deeply, and live in Brooklyn.  I’ve learned that in even more special environments that actively recruit special people, that there’s a large sect of even that population that, besides fapping, doesn’t want to have nervous, sweaty, panic attacks just because of what they’re doing as soon as they’re alone within 5 minutes.  People usually AREN’T always driven towards impressive secret adrenaline-fueled subterfuge, sexuality, betrayal, physical confrontation every time they’re given ‘me-time.’

As proof, most of my favorite movies from the 80’s, and pretty much all my favorite anime employ the following device to humanize characters: Brooding. Brooding was a (and is becoming a less popular) way for a character to be affected by a plot without going on a hedonism-whim spree. (Dear modern shows: can characters start doing more self-reflection when they’re bothered again? Personally, I’m at a point where I miss it.)


There are ALWAYS going to be normal people who just want people to be good – whatever that means – and just possibly, it’s screwed up to seek / just write for an audience that’d want to find otherwise? Ya know? Even game of thrones, even house of cards (esp in its prime) had their willing – the people who wanted to be sweet who just seemed naive against a backdrop of wolves in sheep’s clothing – and that made the wolves less human by giving a humane comparison!  Good writing writes PEOPLE, not just their concepts.  Cmon, even Star Trek – a universe of utopian humans trying to make the universe more utopian in kind – had lazy people, because it made the show more realistic. In great books and in flicks everywhere, I’d argue sadistic and altruistic people are often equally as ubiquitous for good reason, and that if we’re in a world where everyone we meet is screwed up, that that’s explained.

So here’s the deal: Aquarius, like, whatevs, but you had promise in one randomly watched first couple episodes, then failed failed to be a show where we meet people who’re worth meeting to find a sense of normalcy!  Even if you’re writing a show about a cult, you do yourself NO FAVORS by not having the audience meet even one non-outlier small-town family, or have people investigating the cult unable to find one single goddamn normal person.  That writing births an environment where a detective walks into a coffee shop and I presume he’s just gonna fuck the first woman who talks to him, and possibly NOT be surprised when she turns out to be a former killer diabetic trannie.   But, you always want it to be a surprise when your killer’s diabetic, and it especially shouldn’t be hard to make a diabetic trannie interesting, but in the case of shows like this Aquarium, because we’re trying to make everyone a spicey nug of flavor, and then forgotten the flavor of bread, and our brains respond as they should — by saying, “gee, maybe I hate food.”

(Also, it’s a wee bit patronizing to the audience when we’re expected to maintain interest because of someone’s name or the celebrity playing them – but that’s a rule for later.)

Anyway, it’s decided; that’s why we switched away from Aquaria and just had a great sunday: Duchovney, bruh, you forgot to produce a show with people from that 65% of the bell curve.  You didn’t have to focus on them 65% of the them, but you have to make them not seem like .05% of the characters your audience will meet.  It makes my mind not want to learn squat from whatever your writers are going to present, because no one’s wants to prime for a world where everyone’s really screwed up inside.  We the audience just want to be prepared for the small percentage who happens to be.  That’s why we’ve evolved to have an interest when we do, and to turn away or look for other things, when we do.

So, maybe don’t teach yer audience that people need a complex in order to be interesting, or to be a character.  That’s just not how it is, and chances are that even normy-norm-norms are going to be interesting in some way, anyway.  So dangit, you don’t need everyone to be a weird mental pervert, have ’em try to thrive within unideal circumstances instead – sometimes that’s way more interesting!


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