Have you seen Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog? It’s this awesome film from Joss Whedon. Nathan Fillion was in it, as was Neil Patrick Harris and Felicia Day. I love this movie like nothing else.
I learn about writing from everywhere, or at least I try to. So when something comes along that captures my imagination as much as this, I have to ruin it for myself. You know, by picking it apart to see how it was made. I actually intend to do this more often on here, as it’s actually a great practice.
Now, directors have all kinds of tools we don’t have. Sad to say, Neil Patrick Harris and Liev Schriber are not here to act my stories out. I also don’t have Danny Elfman to write a score for me. But there are still things to learn from the writing and character building.
I fell in love with Dr. Horrible/ Billy right away when watching this movie. He’s a real person, which I’ve mentioned before is kind of a big deal for characters. He gets mad and bitches. He’s not a lovable klutz who stumbles into success, but neither is he a superhero for whom everything comes easily. He’s a self-obsessed dork, disillusioned but somehow still hopeful. A pessimistic dreamer, which I think we can all relate to. He wants the girl, the world and the cool job in the Evil Leauge of Evil. He knows he should have those things, and is trying desperately to achieve them. And yet he’s full of doubt. Not in himself, but in the world.
We see all of these aspects of him through the way he speaks to the people around him. He plans things out. He refuses to meet with someone because he feels that they’re beneath him. He talks, openly, about being defeated by Captain Hammer. He does a million subtle things that show us how he’s feeling.
Bad guy, good guy
The protagonist of this movie is a villain who calls himself Dr. Horrible who wants to be a super villain. He wants to join the Evil League of Evil and work with Bad Horse. (The Thoroughbred of sin.) He has a Ph.D. in horribleness and wants to rule the world.
He also refuses to have a fight at a park because there are kids there. He’s respectful of Penny, the female lead. Even though he’s in love with her, he’s honest with her. When she asks him to sign a petition to help homeless people he does, but he also tells her that he thinks she’s treating a symptom of their society. He wants things to be better for everyone. He’s smart, honest and works hard. He’s interested in his friend’s lives, taking the time to ask them about what’s going on with them, dispute being a little self-centered. He’s felt failure, boy has he ever, and keeps trying anyway. At several moments, he proves that he’s not capable of killing someone in cold blood for his own personal gain. Or for any reason, really.
The antagonist is Captain Hammer, a superhero with hammer like strength. He’s loved by the community and has an adorable little group of fan girls and boy who stalk him and cut off pieces of his hair when he’s not paying attention.
He also has sex with Penny just because he knows Dr. Horrible likes her. He pays lip service to her cause of helping homeless people. He makes a point of beating the hell out of Dr. Horrible, just to make him look like a loser. He’s narcissistic and stupid. He makes a show of helping the homeless just for more praise. When he fails, he falls apart. And he proves that he’s got no problem, at all, killing.
While I do love the bad guy protagonist motif, (as seen in Dexter, Santa Clarita Diet and Ray Donovan) this isn’t what’s happening here. As we can see, the super villain personifies qualities that we would associate with a good and noble person. The superhero is the actual horrible person. (See what I did there?)
Everything you ever, and 1+1 Vs. 2
When you watch Dr. Horrible, you hear the same phrase over and over. Everything you ever.
Everything you ever what? Wanted, deserved, dreamed of? It never actually says, which leaves the viewer to finish the sentence themselves.
This is the clearest example I’ve ever seen of a lesson I learned from a Ted Talk by Pixar writer Andrew Stanton. By the way, if you haven’t seen his talk, The Clues to a Great Story, here’s a link. Fantastic talk. But the lesson is this.
Don’t give the audience two, give then 1+1 and let them figure it out for themselves.
And this is something I’ve struggled with so much. I want my stories to be clear, to be obvious. I have a habit of saying “Look! Here is the moral of this story! Here is how she’s feeling, here’s why he did that thing! I know you’ll never be able to put it together yourself, and I’ll be damned if I’ll be misunderstood. So I’m just going to tell you what I want you to get our of this. I’m not going to let you extract something from this that I didn’t intend!”
Which, as I write this, I realize is a horribly selfish way to write. It is not our jobs as writers to tell people how they should feel about our writing. It’s our job to tell a story. A real, honest, story.
Finally, I’d like to tell you my favorite Joss Whedon quote about writing.
“Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.”
Comedy works well in Dr. Horrible. You’re laughing so much at the absurdity of it all that you don’t see the dark ending coming.
If you have any movies, tv shows or books that you’d like to see picked apart for writing lessons please ask. Send me an email at nicolecluttrell86@Gmail.com or comment on this post.