Great Ideas, Poor Execution

About a month ago I wrote about SyFy’s new show “Alphas,” thrilled with the idea of the characters and eager to see what the writers did with the show. Now, two months or so into the season, I’m still waiting for the writers and directors to do justice to what they’ve created. They have this unique idea about a group of “common folks” with uncommon abilities, and they’re turning the show into a retread of “Heroes,” and a weak retread at that.

I sat and analyzed why it was so weak and decided it was because the writers just don’t know what to do with the characters they’ve created. The character who can influence people’s minds? She’s just an enforcer, who steps in when violence isn’t desired or necessary to get a confession or information. The empath? Well, she’s a little more useful, though she often seems more like a bloodhound than an empath. The former FBI agent who goes ballistic on command? Seems like he fails in his goals more often than he succeeds. The character with pinpoint aim? Certainly, he can throw a textbook and trip a running goon, but what else is he capable of doing? So much more! The character who reads/sees digital information is the most enjoyable, and yet they could do much more with him than have him track cell phone signals or read Google maps in the ether. And, finally, the fellow who has brought them all together…he caved so suddenly when the government wanted them to become “super agents” that he no longer has any credibility. What was the initial reason for gathering the Alphas? Does anyone remember?

Another show that had great promise but has withered on the vine is “Leverage,” about a group of con artists and thieves who help those who can’t help themselves, standing against all odds for the Little Guy. Unfortunately, Timothy Hutton is incapable of headlining the team with any strength of character; he’s the weakest link in the group of six. That’s likely due to his acting limitations, rather than to the writing, but the storylines have grown increasingly absurd and uninteresting. The season’s opener involving a mountain climbing expedition was laughably horrible. The Brits were able to keep the audience’s interest in the original series, but here in the U.S., the potential has fizzled.

Such a disappointment to see how these characters in both shows are going to waste. They have such potential for new storylines, but instead seem simply to be retelling stories from other shows using different characters.

The same goes for the second book in the Cleaner series by Brett Battles. In the first book, The Cleaner, Battles introduces us to an interesting character unlike any I’ve encountered before. The Cleaner sanitizes scenes where government/CIA/Office interactions have gone bad, removing bodies and covering any tracks of what took place. An intriguing idea, and I looked forward to reading more  books. The second book, The Deceiver, is so slow-moving that I found it hard to read until the end (though the last 50 pages finally picked up the pace). And in the second and third books, the Cleaner is no longer cleaning, but is involved in international intrigue on his own. We already have those characters and those stories.

Not that these books aren’t decent reads, but I get the sense that Battles has lost sight of the character he created, a new character with great potential for new stories. It’s sad to see a writer (or series writers) create something new and let the characters lie fallow, instead taking the easy/safe/tried-and-true path that has worked for other authors and writers.

I’ll keep watching “Alphas” for a few more episodes, though I’m almost certain I’m finished with “Leverage,” and haven’t decided on the Battles books.

The moral of the story is, it accomplishes nothing if you create great characters and let them go fallow in weak stories. Do justice to your characters and give them vehicles in which they can thrive.

Excellence in Writing

I just finished two books over the weekend: Greg Hurwitz’s Crimewriter and Brett Battles’ The Cleaner. Both were gripping and, most importantly, well written. Too often, I find good stories that are poorly written. This seems to be especially common now that publish-on-demand (POD) is so easily available.

I won’t name names, but there are books being sold today that would likely not have seen the light of day had it not been for POD. One of the first giveaways to bad writing for me can be found in most of these books….the self-description by the narrator. These are typically so bad, so “I’ve got to tell them what this character looks like,” that I want to throw the book across the room. Of course, POD authors are not the only ones who are lame at this. Take Dan Brown’s description of Robert Langdon in Angels and Demons. That almost got me to throw the book, but I was laughing so hard I simply dropped it. Pathetic. The guy tells a fun story but he is not a good writer!

That’s the difference with Hurwitz and Battles. Both write extremely well. I was a bit put off by the beginning of Hurwitz’s book. In fact, I put it down for a couple of months before getting back to it. It was a case of “look how well I write,” for me at least. I was too aware of him patting himself on his own back, admiring his description of Los Angeles. I’m glad I worked past that though, because it was an excellent book once I read further. Great story idea and well plotted.

I was hooked on Battles’ book from the first moment: the Cleaner, who goes and cleans up crime scenes for “the Office.” Unique idea and tightly plotted and written.

Both of these authors represent excellence in writing as far as I am concerned. I devoured both books and looked up for more, sateless. Next, however, must be Laurie R. King’s latest book, God of the Hives, and Meg Gardiner’s latest, Liar’s Lullaby. Held off reading King’s book, making myself savor the wait. Now is the time. And as soon as Gardiner’s book arrives, all else must wait.