Friday, May 20, 2011

NCIS and God

Some of my friends don't watch television but otherwise, just about everyone I know likes "NCIS", the show about the Naval Criminal Investigation Service.  (The link goes to the home page of the real Naval service.)  Since we more or less exhausted our taste for CSI and started to become fans of NCIS, I have mentioned the show to quite a few people.  Everyone seems to like it and to prefer it to its many crime and police show rivals.

I think it is the character development that does the trick.  Admittedly, Jethro is nearly as soul-dead as Horatio and other top guys, but every now and then, a little light peeks through.  We understand that he is a manly man, indeed, and that he has suffered a serious blow, that he has had to zip up even more to be able to bear his pain and still function.  But the other characters have enough personality and enough oddity to create some interest.  The lab workers Abby and Ducky sure are not carbon copies of anyone else.  DiNozzo and Ziva (last names for hunks, first for babes, but we all know not to grab Ziva if we value our joints) are both romantic and human.  McGee helps us to realize that we must never touch a computer or anything else electronic if we don't want all our personal data and account numbers in government hands.  

I haven't ever created any notable characters but I gather that a good writer must be willing to stress her creations and give them a rough time.  I am still old-fashioned enough to be turned off by too rough a time.  Struggle that is eventually overcome seems to be the essential ingredient, sufficient struggle but not too much.  

This subject reminds me of Dorothy Sayers, creator of the character Lord Peter Wimsey, and author of "The Mind of the Maker"(1944).  In that book, she compares the work of an author creating characters with what God faced in creating people.  If the story and the character is to have juice, there must be challenges, even daunting ones, but we hope there will be conquest and victory, too.  As with anything else, there are limitations.  Characters normally can't be in two places at the same time.  What we are told they have done has been done.  Unless the report of their activities is wrong, what has been done is done.  Amends or corrections can be made, maybe, but the past can't be rewritten.  The actual personality creates limits, too.  He-men normally can't be too dainty and sweet old ladies can pull a trigger but normally with reluctance and several warnings.

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