Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gleeks on Writing: Episode One

So even though I am no longer a Tenant of Colson Hall as of last Wednesday, Dennis has graciously asked me to stick around for a few more weeks so I, as a new MFA fiction writer, can treat you to my analyses of current Glee episodes. Although I originally poo-poo’d the hit Fox comedy because the previews bore a frightening resemblance to High School Musical, several months of enjoying its edgy situations, satire, and surprisingly endearing characters has made me think about what it can teach us as graduate students about effective writing. It works for all disciplines – it’s a work of creative writing, rhetoric, and ultimately is a critical theorist’s nightmare (or dream), embodying portrayals of gender studies, psychoanalysis, queer theory, cultural studies, and much, much more. Ultimately, the show has a lot to say about how to write - and how not to write. This and posts that follow will attempt to present both.

Glee’s writing advice for 5/11:

DO give your characters interesting reversals of fortune. So many friends who like the show tell me that they find Rachel super, super annoying. To me, her colossal ego and severe case of melodrama give her a sense of humanity, especially as she tries to put her selfish tendencies aside in favor of considering the needs of others. In this particular episode, though, a case of tonsillitis that sidelines Rachel’s singing (complete with a wonderfully awful cover of a Miley Cyrus song) gives her a much needed wakeup call. Although she is told that she will indeed sing again, she seems to completely ignore this prognosis, and instead nosedives into an epic poor me trip, walking the school in a disheveled bathrobe. It isn’t until Finn introduces her to an old friend from football camp whose life was changed by a devastating accident that she is able to gain a sense of perspective, realizing that his passion – sports – has been taken away from him forever. Her voice will come back, but he will never play football again. As he tells his story, she turns away and tries to leave the room, saying that she never should have come, as if it isn’t Finn’s friend she is afraid to look in the eye, but herself, and by the episode’s concluding scene, there is an obvious change in her. She speaks and moves in a way that is quiet and humble, a stark contrast to her usual larger than life diva personality. Will this change in her keep up for the rest of the season? I doubt it. Writers have a responsibility to lead their characters to the arcs of their lives, but an even greater responsibility to keep them flawed and edgy. A balance between weaknesses and strengths makes for fleshed out characters that are a pleasure to watch evolve.

DON’T resort to creating characters purely for pity’s sake: As much as I enjoyed Rachel’s character reversal, the circumstances by which it comes about left a sour taste in my mouth. Forcing her to confront Finn’s friend, whose accident left him a quadriplegic, holds a mirror up to Rachel’s selfishness, making her see that her situation is barely a problem at all. However, it makes me question Glee’s repeated use of characters with disabilities to reinforce the theme of each episode. In past installments, we’ve met the recurring character of Artie, a jazz guitarist confined to a wheelchair, a girl with Down’s syndrome who joins the cheerleading squad, and the deliciously evil Sue Sylvester’s sister, who lives in a care facility. While Artie’s disability has gradually become an important part of his character, the other two figures merely seem to come and go as props. The show is clearly able to function without them, leaving their characters to serve what seems to be only a sentimental purpose. In the same way, Rachel grows as a result of speaking to Finn’s friend– but at what cost to the show’s integrity? As a writer, I spent a lot of time after the episode finished thinking about what other situations could have led Rachel to that same watershed moment without the use of a disabled character. Perhaps one of her friends finds him/herself in a very serious situation that forces her to reconsider her priorities, or her self-proclaimed “vow of silence” could be dramatized, letting her realize in the absence of her voice how she has treated others. In the end, focusing on interior self examination of our characters and finding ways to dramatize it is the way to make their reversals even more dramatic. Using stock characters does not.

Other Non-Writing Related Moments:

Best Sue Sylvester Quote: “Just because you like showtunes doesn’t mean you’re gay. It just means you’re awful.”

Best Song: Kurt makes “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy his own by changing all the words and adding in some very Rob Marshall-esque staging.

Additional Note: For those who would like to see the original super awful video for “Run Joey Run,” parodied by Rachel and company last week, here’s a link. Don’t miss it. It’s so bad it's almost good.


  1. For best song, I'm going to have to go with their cover of "The Boy Is Mine," if only because it contains my favorite song lyric of all time: "I'm sorry that you/Seem to be confused."

    I agree wholeheartedly with everything else.

  2. ROFLMAO!!!!!!!!! Okay, Dennis - I'm willing to declare it a tie, if only because the musical catfight was so much fun to watch.

  3. This was really neat, Kori! i really enjoyed it!

  4. I enjoyed it also! I love to analyze the story at its conclusion. The general theme was definitely "Be true to yourself." Kurt's acting and singing talent was highlighted too.

    My favorite line from Brittany: "Who is that guy?"