The Innocent and the Ignorant

She stepped backward, out of the blue-white beams of the headlights and into the shadows. She slipped off her three inch stilettos and prepared to run.

Writers face a challenging task of telling a story as quickly and precisely as possible, getting you right into the action and never letting you go. We must grab your attention right away and hold it, so that you are not tempted to check your twitter feed or Facebook page or even change the channel. Good writers make you worry, laugh, cry, grit your teeth, and really care.

Gone are the days when the first twenty minutes of film explained why the family has to move from their home in the city out to the little run-down farm. We don’t have the time or the patience to learn about how the boy’s traumatic childhood influenced him to become a psycho-killer.

We have absolutely no time to waste while the writer explains DNA test procedures or how an electromagnetic pulse works. We want to see results. We want action! However, we need to know that stuff sometimes, in order to understand why the hero knows where the bad guys will be next. That’s why we need innocent or ignorant characters in our stories.

A great writer provides a character that does not have the vital information necessary, and then allows another “wiser” character to give them the answers, without documentary dissertation.

Yoda explains to Luke, along with us, the mysteries of the Force. Q demonstrates his newest gadget to James Bond, who immediately shows us what will happen if said spy tool is misused. Atticus takes a quiet moment with Scout to let us know how the world turns, for better or worse.

Still not sure what I mean? Take an hour and watch NCIS. It’s fast paced and action-packed, but the writers care enough to involve the audience and keep us in the loop. We all know that a team of well-trained special agents in the government’s employ would not sit around their desks and explain procedures to each other. It would be ridiculous.

Enter the character of Ziva David—a former Mossad agent, still learning the American culture, idioms, and colloquialisms, as well as the basic law enforcement terms and abbreviations. Speaking of a suspect, she says something like, “He’s on the goat, no—the sheep.”

DiNozzo responds, “I think you mean ‘He’s on the lam.’ There’s no ‘b’ in that, by the way.”

Now she knows something, and so do we.

NCIS uses this strategy to make the story more realistic and to educate. While no fan would ever call Ziva innocent or ignorant, for this specific purpose, she is. Ziva isn’t the only innocent in the show, either. Practically every member of the team has a tidbit they share about their own specialty that allows the audience to feel “in.”

The method engages without boring or talking down to us. We’re a part of the team, now. It’s just good writing. It’s probably why NCIS is so highly rated each week.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!

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