Friday, December 13, 2019

Writing Lessons from TV Shows: Gravity Falls

This past month I've finally gotten into Gravity Falls. I've known about this show for years. I've seen fanart and cosplays, but the animation was a big put off for me. I thought this was just another stupid kid's show with cheap animation, retcon character arcs or zero character arcs, and a shallow incoherent plot if there was one at all laced with fart jokes. So when my good friend Cassia suggested I watch this I was honestly thinking, "Really? This show?"

I was very surprised.

To be honest, I still dislike the animation (I'm spoiled on anime.). I'm a big fan of the redraws I've found online, but the characters and writing are very impressive. The plot grows and so do the characters. Stakes escalate and real bonds are created. The show does not use the typical kid's show tropes like stagnant characters, inconsistent animation, and retconned plot points. So I'm happy to announce I'm a fan and here's why. 

SPOILER WARNING: The biggest ones are in points three, four, and five.

If this is your first exposure to Gravity Falls, I'm sorry but this gif was too perfect.
1.) Continuity - The first thing I noticed in this show is that the animators and writers stuck to their guns. When characters destroyed something, it was either shown to be repaired or it stayed broken like the Mystery Shack sign or even a picture in Mabel's room she had ripped in half but later on, you see taped together. At one point Grunkle Stan hurts his hand and he has a bandage for quite a long time. 

Most kid's shows would just have the bandage disappear. Grunkle Stan also has a relatively elaborate tattoo on his back that is consistently animated as well as Dipper's birthmark that's always shown when his bangs are blown from his face. It's a common thing in kid's shows to just have these little changes disappear without explanation, but the animators took the extra effort to stay consistent. They even show Blenden in the background in earlier episodes when you find out in a later episode that he had to go back in time and clean up after Mabel and Dipper. 

How this can be applied to writing: I feel like writers have to stick to continuity more than kid's shows, but regardless it's a very important thing to keep in mind. It shows the reader that you care about the details and it means something.

2.) Quirky Circumstances Explained - Gravity Falls has a lot of weird things that go on. Why hasn't anyone found out about Gravity Falls? How does Mabel have so many sweaters? Why is Dipper's name Dipper? Why does Grunkle Stan live in Gravity Falls? Why does Dipper always wear the same clothes? Why is McGucket insane but has this crazy talent with machines? Why does Lazy Susan have a lazy eye? All of these are explained as opposed to left to wonder about out of most likely writer laziness.

How this can be applied to writing: If something is weird or different in your story and you want to keep the suspension of disbelief going, you have to give an explanation about why that thing is. Why does a magic system work the way it does? Why does that person wear a particular necklace all the time? Why to the Gurgleknocks bang pots for ceremonial cheese tastings? 

3.) A Typically Dislikeable Archetype that Worked - I normally can't stand Mabel's archetype. She's very girly and she comes off as dumb and silly, but I found myself growing to love her. She wasn't just what she appeared to be. Often in kid's shows when a character is a certain archetype, they stay that archetype and don't have any more depth to them beyond that. Mabel is a pre-teen girl who loves boybands, but she also loves to pick on her twin brother and she likes to think the best of people. She deals with real emotions and fears that pre-teen girls do. One scene that made me nearly cry with Mabel was when she decided to trust Grunkle Stan and let the portal open. It showed genuine trust, faith, and love. 

How this can be applied to writing: Archetypes are a great starting point to create characters, but they have to be something beyond their archetype and be allowed to change archetypes if they want to. People are more than just one part of their personality. 

4.) Twins - Mabel and Dipper are twins and though I'm not a twin, I feel like they were a really great sibling pair. The creator Alex Hirsch actually has a twin sister named Ariel and he based the Pines Twins after him and sister. You can really see the authenticity of their relationship. They seem like real siblings and they have their commonalities and their annoyances with each other, but in the end, they'd do anything with each other.

Normally the secret twin trope is way overdone, but in this show, it worked perfectly. The big twist of the first season is when you find out that Grunkle Stan has a twin brother. But this worked so well because twins run in families. Of course, it's plausible that Grunkle Stan could have a twin brother. My cousin had twin boys and my great grandmother had twin brothers. 

I also love how the twins don't look exactly alike. I actually didn't know Mabel and Dipper were twins until later. They didn't outright say they were twins. Many twins aren't identical and it seems more common in shows to have identical twins. Even Stan and Ford are different especially with Ford being polydactyl. 

How this can be applied to writing: To check out more about writing twins, come see this interview I had with a pair of twin bloggers!

5.) A Villain with No Respect for Anyone or Anything - We cannot have a Gravity Falls post without addressing Bill Cipher. He is one of the most intimidating cartoon villains I've ever seen and it's primarily because he just doesn't have any respect for anything and that's scary. He just does not care who or what he hurts like when he took out a deer's teeth and then put them back in just because he could. However, I didn't take him completely seriously until the infamous Bipper episode. 

Dipper makes a deal with Bill and it backfires horribly. Bill possesses Dipper's body and he treats his body with so much uncaring. He falls downstairs, stabs Dipper's arms with forks, and slaps his face. I was constantly and cringing and like, "No! No! Stop! You're going to kill him!" 

Bill is extremely powerful and he has zero hesitation to use his powers to get whatever he wants. He's a truly daunting foe for the characters and as a viewer, I genuinely feared for the character's lives. 

How this can be applied to writing: Bill is similar to the Joker and Ultron in this way. Villains who just don't care are very scary. You never know what they're going to do and it makes for a fascinating opponent for your characters. 

Conclusion - I'm very impressed with this series. I already want to watch it again and I definitely recommend it for anyone who likes high-quality kid's shows along the lines of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Teen Titans.

I'm leaving this here because it made me laugh too much.

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