Friday, August 14, 2020

Writing Lessons from TV Shows: The Witcher

I’ve been on a Witcher kick lately! Between playing the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and watching the Witcher Netflix, I’ve come to love Geralt of Rivia and become fascinated with the story world. I’m still playing the game (it’s so huge, man) but I have finished the Netflix show and besides the mature content I enjoyed it. Henry Cavill does an amazing Geralt of Rivia, Jaskier is hilarious, the music is so good, and the visual effects were really nice too. It had its flaws like I felt like though the show is called the Witcher it focused more on Yennefer of Vengerberg (and I’m not too crazy about her) and I wanted more of Geralt and Ciri’s relationship but hopefully, in the next season, we’ll get more of them.

Geralt of Rivia, Yennefer of Vengerberg, and Princess Cirilla of Cintra are entwined by destiny. Geralt is a famed Witcher, a mutated monster slayer, Yennefer is a sorceress, and Ciri is the last of the line of Elder Blood. The three must find each other to save the world from the Niflgaard Empire and even dark forces. 

Warning: Spoilers in points two and five.

1.) A Main Character Who's Already Powerful - Geralt of Rivia is one of the most powerful Witchers living. Not only does he have enhanced senses, but he’s a master swordsman, tracker, and user of signs. Most men and monsters don’t stand a chance against him. You just want to laugh at many who try because you know they’ll very shortly meet their end. 

How this can be applied to writing: The hero’s journey is a common story path. An unsuspecting hero who’s not very skilled learning to become a champion. Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Izuku Midorya from My Hero Academia, William from A Knight’s Tale, and Eragon from The Inheritance Cycle are just a few examples. But it’s also possible to have a great main character who’s already very skilled because they may be strong physically but there can be a lot of emotional growth needed. Geralt is just one example but other great ones are Vash the Stampede from Trigun, Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings, and Sherlock from BBC’s Sherlock. 

2.) Multiple Timelines - For the majority of the show the plot is split between three timelines that are years even decades apart. All of the timelines eventually coalesce, but not until the very latter episodes. This triple timeline became confusing sometimes especially since Yennefer and Geralt age much slower than humans and the scenes switch to different timelines without any warning. I often had to have my friend who watched it with me point out when a scene was in a different time period because I got confused. All of the information the timelines gave were important but it would have been better if there was some way to let the audience more easily grasp the timelines.

How this can be applied to writing: Split timelines are not uncommon in TV shows or even books Lost, Once Upon a Time, Arrow, and Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin are just a few examples. But all of these are just split between two time periods and with the first three were easily defined by a different setting in each timeline for example in Arrow the present timeline is in Starling City and his past self (at least earlier in the show, I haven’t watch anything recent) was set on Lian Yu. The Witcher timeline is set all over the place so there isn’t any setting marker like that. Perhaps it would have been better to have a date marker like in Baccano! which is the only show I’ve seen do a similar multi timeline plot but even that was confusing at times. Basically, if you’re going to do a multi timeline plot you have to have some grounding marker to orient your audience.

3.) A Character Wanting to Regain Something They Lost - All Yennefer wants early in the show is power. She doesn’t want to be seen as weak, she wants attention, and she doesn’t want to be afraid, so she gives up her ability to have children to get what she wants, but over the decades she realizes that power is overrated and she tries everything she can to find a way to become fertile again.

How this can be applied to writing: Sometimes characters think a sacrifice they made was worth it only to realize that it wasn't. Oftentimes, that decision can't be reversed, but sometimes it can or at least they think they can. This can be a strong motivation for a character such as how Grunkle Stan did everything he could to get Ford back in Gravity Falls.

4.) Unusual Monsters - Yes, there are more common mythological creatures in The Witcher world such as dragons and dwarves, but the majority of the creatures in these Slavic-based countries are many I haven't heard have been adapted from folklore such as Sylvans (Roman mythology), Shtrigas (Albanian mythology), and kikimora (Russian mythology). 

How this can be applied to writing: If you want to make your storyworld especially unique try looking up more unusual mythological creature. Our world has so much fascinating lore though we mostly hear Greek and a smattering of other myths in the USA. Do some research and you can find some fascinating tales to base creatures on. 

5.) Earning Titles from Deeds Good or Bad or Traits - Geralt is known by many as the White Wolf or the Butcher of Blaviken. He's known as the White Wolf because of his white hair and that he hails from the Witcher School of the Wolf. He earned the Butcher of Blaviken for slaughtering a bunch of villagers in the village of Blaviken after they wrongfully attacked him. He regrets earning that title for years to come.

How this can be applied to writing: It's common but kinda cool how in fantastic worlds characters earn different titles for different things like Thoren Oakenshield from the Hobbit earning his surname from using an oaken branch as a shield in battle, Gregor Clegane earning the title The Mountain because of his massive size in Game of Thrones, or Philipe Gaston being called the Mouse in Ladyhawke because he can escape from anything.

Conclusion - Overall, it's worth a watch if you're age-appropriate. If not, enjoy the soundtrack. It's awesome writing or reading music.

Have you seen The Witcher? Have you noticed these writing aspects? What movies have you noticed have good writing? Let's geek out together!

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