As a mother of a three year old, I try hard to curate the TV she watches, but inevitably, I am exposed to some stupid kids’ show from time to time. The kind that it makes me want to take a brick to whoever wrote it.
You can argue that it’s just a kids’ show and of course I, a grown adult, will not enjoy it, but to that I say nay! While the subject matter may be beneath me, the writing should still be good enough to be enjoyed by writing of all ages!
EE’s enjoyed MLP:FiM and also the new Magic Schoolbus…but right now, she’s onto a show called PJ Masks. You may have heard of it. I am sorry.
It’s terrible. I mean they teach morals and that’s great but the whole show is so inane with how not just childish but flat out idiotic all the characters are, all the villains operate in the worst possible ways, and the morals are so ham-fisted that I’m surprised the entire show isn’t made out of pork.
I’ve mentioned that kids’ entertainment often has issues with villains being crappy, and I’ve also mentioned that it can be done well. And brushing off really stupid villains just because it’s a kids’ show is a problem for two reasons, the second of whichi s more pertinent: one, it assumes that childrens’ stories are synonymous with bad writing, which is dumb, and two, it assumes that the problems that make bad childrens’ writing bad is something that obviously isn’t a problem in writing for older audiences. And I’m not sure that’s true. Besides that, looking at what’s bad is an important tool for learning what’s good. Let’s take a look at a specific episode.
The specific episode was one where the villain Luna Girl is upset that, being a kid who apparently can only come out at night??? she’s not able to play summertime games, so she takes all the water in the storage tank for the sprinklers and…turns them into clouds…so they pop out of the sprinklers and make everything rainy during the day. The fact that it’s an incredibly stupid plan aside (Really? You’re going to stick rain clouds in the tank for the sprinklers as a way to disperse rain?) when the PJ Masks confront her, she tells them her plan and motivation up front, and one of the Masks says that they’d be happy to play games with her at night so she wouldn’t be lonely. Which is pretty cool, except Luna Girl immediately turns them down saying the idea of playing games with them is repulsive – vocal emphasis that playing games is just as repulsive as with them.
Let me go over that: her plan is to make it rainy during the day; her motivation is she is jealous that kids get to play games during the day and she doesn’t. The PJ Masks offer to play games with her during the night; she finds the idea of playing games repulsive.
Here’s where I’m not sure media for older ages is immune: you could argue it still makes sense if Luna Girl just wants to watch the world burn. Er, rain. But…that’s not how it was presented. She didn’t say “those kids have something I don’t so I want to ruin it for them, even though I don’t care about it, because I’m just that evil.” She said, “They have something I want, and since I can’t have it, I’m going to ruin it for them, but also I don’t want it.”
And yeah, she’s a kid, and my own kid will walk me around in circles where she’ll say she wants something but doesn’t want something imparative to having what she said she did want and I end up
and that’s just part of parenting but there’s a few important distinctions between my kid and Luna Girl: my kid is three. She’s not always good at communicating and probably she just didn’t communicate her wants well in the first place, or didn’t quite understand what I’m asking. Luna Girl is old enough she should be at least mostly past that. Also my kid is a real person and not a fictional character and when you have to choose between not frustrating the crap out of your audience and doing someting true to life, probably choose not frustrating the crap out of your audience (brands of frustrating vary). I’d rather have Luna Girl’s motive be consistent and make sense than have her take a stab at being a realistic stubborn kid – which she does fine in other aspects, but this one was just…you know what I’m going to do the meme again.
Anyway the other reason why Luna Girl can’t be a person who just wants to watch the world burn is because she’s not the kind of person who just wants to watch the world burn. Humans are sometimes spiteful creatures, yes. Watching the world burn is, I think, the most spiteful you can get, although characters like Heath Ledgers’ Joker have shown us it doesn’t have to be spite, it can be a branch of insanity. What’s important to remember is that if your character is motivated by spite, they aren’t simultaneoulsy motivated by something else that conflicts with the spite unless they are struggling with themselves over it. Either Luna Girl is jealous or she’s spiteful; if you want to do both simultaneously, where her jealousy has made her spiteful and that’s not changing, don’t swap motivations, show that both coexist. “You have something I don’t, so I want to ruin it for you. What? You have a solution that could make me not feel left out? I’m already dedicated to just ruining it for you.” Not, “I legitimately don’t want the thing that you have that I don’t that I literally just said I wanted.”
Certainly with more time and space, you could develop that interation to make sense. But these are like, fifteen minute episodes or somesuch, so they don’t have time. So instead you just get this whiny brat who doesn’t know what she wants who is obnoxious beyond description and I’m over here wishing we were fighting a cool villain.
Either way the point is, she wasn’t consistent, and one way or another, that needed to be fixed, whether expression her dual emotional motivations better, or changing them up to be better compatible and less…Jackie Chan meme.
And hey, even Jackie Chan meme can work, but you’ve got to be careful with that, and your other characters should probably be pulling the face along with your reader, so that it’s clear, no, this character really just doesn’t know what she wants.