Keith Snyder
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When Stupid Writers Write Smart Characters

Okay, this makes twice in a week.

First, the American version of CRACKER. The original series (the English series) is uneven, but the best episodes are absolutely brilliant. The main character, Fitz (Robbie Coltrane) is a raging locomotive of a man, addictive, insightful, cruel, kind, and powerful. How do I know he's brilliant? Because of what he does. Because of how he reacts to people. Because it takes him no effort to be right. Because his own demons are exactly what give him his insight into other people. He reads you like a book because he's the crib sheet.

American version? Fitz (Robert Pastorelli) doesn't rage. But he's brilliant too. Really. And how do we know that?

Because he fucking listens to classical music!

Jesus Christ.

This is the SMART CHARACTER, STUPID WRITER problem. Write what you know, yes? Stupid people don't actually know what smart people are like from the inside. So they can't write them. The best they can do is to write stupid characters, but give them trait markers--in this case, classical music. And take away his demons. Just make him a sort of prickly asshole. Yeah, that's more palatable.

Oops. Just took away what gives him the ability to carry a crime series: His insight into messed-up people.

Well, that's all right. He listens to classical music. The audience will know he's smart.


Second example:

Just watched THE TAO OF STEVE tonight. Not a great flick. If you're over 30, you've seen this movie many times before, and you didn't think there was anything special about it then, either. If you're under 20, you might think it's fresh. It's not. It's a slacker flick. The twist (zowie!) is that this time, the slacker falls in love and has to change his ways.

Okay, fine. That can work. Nothing inherently wrong with it. The problem (one problem, for there are many) is that people keep mentioning how smart this character is. And that would be fine--except he's not. He's not smart. He says and does nothing smart for the duration of the movie. So how do we know he's smart?

Because he quotes Lao Tzu!

Again. Smart character, stupid writers, and trait markers instead of anything vaguely powerful or real. Another blown opportunity. Another waste of my time.

In both cases, it's hard to say who to blame, since (in the American CRACKER case) all kinds of people have their hand in TV scripts and (in the TAO OF STEVE case) the credits indicate that the writers had some help from the director. For all I know, this was a gem of a little screenplay at some point.

But it's not now.

It's irresponsible to complain about something and fail to make a recommendation, so here's mine:

If you are stupid, do not write.

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