First, a confession. I really don’t feel like posting today.
I want to talk about Charlottesville and rant about how everyone’s missing the point, how the media is glossing over half the story and how the whole country’s going to hell. But, that’s politics, and I’m not doing that here. That’s not what this blog is about.
I want to talk about Korea. I did a lot of study on that country for my last book. It’s actually something I know about. But again, politics. Not doing that, either.
Still, I gotta post something. I made a commitment and take it seriously. A thing a day for August. Writing’s easy when you’re in the mood. This is about doing something hard.
This is about writing when I don’t feel like it.
So, screw it. Let’s talk about Rick and Morty instead.
If you’ve been hiding under a trash can lid for the last several years, and if you have I don’t blame you, I’ll run through the show’s premise real quick. Rick is a super scientist that can go anywhere and do anything. He drags his grandson, Morty, along on crazy adventures through the multiverse. Exposure to an infinite number of universes has made Rick an entirely amoral character. Nothing matters to him but himself, but not because he’s a sociopath. It’s just that, no matter how bad he screws up, there’s a perfectly intact universe just a portal jump away.
Dan Harmon, the show’s creator, has a lot of powerful things to say about story structure. I think I’ll do a post examining story structure and different takes on it, but today, I’m just going to leverage his eight-step wheel to make a point about Rick. To learn more about the wheel, you can get it from the horse’s mouth here.
Harmon breaks down the structure of a story as follows:
- A character is in a zone of comfort,
- But they want something.
- They enter an unfamiliar situation,
- Adapt to it,
- Get what they wanted,
- Pay a heavy price for it,
- Then return to their familiar situation,
- Having changed.
However, while the above works for movies and books, it doesn’t work for television. As Harmon says,
“A feature film’s job is to send you out of the theater on a high in 90 minutes. Television’s job is to keep you glued to the television for your entire life.”
So, he modifies the cycle this way:
- notice a small problem,
- and make a major decision.
- this changes things
- to some satisfaction, but
- there are consequences
- that must be undone
- and I must admit the futility of change.
That’s quite a difference. Our hero doesn’t return to the real world and change it. Our hero returns and reaffirms the status quo.
Alright, Nick, we’re all suitably impressed with your dissertation on story structures. What’s this got to do with Rick?
Over the course of the first two seasons, we’ve learned that Rick was once involved in a rebellion against the Galactic Republic. With Birdperson, Squanchy and other friends, Rick battled this oppressive government and became a wanted terrorist. They lost.
The implication here is that, having lost, he and his fellow freedom fighters simply quit, returning to their homes and lives in failure. Now, Rick is more interested in selling a death ray to an interplanetary assassin to raise money for a day at Chits and Blits than freeing the multiverse from tyranny. Rick is both an example of the first type of story structure and a joke about it. Having tried things the first way, he now realizes the futility of trying to change things and revels in the second.
Rick is Dan Harmon’s joke about how you have to write a TV series.
And that, my friends, cracks me up.