Acid-Colored Glasses – Lessons from Dr. Horrible

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog and what makes it so great. Here’s one of those things, which I’m hoping to incorporate into my own writing: characters with blinders on.

If you haven’t seen Dr. Horrible, do yourself a favor and go watch it right now. It’s on Netflix instant. Then again, if you’re reading my blog you are probably very familiar with all works of Joss Whedon and don’t mind that I go ahead with spoilers.

Hi, my name is Aine, and I love Neil Patrick Harris. He can do no wrong. Except that one Spiderman cartoon.

Neil Patrick Harris can do no wrong. Except that one Spiderman cartoon. (It’s ok, Neil, I still love you.)

The core of this 45-minute masterpiece is the relationship between Billy and Penny. Or rather, the near lack thereof. Though under different circumstances they might have become an adorable couple one day, their story ends with tragedy. Could it have been avoided?

No. Because Billy and Penny are blinded by completely different perspectives.

Their polarity is perfectly highlighted in their duet “My Eyes.” Billy sees the world as a dark, dismal place that can only be remedied with villainous takeover – fighting fire with fire, if you will. Penny is an optimist, convinced things around her are constantly improving. Based on the experiences of both characters, their perspectives make sense – they come from very different places. And those perspectives have caused blindness in each.

Because Billy is so focused on top-down change, he can’t take Penny’s charitable efforts seriously. This leads to him missing his opportunity to connect with her early on, setting the stage for Captain Hammer to get between them. He sees that event as further proof that everything goes badly all the time, fueling his desperation to do something truly drastic – “The fish rots from the head, so I say why not cut off the head,” he says.

Meanwhile Penny is so positive, so focused on the little victories in her own life (getting the shelter up and running, dating a superhero) that she barely takes a moment to notice the things that are going badly (Billy’s descent into true villainy, Captain Hammer’s douchiness). The one moment where the two actually do connect a little – in the laundromat, when she tries to cheer him up – is interrupted by her mention of Captain Hammer, the man she’s too upbeat to see is pretty much an asshat.

(Respect to Nathan Fillion. I love seeing him as not-a-good-guy. It’s too much fun.)

Seriously. Even when he's an antagonist, you still want to give him a big hug.

Seriously. Even when he’s an antagonist, you still want to give him a big hug.

So when they communicate, even though they both agree on large topics (improving the world) Billy and Penny cannot connect because they are essentially having a conversation in two different languages.

This is an awesome situation to accomplish, from a writer’s perspective. Audiences can see the dysfunction between characters they’re rooting for – and it plants this seed in their heads. Also known as foreshadowing, because it prepares them for something to go…ahem…horribly wrong. I would love to emulate this, and create more situations where my characters are experiencing the same events, but with very different experiences due to their individual blinders.

This is kind of the “rose-colored glasses” idea, but tweaked for more colors. Imagine a room with five different people wearing five different colors of glasses. Now imagine them trying to redecorate the room together. This is the kind of gorgeous chaos I’d like to replicate – because that is what real people are like. Every single person has a unique perspective on the world around them, and they perceive that world through that lens. Why should fictional people be any less unique?

Anyway, that’s what I’m going for. With two new narrators for The Dragon, I want to create two entirely new experiences, different from the three you’re already used to. I’ll be working on applying lessons learned from better storytellers than myself.

Ganbatte, writer-san.

/cast iPod [Lovedrug – Radiology]