Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Making the Bizarre Believable

I’ve been a huge FRINGE fan since the pilot first aired a couple of years back.

It’s my favorite kind of show. Rich Characters. Sharp dialogue and bizarre happenings. When I had my television disconnected last winter, Fringe was one of the shows I really missed. Along with Burn Notice, Stargate Universe, The Big Bang Theory, Psych—well and a host of others. A couple of weeks back, however, I subscribed to Netflix and started renting some of the previous seasons of my favorite shows, along with other shows people were raving about, but I never watched because they were on Showtime or HBO. Shows like Spartacus, Blood and Sand and True Blood.

But I digress, as usual.

One of the nice things about watching the full season of television shows on disk is that often times there will be special features listed on the disk. And one of the special features listed on the Fringe first season’s, first disk was writer and director commentary.

I listened to the writers’ commentary while I was working in the kitchen and they made a comment I thought was very insightful. They said after the pilot of FRINGE aired, they waited to see what kind of reaction the audience was going to have. There had been so many bizarre, strange scenarios in the pilot; they’d wanted to see whether people had bought into the scenarios or whether they’d post to the fringe blogs and websites saying how stupid and unlikely the show was. And sure enough, some people posted about how unlikely certain events were —like a fully operational lab in Harvard’s basement. But the bulk of the comments were all small stuff- nobody questioned the big, bizarre elements. Like connecting to someone’s dreams through an electrical probe in your brain, while floating in a rusty hatch of warm water and being infused with LSD. (LOL) Or!! Being able to see the very last image a dead person saw through the electrical impulses still trapped in their optic nerve. Or!! Questioning someone who had been dead for several hours. (while they were still dead.)

So after they laughed about the things some of the watchers question, verses some of the bizarre/strange/horrific things NOBODY questioned—one of the writers made this comment. He said, to paraphrase, that he thought the reason no questioned the bizarre things in Fringe, was because Peter, the skeptic in the show, had already questioned the insanity of the bizarre occurrences himself. Peter echoed what the watchers themselves where thinking and because he echoed it, and brought it into the open; it assured the watchers that the writers hadn’t ignored the obvious. (that the idea was insane) It would seem that as long as one of the characters questioned the bizarre happenings, the audience would follow along. He said you didn’t even have to explain what was happening, or why it was happening, all you had to do was question the sanity of it or offer possible reasons.

So, the next time you need to make the bizarre ordinary, or if not ordinary—at least believable—have your characters question the rationality of it. You’ll retain your audience that way.


  1. Thanks for this tip, Trish. I'll have to keep it in mind! I usually look for a scientific basis for anything 'unnatural' in my stories and then build the suspension of disbelief aspect from that scientific nugget.

    Btw, I love DVDs esp because of the special features. Deleted scenes are a wealth of knowledge on how to trim and tighten.

  2. We watch completely different shows. lol But that is a great tip. Thanks!

  3. Edie,

    I've always loved the bizarre and odd shows. LIke Twlight Zone, X-Files. I used to love Fringe. It offered such weird possibilities and the characters are so richly developed. My favorite is the father/son interaction between Walter and Peter. There is so much tenderness/yet wariness between those two.

  4. Zee,

    In YC, I offered scientific possibilities too. But my characters still questioned the possibilities of the scenarios. Kind of a double whammy to convince the audience to buy into the premise. lol