Meta, Meta, Cool, Cool, Cool: An Introduction
The National Broadcasting Company’s Comedy Series, Community, stopped airing on June 2nd of 2015 for the very same reason Netflix picked it up on April 1st of 2020. It exposed–and still exposes–the essence of Craft Writing through several well-animated characters, all while paying homage to the greatest T.V. shows and movies of our cinematic history. It enwraps its viewers by placing proper plot points to pin the idea of how an audience can fall in love with each one of the group’s study members by establishing a single location to house multiple antagonists. The turn off, however, stems from this exposure of Craft Writing in Meta Story-Telling: it stems from the exposure of Character, and Setting, and Plot, and Antagonistic Tendencies: of what each character wants, versus how they’re going to get past their Final Conflict; because–more-often-than-not–the characters go far enough to call out an episode on its theme, and then narrate how the story’s driven through conflict.
Who really knows what would’ve happened if, Community, used the meta in a different form: using different vices from its collective bag of literary techniques? Maybe the show could’ve lasted longer? Maybe it wouldn’t have? Maybe it would’ve ended sooner, and it’s best that it ended where it ended, because–at the end of the day–what the audience really wants is Abed’s speech in Episode 13: Emotional Consequences of Broadcasting Television [n]110. Community, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcasting Television,” NBC, 27:15, June 2nd, 2015.[/n]; ‘It needs to be effortless… and able to have a bad day,’ because–that way–it can be just like them: it can be just like us: the viewers: the audience: perfectly imperfect. Right? People don’t go to the movies, or watch a play, or even read a book–for that matter–to see how craft advances the story. They go to be swept off their feet, and placed in a life that isn’t their own.
However, before diving into, Community, itself, and before exposing the episode causing its down fall…first…break the idea of Craft Writing into six manageable segments:
- Who the audience follows through the story.
- Where everything takes place.
- What happens in the story.
- Who, or what, stands in the character’s way.
- Character Wants:
- What they’re missing in their life–both physically and metaphorically.
- The Final Conflict:
- How the Character will get those physical and metaphorical wants.
For, these are the 6 Elements of Craft Writing, moving in and out of each other with relative ease because they themselves are organic. They themselves are living beings, like a sword to a knight, or a pen to a writer. It’s why Craft Writing is so difficult to master because…some stories can start at the end, where the main character is already home, and now they–the character and the author–must Frame [n]Frame Story: a literary technique that serves as a companion piece to a story within a story.[/n] a series of events that lead them to riding the River Thames [n]River Thames: A reference to, Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad.[/n]. Where, on the other side of the spectrum, stories can also start in the middle of the action. They can leave the reader to play catch-up with every paragraph read: learning about a Gunslinger’s [n]The Gunslinger: A Fictional Character in the Book Series, The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King.[/n] past as they dive into his present, the reader’s future.
Character is–of course–the first of the 6 Elements. It’s most important because every story needs a Character the viewer can follow. Whether that be an alien child who lost their home, or a best friend deserving of recognition, stories are driven by writers creating problems for their characters, and then letting their said characters figure out a way around that said obstacle. It’s what builds a character into someone better than who they’re at the beginning of the story, like Maia [n]Maia: A Fictional Character in the Novel, The Goblin Emperor.[/n], in, The Goblin Emperor [n]Addison, Katherine, “The Goblin Emperor,” 1st edition, Published April 2014, Tor Books, New York.[/n], by Katherine Addison [n]Katherine Addison: Pseudonym for Sarah Monette, born November 25th, 1974 – Present. Best known for: Doctrine of Labyrinths Series and Iskryne Series. Winner of the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland. Winner of the Locus Award, Best Fantasy Novel, The Goblin Emperor.[/n]. Or–in some, tragic, cases–it’s what turns them out for the worst: think Okonkwo [n]Okonkwo: A Fictional Character in the Debut Novel, Things Fall Apart.[/n] in, Things Fall Apart [n]Achebe, Chinua, “Things Fall Apart,” Published 1962, William Heinemann Ltd, United Kingdom.[/n], by Chinua Achebe [n]Chinua Achebe: Nigerian Novelist, Poet, and Professor, born November 16th, 1930, died March 21st, 2013. Best known for: The African Trilogy, A Man of the People, Anthills of the Savannah. Winner of the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award. Winner of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.[/n].
Setting is the Second Element on the list of six because it’s where everything in the story takes place. It can be found in the real world–whether that be in the past or present–or it can be on completely made-up planet: the perfect place for the alien child to make a new home. Right? Characters need a place to wander. Even if it’s just in their own backyard, a place that can be turned into the size of a universe: proved entertaining through the cinematic story, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids [n]Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, directed by, Joe Johnston: starring Rick Moranis, Matt Frewer, and Marcia Strassman; released June 23rd, 1989[/n], starring Rick Moranis [n]Rick Moranis: Canadian Disk-jockey, Actor, Writer, born April 18th, 1953 – Present. Best known for: Spaceballs – 1987, Little Shop of Horrors – 1986, Ghostbusters – 1984. Winner of a Primetime Emmy Award, Outstanding Writing in a Variety, or Music Program, SCTV Network 90. Winner of the American Comedy Award, USA, Funniest Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture, Parenthood.[/n]; they–the character–need a physical location that’s familiar enough to describe to the writer: the narrator; who must then find a way to poetically translate the experience in real-time.
Plot is the loose structure a storyline uses to get the characters towards the end of their journey. In other words, it’s the series of events that happen after the character leaves their comfortable life and morphs them into a person whose experiences in culture, and diversity, create a ranged spectrum of what humanity believes to be right and wrong. Joseph Campbell’s [n]Joseph Campbell: Author, American Professor in Literature, born March 26th, 1904, died October 30th, 1987. Best known for: The Power of Myth[/n], The Hero with a Thousand Faces [n]Campbell, Joseph, The Hero with A Thousand Faces, 3rd edition, 2008, by the Joseph Campbell foundation, Novato, New World Library.[/n], is the perfect text for shaping these thoughts. But, for those who are more familiar with the III Act Structure [n]III Act Structure: Set-up, inciting incident, exposition. Confrontation, mid-point, rising action. Dark night of the soul, climax, resolution.[/n], Jeff Vandermeer’s [n] Best known for: The Southern Reach Trilogy, Shriek: An Afterword, Borne. Nebula Award for Best Novel, Annihilation. Shirley Jackson Award for, Annihilation.[/n], Wonderbook [n]Vandermeer, Jeff, Wonderbook: The Illustrated guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, 1st edition, New York, Abrams Image, 2013[/n], is the perfect visual aid for understanding how story structures can vary in design. Both do explain how the plot-line for any given-story, for any epic-story, is…and will always be…the same. The only differences come in the form of the characters, and how they get what they want through their Final Conflict. Why? Because, each character is different from the next. So, therefore, each character will think and act differently. Which means, each character will, and can, react to any given situation in a much different manner than the other before them. Right? Obi-wan [n]Obi-wan Kenobi: A Fictional Character in the Cinematic Series, Star Wars.[/n] isn’t going to use a wand against a blaster, and Ron Weasley [n]Ronald Weasley: A Fictional Character in the Magical Series, Harry Potter.[/n] isn’t going to use the force against the chess pieces that ultimately lead them to the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Antagonists are the people, and-or objects, that stand in the way of a said character getting what they want. They’re what forces the character to realize what they ultimately ‘need’ out of their wanting life because–for most stories–the antagonist is someone who wants to destroy the character’s world for a new vision of the future. However, don’t think that the antagonist needs to be an ‘actual’ person the character must fight to get passed their given situation. Maybe the characters need to cross an ocean, but they have no boat? Maybe the character is running for their life and they have found themselves standing at the edge of a cliff, looking between a raging river below and a pack of hunting-dogs behind them? It’s why the idea of an object can be implemented as an antagonist. Instead of brute strength, and sheer will, the character must now use their brain to figure out a way how to survive their given predicament and–hopefully–that decision will lead them to their Final Conflict: the final battle where they must overcome every fear and doubt they harbor, just to obtain their final goal…thus, changing ‘their’ world for the better.
Community: however; with all its meta-ness, and its strive to take everything just one step further, not only follows the 6 Elements of Craft writing for every one of its episodes, it turns its seasons into the very concepts themselves:
- Season 1 is Character creation:
- Season 2 is Setting:
- Season 3 is Plot-line:
- Season 4 introduces a new antagonist, while still exposing the group’s worst enemy.
- And, both Seasons 5 and 6 address what the main Character wants out of life and how they’re going to win their Final Conflict.
To top it all off, both plot structures and the 6 Elements of Craft Writing that are outlined in this essay can and will be used on the Show’s individual episodes, its individual seasons, and its entirety.
So, from here on out, instead of laying blame to any specific writer in general–using them as an easy scape-goat for the show’s steady decline in viewer ratings–leave the center of attention on a single episode, and examine how the meta lives of each character affects the show through Craft Writing. For, there is a single culprit behind the murder of this show, and–yes–it’s a beloved study-group member… and–no–it’s not, Abed. Even though he quotes endless Movies bites and T.V. shows throughout the first two episodes–throughout the entirety of all 6 Seasons–again, referring to Jeff, ‘as Michael Douglas in any one of his movies,’ in Episode 1: Pilot [n]1. Community, “Pilot,” NBC, 21:54, September 17th, 2009.[/n]; and then relating to the other group members through mixed-media directives in Episode 2: Spanish 101 [n]2. Community, “Spanish 101,” NBC, 21:23, September 24th, 2009[/n]; the meta life of Abed’s character finally getting to study storyline, narrative arch, character habits, and antagonistic tendencies, all originates from this episode, and it’s not even his fault.
With that said–and before there’re any questions about his comprehensiveness–this doesn’t mean that Abed doesn’t have, and will never achieve, a commanding knowledge of how theatrical stories are developed, made, produced, set, and-or staged. The constant Pop-Culture [n]Pop-culture: Modern popular culture transmitted via the media and aimed particularly at younger generations.[/n] references used throughout the show’s existence, and the constant movie quoting–the constant comparisons for how their lives on the T.V. show are a lot like a T.V. show…especially throughout the last two seasons of the actual T.V. show–are all obvious markers for how Abed demonstrates his said knowledge of Craft Writing. This idea of him ruining the show, just means that the episode in question: the episode behind the razing of, Community; is the perfect platform for Abed to dive deeper into his life’s passion and further bring the meta into the foreground.
It’s much like a poet learning the difference between a Caesura [n]Caesura: (Greek Latin Verse) a break between words within a metrical foot, (Modern Verse) a pause near the middle of a line, any interruption or break[/n] and a Chiasmus [n]Chiasmus: a rhetorical, or literary, figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts, are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form.[/n] for the very first time. They’ve–more than likely–used each one of the poetic tools before. It’s just–more than likely–they’ve never understood the technical definitions before taking their craft seriously, and passionately.
Gregory Gonzalez is a graduate from Sierra Nevada University, where he earned a BFA and an MFA in Creative Writing. He studied under Brian Turner, Patricia Smith, Sunil Yapa, and many other wonderful artists. He’s been published in the San Joaquin Review Online and the Hive Avenue Literary Journal. He looks forward to continuing his publication record, and can be reached at his professional email: firstname.lastname@example.org.