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Monday, March 24, 2014

Writing Lessons from DBZ: Heroes into Legends & Closing Remarks

You can create a lot of interesting character dynamics by playing with your character's reputation--how people perceive him to be versus what he actually is.

In the Buu saga, Goku gets permission to come back to Earth for one day (he's in heaven, alright?). While he's been in "otherworld" for the last seven years, Trunks and Goten have heard all kinds of stories about how strong and powerful Goku is. He's become a legend. While Trunks argues with Goten about his Dad (Vegeta) being stronger than Goku, when it really gets down to it, Trunks, in addition to Goten, thinks Goku is the strongest person in the universe.

Having never actually spent time with Goku, Goten and Trunks view him as legendary, mythical, unrealistically god-like.

While Goku is on Earth, he has to explain to them that he's not the legend they believe him to be. And it's kind of sad and touching.

The dynamics intrigued me.

It can be fun to play with a character's reputation, even to the point that others view him or her as legend, and then compare and contrast that reputation with reality.

You can create some interesting and complex dynamics between characters that way. How will your characters react when they learn that their hero isn't what they thought? What if their hero was more vicious and ruthless than they ever could have imagined? Or had more flaws than they expected? What will they do about it? Will they get angry with their hero? 

You have all of these question you can explore in your story, and you can create a whole system of complicated emotions and relationships.

Maybe this plotting tool is what you need to take your characters' relationship to the next level.

What went Wrong with DBGT?

Shocked after everything I learned watching Dragon Ball Z, I decided to give its sequel, Dragon Ball GT a try.

I was disappointed.

If I hadn't already fallen in love with the characters, I wouldn't have made it as far in DBGT as I did. I did some quick research and found out I wasn't the only one disappointed. The show premiered with poor ratings. I talked to other fans who assured me it wasn't that great. . .and didn't get much better. Some fans don't even consider it canon.

What happened?

Two words: Different. Writer.

Akira Toriyama, who wrote Dragon Ball Z, didn't write Dragon Ball GT. He provided the basic premise and did some character designs, but that's it. 

I think fans know something is missing in DBGT--it didn't live up to DBZ. Look back over all of these plotting techniques I discussed and it will make sense why. All of the storytelling expertise, the techniques Akria Toriyama used to skyscrape tension and suspense, to create dynamic characters and relationships, are missing. Sure, in DBGT, some of the characters get into arguments, but the arguments are pretty flat. I got somewhat far into the series, and I didn't see any complexity or depth in the characters. The fights were kind of... bleh... because the writers couldn't escalate tension like Toriyama.

So I stopped watching it. I hadn't learned anything about writing other than how a story can downgrade in quality in the hands of the wrong writer. And if I wasn't learning anything else (and didn't feel invested in the plot), I didn't know if DBGT was worth my time.

I'd rather spend my time dissecting another masterpiece.

Closing Remarks

There are plenty of other aspects of Dragon Ball Z I could go on about. In fact, there are even a couple of plotting techniques I didn't cover, partly because one of them was so awesome, I want to play around with it in my own series. And I want it to be a surprise. Then, of course, there are the characters. Someone could easily write a whole book dissecting Vegeta's character. I think he's the most complex character, and the character that changes the most, in the series.

A lot of people laugh at Dragon Ball Z, with its yelling and screaming and pacing, but if anything, I hope my series of posts on it shows the complexity and caliber it has. There's a reason it's a "classic" around the globe.

Over the last month, I've had a lot of positive feedback from my followers on these posts. Thanks! I'm glad people out there have liked them. When I started on them, I wondered if I'd find much of an audience for them, so it's nice to hear from those of you who contacted me.

Some may be wondering--what's next?

Well. . . in my quest to read and watch stories outside my culture or usual genres, I did dive into a show called Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and also 24, so I do have some posts that pull from those, though they aren't as in-depth as my DBZ series. If you haven't watched either, don't sweat it, you'll still be able to follow the writing tips I learned from them.

Also, if you want to give me any reading or watching recommendations, go for it. If I pick it up, maybe I'll dissect some of the characters or stories.


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