Monday, February 18, 2013

Excuse Me Mr. Fellowes, You’re Standing In The Shot

I will give no spoilers in this blog as I’m sure there’s someone who hasn’t watched last night’s finale yet and I certainly don’t want to spoil it for anyone. This blog is actually inspired by the entire third season in the way that it made me remember why I don’t like soap operas.

That is essentially what Downton Abbey is. A soap opera set in the early 20th century. Grant it, the show is more beautiful and dazzling than most, but soap opera it is. My problem with this season is what I can only describe as contrived drama.

In any kind of storytelling, there are character driven stories and plot driven stories. I’ll admit up front that I prefer my stories character driven, meaning the action is dictated by the choices and responses of the characters. A plot driven story would deal more with the characters dealing with circumstances out of their control. Think of a Romantic Suspense in which the H/H are on the run from the bad guys. Or trying to catch a serial killer before he kills again.

In this case, things happen and the H/H must react. I do not mean to imply there are no character driven Romantic Suspense novels, but for the sake of example, I think this one works.

In this third season of Downton, it felt more as if things just kept happening to the characters and often for no good reason. Yes, life is random, but fiction is different from real life in that everything must happen for a reason. In fiction, your story has to make sense. I admire Mr. Julian Fellowes (creator and writer of Downton Abbey) but in several episodes this season, there was almost an author intrusion.

Life is good so I’m going to pull the rug out from under them all because I need enough drama to carry two more episodes. I find this annoying. In season one, Lady Mary created a great deal of trouble, almost all of it brought on by her own actions and choices. That was drama I enjoyed. Season two remained mostly written in this way, but started to veer into the contrived drama. The entire Bates in prison storyline never made any sense. Even now it’s left somewhat open-ended.

I understand that actors may choose to leave the show and in the case of Downton, cannot simply be replaced by a new one, but there was just too much muck thrown about that felt forced. As if Mr. Fellowes walked in and said, “Watch what I can come up with now.”

Regardless of whether you’re a Downton fan, how do you like your stories? Character or plot driven? Do you ever read a book and feel like the author is getting in the way of her own story? And if you are a fan of the show, will you be back for another season? I admit, there were times during the current season I was tempted to give up on the show all together.


Maureen said...

Downton had so much historical action to help drive season one and even season two. Season three? Not so much, so they did push contrivance more. I've dug the show for the visual beauty more than anything else.

I don't know if I prefer one or the other sort of books. I think I'm probably more prone to write action driven stories, but I read more character driven? Or maybe a good mix. I read a lot of mysteries, and they are always somewhat action driven.

I've read authors where I felt they were too busy waxing poetically about their setting, but I'm an impatient reader. At the same time, I'm presently reading a mystery by Ellen Byerrum, called Veiled Revenge that had a long paragraph discussing the Russian character (as a nationality) that was so colorful and well-written, I totally enjoyed the prose...

I'm a complicated person...

Yeah, I'll keep watching Downton. It's one of the few shows my DH will sit and watch and we can talk about it.

MsHellion said...

I am a character-driven reader, primarily. (Though there are a few plot-driven books I've read and enjoyed.) I would argue that Fellowes is more character driven than plot driven in this story--because frankly there isn't a lot of plot. *LOL* It's just the natural daily going ons in a big house with upstairs and downstairs--and so much of it is petty shit. *LOL* That's what I love about it. It's like a version of Cranford, only more modern. :)

As for the things that occurred this season that seemed to be wanton disregard by the writer, I think that was more a "contract" driven problem than a plot or character one--and I believe in choosing the developments he did, he stayed with the character driven elements of his characters rather than plot but was running into problems with how to handle the exit of some people. Especially if those characters are likable and unlikely to do random, horrid things like run off with a count or take off to America without telling anyone in a fit of pique. That is the true problem with's that it's a long running series and people don't want to do them forever, so you either have to replace the people and hope no one notices (everyone always does) OR write them out. And if they're characters who are good, they only way can usually write them out is if they die because for what other reason would they ever leave? (i.e. Sybil)

For the first death, I think that was very shocking but also very probable--it is a very real medical problem that did not really have a solution at the time. Lots of women die in childbirth or right after from complications. Especially with first pregnancies.

For the second, that one felt more contrived...but if you knew about the contract, you knew something was up. *shrugs* They certainly gilded the lily in the last fifteen minutes of the show with hints and foreshadowing that felt heavy-handed. THAT felt author intrusive, but again, he's working with a series and his characters are more character driven--what are you going to do?

And of course, I'm still watching.

Terri Osburn said...

I'm off today so I'll be in and out. I wasn't only talking about the character exits. This stuff started last season and no one suddenly died. Mary was a bitch the first season, then she learned some lessons and grew up in the 2nd, so the viewer would cheer for her to get the boy. Then she got him and reverted right back to bitch mode.

That annoyed me because the character grew and matured but then went backwards because it suited the drama. And in the first season there was actual plot. An heir was killed on the Titanic and the new one did not fit their aristocratic standards. That premise just didn't seem to be enough to carry the character driven elements through the series.

MsHellion said...

I don't think she ever entirely gave up bitch mode. That's just her personality. We all know people like that. Then again, if you're wishing for which we stop being our bitchy personality and start being nicer, I can see why you're disappointed. *LOL*

MsHellion said...

I like this article: I think she raises some good points about the story.


P. Kirby said...

I've never watched Downtown Abbey. Not yet, anyway.

I like to say I'm character-driven in that if I don't identify with the protagonists (or antagonists) I lose interest, whatever the genre. Overall, I like stories that are a mixture of character- and plot-driven. I like it when chaos is introduced by a source outside the characters' control AND is complicated by who the characters are and the decisions they make. For example, husband and I are currently watching season three of Dexter, which I think is a great example of fusing the two narrative types.

The story lines are often edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, but a lot of that suspense is derived from the choices made by the characters and the creators of the show do a good job of letting the viewer into the characters' heads. We see their struggles. They are flawed and yet, like everyone else, doing the best that they can. The show isn't perfect, and yet, IMO, has some of the best writing I've seen in a series.

Maybe, one of these days, DH and I will check out Downtown Abbey on DVD.

Terri Osburn said...

Pat - I really wanted to watch that News show Aaron Sorkin created, I think for HBO, but I don't have those paid channels. And when I had Showtime free for a while, I love The C Word with Laura Linney. Networks like HBO & Showtime have some of the best writing on TV these days. Which I guess helps make them worth paying extra.

I've never watched Dexter, but have heard nothing but good things about it. Interesting that the writers manage to balance the two angles.

Janga said...

I've watched the first two seasons of Downton Abbey on DVD, and I'm sure that eventually I'll see the third season. I'm just not a TV viewer. I haven't watched a series on TV since West Wing.

I do prefer character-driven stories. It's one reason that I read so few romantic suspense novels. So often when reading a romantic suspense I've been frustrated because between the tangles with the bad guys and the tangles between the sheets, there is too little time for character development. I'm beginning to feel the same way about a lot of mainstream romance and the sex scenes. I read a book recently with characters I truly liked at first, but I became bored when lovemaking was at the top of the agenda morning, noon, and night. I wanted to say to the author, "Please let them have an occasional thought beyond lust-driven rhapsodies."

Terri Osburn said...

I know exactly what you mean, Janga. I may have said this recently but can't remember. If the description of the book uses the words "steamy" or "sensual" I pass it by. I might be missing out on some great reads, but having the sex and lust constantly thrown at me from every page is just not something I enjoy these days.

MsHellion said...

I second the motion. It's a thin line they have to walk between making sure readers know we know they're interested in each other...and please let them do something other than shag each other all day.

"Lust-driven rhapsodies"--my new favorite phrase this week. I must use it as much as possible.

Maureen said...

Very poetic... lust-driven rhapsodies sounds very rappish. Though Freddie Mercury would have done a better job... I like writing sex, but the LDR writing can be a drag.

I still feel like Mary is a bitch and they let Edith grow and mature, but Mary, underneath it all, is a shrew, simple and thorough.

quantum said...

Afraid I haven’t watched the Downton Abbey series ..... I was watching the new Blandings series instead.

P G Woodhouse stories are very character driven. I think I preferred Peter O’toole as Lord Emsworth in an earlier version but Timothy Spalding is pretty good!

The only lust driven rhapsodies in this would be from the Empress of Blandings (Clarence’s pig!) LOL

Sorry ... I’m totally of topic.
Been that sort of day!

Maureen said...

And it's a holiday in the states, Q, so I imagine most of the crew is out and about...

It is that sort of day!

Terri Osburn said...

Sorry, I spent the day out shopping and came home to find my computer not working. (I'm checking in on Kiddo's laptop.) Lust driven rhapsodies does have a fun ring to it.