Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In the Field: Gilmore Girls and Not Getting It

Don't forget today is the final day to enter THE IMMORTAL RULES giveaway.

Today, I'm starting up another new series, "In the Field." So far this year, I've watched all 6 seasons of DAWSON'S CREEK and all 7 of GILMORE GIRLS. Additionally, I've watched/rewatched a few anime series. And then there are all the books. And since I've been reading so many craft books, I keep picking up lessons from the stories I watch and read. So I thought I'd share these lessons I learn from stories out "In the Field."


One of the things Gilmore Girls is known for is their reference-dropping. Let's say Gilmore Girls drops 100 references an episode. The average person gets about 20 of them. People with a special interest in movies or tv or rock music get about 40. Pop culture-aholics get about 60. Pretty much nobody gets every reference. And Gilmore Girls was still a hit. It still had a 7 year-run. It was powerful enough that, almost a decade after the fact, I bought myself the series.

New writers are often tempted to explain everything. But even more experienced writers may shy away from references that people may not get. Gilmore Girls teaches us that they don't always need to.


Something I had to realise as a language learner, is that it's less important to understand every single word than it is to get the general gist. The same is true of stories.

A GG example:

Richard's mother, Trix, constantly puts down Emily, his wife, and Emily generally becomes a nervous wreck whenever she's around. Lorelai tells her that she has to find her own way to fight back. So one night, when they are having dinner at Lorelai's inn, Emily stages a coup. When Trix asks for the plates to be cleared, Emily declares that she's not done, and eats as slowly as possibly. Lorelai's response? "That'll do, Pig."

You don't need to know what movie "That'll do, Pig," originally comes from. Nor do you need to know where the updated, "That'll do, Donkey," can be found. All you need to know is that Lorelai is applauding Emily's defiance. And you get that.

Me, Personally

People not getting what I'm saying is a big worry for me. I lived in the US for 2 of my 30 years, but I've spent the majority of my life outside of "mainstream Western countries." My books are set in Barbados or Japan. They all feature Barbadian characters. I've always feared that there would be way too much that other people wouldn't understand.

Not to mention, I have lived in other countries, and even before I did, I lived a relatively multicultural life. So there are references I make that Barbadians and other Caribbean people might miss. Now, I realise that my readers are smart enough to get it from context. And if it can't be deduced from context, then it's probably superfluous - me showing off my "multicultural darlings."

In the book I'm working on now (which went on pause when I got gastro last week, and is now in a sad state of flux), some girls are talking about suicide. And the MC says something about carving the Broken Trident into your wrists. Now you don't have to know that the Broken Trident is the name of the Barbados flag, and the black shape in the middle. You get that it's about slashing wrists.

(Photo: Barbados Flag and I on top of Mount Fuji.)


One Piece

ONE PIECE is one of the anime series I follow. I really love that there are these things that I get, that I don't think most of the viewing public does. Like watching a Gilmore Girls episode and catching a reference to Casablanca or another old movie, it instills a weird sense of pride. I love the One Piece references because they're drawn from so many cultures, which is perfect for me. 

The ship's navigator/weather girl is called Nami. Nami means "(sea) wave"  in Japanese. Perfect name for a ship's navigator? Yups. Of course, all Japanese people can get that reference if they think about it for a second.  The ship's swordsman is Zoro, a clear reference to the Latino sword hero, and a reference I think all Westerners get. There's a cyborg called Frankie, as well. Reference: Frankenstein. And Usopp uses both Japanese and Western references. When his character was first introduced he was known for his wild stories."Uso" is Japanese for lie. Back that up with his ridiculously long nose, a clear reference to Pinocchio. Then there are the references which are outside English and Japanese, like Nami's adoptive mother, "Belle-mere", whose name is French for Mother-in-law. 

You don't have to get a single one of these references to watch the show, but I love them, and it makes the show exist on a different level for me. It's like when you watch Shrek as a kid and it's so cute. And then you watch it as an adult, and see all the perverted bits. 

Me, Personally

In one scene of my new WIP, the MC steps into the hallway, and everybody stops talking and just stares at her, like she was "covered in a vat of pig's blood." 

If you don't get the reference, then the meaning is still clear. But if you've watched or read Stephen King's CARRIE, then it calls up another level for you. It's the ultimate in high-school ostracism. And it might even signal to you that this chick is about to lose her shiz.


At the end of the day, I'd like to say a big thank you to Gilmore Girls for teaching me this lesson. It's an extremely relevant one for me. Since my references are so different, I was either going to have to bend myself to an American norm, tone down my voice, limit myself to Caribbean audiences or stop writing. And none of those choices felt right. Now I know I can make references, and it's fine if my readers can't see every level of the picture I'm painting, so long as they hear what I've said.


Asia Morela said...

Agreed! I realized that I didn't get all the cultural references in American romance novels when I finally moved to Canada myself... Conversely, I think it can also make you worry less about accuracy of every single detail: if most people wouldn't know right from wrong, then why worry? I'm mainly thinking of instances like writing a North American setting for French-speaking readers.

Perhaps slightly off topic, I also think that explaining everything may sound condescending. I recently received this manuscript in which the French heroine travels to China. There she meets another French journalist, and at some point they're having a conversation about Chinese food. The fact that the guy underlined how different and unthinkable a Chinese breakfast was for "French people" annoyed me: as a half-Asian French woman with lots of equally mixed friends, this assumption that "we French" are completely unfamiliar with anything Asian sounded almost insulting.

It's one thing to have your character feel personally surprised (if they really *must* be surprised), and another to make a sweeping generalization about "French people".

Liza said...

I'm a huge GG fan, and love when I catch the references...but the lesson you've mentioned is even more valuable.