Have you guys seen this bullshit? Granted, the source doesn’t have the best track record of accuracy and these rumors have already been denied by people involved in the production. However, we do know from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trailer that the new Shredder is somehow connected to April O’Neill’s father, who is connected to the creation of the Ninja Turtles. Even this, in my estimation, is a bit too much.
It seems to me (not that I’m an expert or anything) that there has been a trend recently to up the emotional stakes in a film by unnecessarily connecting characters. All of the protagonists and antagonists have to be deeply connected in some way – whether the villain is created as a direct result of the hero (Batman , The Incredibles, Iron Man 1 and 3), or the characters are all related in some way like with the new Ninja Turtles. I’ve touched on similar problems before and it all has to do with a main character being too important. When everything is connected too neatly it makes the world of the story seem smaller. It narrows the focus and, by extension, removes spontaneity. That’s right, I’m insinuating that by connecting characters and events in a story you’re adding an element of fate that makes your story predictable and, therefore and hitherto, less exciting.
I’m struggling with this problem right now with my latest story. It takes place in 1823 in the aftermath of several wars and skirmishes between American settlers and Native Americans. The setting is a town in the unorganized territories that is home to a cast of characters that have ended up there because they have no place else to go. Each of these characters has been affected by the wars and skirmishes in some way and are trying to move past it. Now, if I just stopped there it wouldn’t be overkill. I think that’s a perfectly acceptable backdrop for a group of characters to be connected in some way, especially in that time period when travel was harder and the entire country was going through a transitionary period. But I didn’t stop there, and that’s where I’ve begun to wonder if it’s gone too far.
A drifter arrives in town that also shares scars from the wars. However, he is also directly responsible for the scars of several other members of the town because of his involvement in the wars. Is this too much? Does the story need that added coincidence to be emotionally fulfilling? Will the audience accept the connectedness of these characters but only to a point? Or, perhaps the most important question, if there is an element of spontaneity introduced via a character or event that isn’t connected will that tip the scales back in the right direction?
I think it’s hard to know without the full context of story. It also depends on theme. Some stories are predicated on coincidence and fate. Others thrive on randomness. The needs of the story should dictate how connected your characters are, how small the world is. And the emotional stakes should flow from the characters and their problems directly, not through a manufactured connectedness. It’s cheating and it’s lazy.
And hopefully Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hasn’t fallen prey to it.