Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Writing Joss


It's late and I've really only spent about two hours at home today. Despite being able to account for where the rest of my time went (chiefly work and running Amos to/from rehearsals for Les Misérables) I'm feeling distinctly short-changed--I had a highly productive day thinking about things while I mopped floors, but now that I've the time/space to work on/write about said ideas I just want to go to bed.


Better keep this short...

Yesterday evening I encountered an article on the 10th Anniversary Firefly reunion which mentioned an episode Joss Whedon had conceived where one character gets gang-raped. There was a lot of blowback in the comments with many people being spun-out/sicked by the thought that their beloved Bard II could consider addressing such a taboo subject.

All the noise got me thinking about the why behind rape being the general taboo it is in film/tv (unless it's torture-porn of course, in which case people seem to shrug and say "Well, it's a part of the genre, what did you expect?"). While I'm not going to really delve into my thought processes in this (almost finished) post (because I'm trying to keep things short and because I'm still making my mind up about some things) I will say that my ponderances have inspired me to write to Joss Whedon and ask about his reasons/justifications/thoughts behind wanting to explore said dark subject matter. I don't know what (if any) response I'll get, but as a novice writer looking to hone my craft I figure it's worth a shot.

Not that I'm doing that now now, of course. Now now I'm publishing this post and going to bed.

Mmm. Sleep. ^_^


  1. First, Joss has never hesitated going to very dark places in his writing. His balanced mix of humor, drama and action often distract the viewers from just how dark things actually are; but it is there. He kills off main characters regularly, and it isn’t hard to argue that the whole series “Dollhouse” is about sexual slavery.

    However having said that, Joss never does plot for the sake of plot. I’ve heard both Tim Minear and Jane Espenson talk extensively about what they learned from Joss, and both said that the biggest point is that everything is done in service of the characters, never for its own sake. So it is safe to assume that Joss didn’t come up with this story because he wanted to talk about gang rape – he did it because it was a way to move the characters in a specific direction. So the question that needs to be asked is: What did Joss plan to accomplish for the characters by the gang rape story (which, to be clear, would be done off-screen. The viewer would understand what would have happened but would not have seen it).

    Part of the answer was in the same special and noted in the article. Mal has always treated Inara poorly because of her profession (essentially a call-girl). Yes there was a connection between the two; but Mal clearly had issues with the idea that Inara was a sex worker and wouldn’t let her forget it. What they said (and is in the article) was that this event would be a turning point for Mal’s view of Inara. To see that sex was taken from her by force as opposed to given by her consensually would have helped Mal get past his issues with her profession and just see her as a woman in need.

    While not mentioned in the show, my guess would also be that Joss would have used it to change Inara as well. Would she still feel the same way about being a “Companion” after having men force themselves on her? There is certainly a lot of places Joss could have gone with her character development based on such an incident.

    Again, the main lesson of the Joss school of writing is always focus on the character arcs and then come up with stories that support and justify the characters movement along those arcs. You can go as light or dark as you want and use any plot point as long as it keeps your characters in motion in the direction you want them to go; but NEVER use a story or plot device for its own sake.

  2. So to be clear, here is what *I* imagine from what I understand of Joss's method:

    Joss found himself with 2 "problems":
    1) He needed some kind of inciting incident to allow Mal to get past Inara being a sex worker and to allow him to really see her as a woman.

    2) He felt Inara was just a bit too comfortable in her role as Companion and that she would be a more interesting character if she was struggling more with that.

    The proposed episode was then a good solution to both problems.


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