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View Full Version : Heroes vs. Battlestar Galactica, and just what is "character-driven?"


levdrakon
01-25-2007, 03:20 PM
First, a poll of sorts. Which do you prefer; Heroes, or the reimagined Battlestar Galactica? Please explain why you like or dislike them. Or, what parts do you like, and what parts you're not happy with.

I happen to really like both shows. But in both Heroes threads and BSG threads I'll hear people frequently defending the shows' shortcomings by saying "it's character-driven, don't worry about it."

Thing is, I like Heroes and BSG for different reasons, and I don't agree they're both character-driven. To me, Heroes is and BSG isn't.

I immediately fell in love with the characters on Heroes. I care what they think, they say, what they do, and how they interact with each other. Most of the characters have super powers but I don't need to know exactly how someone can fly, or walk through walls, or travel through time. I love to speculate, but really it's the characters I care about.

With BSG, I like the characters well enough, but I'm primarily interested in the over-arching story. I also need the underlying science to be consistent. I've never felt a personal attachment to the characters there. They're not my friends, the way the characters on Heroes are. Or Firefly for instance. The characters became my family and I felt like I was sharing adventures with them each week. I don't get that from BSG. On BSG I think, "wow, that actor turned in a great performance this week, that one scene was very moving. That actor has talent."

So, I don't think BSG is character-driven. It's got good acting most of time, but it's not character-driven to me.

Feel free to discuss any other scifi-ish fantasy-ish shows you want. Firefly, Farscape, Stargate, Star Trek, Buffy, Smallville - whatever. Or any shows you want, if it's an example of what you consider to be character-driven or not.

Just today in a Lost thread someone mentioned they're still watching the show because it's character-driven, even though the writers initially said the show's mysteries would all have plausible scientific explanations and clearly they no longer do.

It often sounds like saying a show is character-driven is just a way of excusing whatever other people don't like about the show. I'd like to pin down what character-driven means to you, me fellow Dopers.

At what point can you criticize a show's science, dangling plot holes and internal inconsistencies and when should you back off and let other people just enjoy the show because it's character-driven?

Corner Case
01-25-2007, 04:49 PM
I have three kids and I haven't squeezed in Heroes. I saw two scenes and so can't comment intelligently.

I see character-driven as as 'two men face-off in the street for a gun-fight - character-driven is High Plains Drifter and action-driven is Back To The Future III. Do you care what the characters think and what they are going to decide to do next?

Stargate the TV series is character-driven many times. Do you dissect Teal'c or let him be a team member and why? How does Sam work out her relationship with Jack and Pete and why? If I am looking forward to the character's decisions and want to know why they made them, then it's character-driven to me.

Star Trek's - Journey to Babel: Spock's mother (human) erupts and Spock asks his father, "Why did you marry her?" and Sarek replies, "It seemed the logical thing to do." While a wonderful joke it also made me think about Vulcan emotions and relationships. I took away more questions from the scene than it answered and made up my own rationalizations. That is a good character-driven element of a show.

levdrakon
01-25-2007, 05:29 PM
I see character-driven as as 'two men face-off in the street for a gun-fight - character-driven is High Plains Drifter and action-driven is Back To The Future III. Do you care what the characters think and what they are going to decide to do next?

Stargate the TV series is character-driven many times. Do you dissect Teal'c or let him be a team member and why? How does Sam work out her relationship with Jack and Pete and why? If I am looking forward to the character's decisions and want to know why they made them, then it's character-driven to me.Character-driven vs. action-driven. That's interesting. In BSG and Lost, I want to see what happens. I enjoy watching the characters get there, but mostly I want to find out how it turns out. In Heroes and Stargate, I love the action, but I really enjoy hearing what the characters think, and how they get along during the adventure.

Bosstone
01-25-2007, 05:52 PM
The dichotomy as I see it is character-driven versus plot-driven:

Character-driven: The characters make the story happen. The things that happen in the story wouldn't happen if the characters were replaced by different people. I don't watch Heroes or BSG, so I can't comment on those, but Firefly is an excellent example of a character-driven story; the episode plots happen primarily because Malcolm Reynolds is the captain and nobody else. If Zoe or Jayne were the captain, or if the ship was crewed by Alliance loyalists, you would have a vastly different story than you get by having Mal in that place. Babylon 5 is also a character-driven story; much of the plot in that series happens because Londo is who he is (just to pick out one character). Liking or not liking the characters doesn't really have anything to do with whether or not the story is character-driven.

Plot-driven: The story happens to the characters. This is more like most action flicks and sitcoms. The plot is an external force that moves characters along regardless of their personalities or temperaments. If you took a specific role in a plot-driven series that was occupied by, say, a brooding 39 year old smoker who lost his family in a car crash and replaced him with a 25 year old surfer who has a fiancee, and the overall plot wouldn't change much? That's plot-driven.

I much prefer character-driven stories because they tend to feel a lot more natural: the characters tend to have vastly stronger backgrounds and personalities, dialogue comes more naturally, relationships aren't as contrived (but when they are, it's vastly more obvious), and suchlike. The plot happens because of a person's actions, and that lends that person's actions much more impact.

Plot-driven stories aren't bad in their way -- they're great for pure entertainment -- but they have a tendency to seem more shallow to me.

Fish
01-25-2007, 07:42 PM
I have not seen Heroes, and have only recently been given the Battlestar Galactica DVD set (season 1), but I'm gonna weigh in anyway since I'm a huge Firefly fan.

Character-driven to me means that the characters drive, doing all the things they would naturally do. In other words, the plot fits the characters.

Character-driven stories build their plot on layer after layer of character choices. For instance: in Kingdom Come, Superman becomes disillusioned and bitter about eternally being at humanity's beck and call, and withdraws into isolation. As a result of that, new heroes arise to take up the mantle of fighting crime, but lacking Superman's guiding hand of discipline and vision, they turn to fighting each other. As a result of the battles breaking out, Superman comes out of retirement and, in typical Superman fashion, offers a black-and-white ultimatum. Because of Superman's boy-scout morality, Batman doesn't side with him and many of Superman's other potential allies are put off. Superman, being himself, has a huge prison built and throws all the bad guys in it despite the potential for a powder-keg explosion therein; Luthor, being himself, therefore seeks to release everyone in it.

The plot, therefore, spins out of Superman's original choice and its progress is dictated by the kind of person he is.

Firefly is an intensely character-driven show. To name just one example, "Ariel," the crew happens to be near Alliance space when ...River slashes Jayne with a knife. Because of this, they elect to find a way to provide Simon with hospital access so he can treat her and access to hospital medicines which the Firefly crew can sell. Because Jayne is a mercenary and doesn't like the fugitive Tams being on board, he elects to betray them to the Alliance.All of it spins out of a series of actions that those characters would be likely to take.

Plot-driven (or as you say, action-driven) means the plot is in charge, and you lean heavily on the stable of characters who would be likely to forward that plot. In other words, the characters fit the plot.

A plot-driven version of "Ariel," above, would go like this:Some guy calls Malcolm Reynolds and says, "Hey, I'll pay you a lot of money for some medicines," and Mal says "Okay," and Mal pulls off the heist with Wash and Zoe. While there, Mal proposes to steal for Simon some medicine with which to treat River. Jayne says, "No way, man!" and Mal says, "Yes way!" and Jayne says "Whatever dude."Same general effect, except it's an outside force which drives the plot, and characters are not finessed into situations where their choices really matter.

levdrakon
01-25-2007, 09:58 PM
Liking or not liking the characters doesn't really have anything to do with whether or not the story is character-driven.Excellent point. Bad guys in character-driven shows are to me, very interesting and I want to know about them just as much as I want them to get their just desserts. In plot-driven stories I'm mainly interested in whether they get they just desserts or not.