On “Being Human”

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After hearing all the hype about that little show starring the werewolf, the vampire and the ghost, I finally decided to break down and watch “Being Human”. Since SyFy has recently aired its own American version of the hit British show, I decided to watch the first episode of the American and British versions back-to-back.

So did I learn anything I can incorporate into my writing from this little experiment? Oh yeah.

Although the names of the characters are different, the plot in both versions seems to be the same, at least for this first episode. A vampire and a werewolf, who are trying to fit into society and be more human, decide to room together. They move into a house occupied by a ghost, and drama ensues. But watching the episodes one right after the other left me with the impression that the British version of the show was far stronger than the American.

So if plot is basically the same (so far; remember I’m only talking about one episode), then what makes the two shows different? Here’s what I found:

  • Chemistry Between Characters

The British version sizzles with chemistry. Not only are the characters dynamic, but they feed off each other. We get a sense that the three of them compliment each other perfectly. The chemistry between the American characters seems far more forced, and ultimately that makes a huge difference.

  • Dialogue and Exposition

It’s so much stronger in the British version. Consider the opening words of the American vs. British episodes:

American: Life is a series of choices. As it turns out, death is the same. Not for the ones who are ready; they embrace their fate, move on. For the rest of us, we linger. After our survivors pray and throw dirt on our coffins we’re still waiting. Because for some of us there’s a bigger question…what am I now? Where do I go from here?

British: Everyone dies. Actually, can I start that again? Everyone deserves a death. I was going to die of old age. That was the plan. Mitchell was going to go down in a blaze of gunfire and glory. Not cold and alone and shit scared. He didn’t think death would smile at him first.

Just those first few sentences of the British version give us a real sense of the characters, of what they are feeling and what they’ve been through. So powerful. And this crosses over into the characters’ dialogue. You understand that they are genuinely decent people who’ve been dealt a bad hand but haven’t been beaten down. 

  • Humor

Although both shows are dramatic, the British version infuses humor into the dialogue. It breaks up the tension of what could otherwise be super-emotional scenes. And it makes the characters seem more real. They are making the best of a shitty situation. They are beating the odds.

The things I describe above are also the same things that take a novel from good to great. When I read (especially romance), I want to feel that chemistry between the characters. I want the pages to sizzle with it. Why are these people together at this point in time? What makes them special enough for me to want to spend hours reading about them? And dialogue is so important too. How do the characters express themselves? How do they view life? Do they approach things with a sense of humor?

So next time I sit down to write a scene, I’m going to try to remember what I learned from “Being Human”. Because the bottom line is that making a good story great takes a whole lot of effort.

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16 thoughts on “On “Being Human”

    kayspringsteen said:
    February 4, 2011 at 8:10 am

    I was once criticized by a beta reader who didn’t like how “trashy” I made one of my characters. He cursed, though he could tone it down in polite company, but he THOUGHT with cursing. Why? Because he was a burned out undercover DEA agent. He’d seen a lot, done even more. If he was thinking F***, he wasn’t going to say “fudge.” If he checked into a rundown rat’s ass motel, he wasn’t going to think it was a “seedy joint.” Obviously, all of this “grit” was important to who the character was, but this particular reader was offended–obviously she was just a bad fit for the story. All that said, my first break has come in the form of a “sweet” romance, and while the story stands well without a lot of heavy language and erotic action, the publisher doesn’t want ANY cursing-my hero is a marine blinded in battle. That made me work very hard at the creative side of things to develop his personality, and what turned out was good, but not at all what I had originally envisioned for this character. I’ve watched Being Human the American version and liked it–but this past week, I forgot it was on. That says something about the memorability of the show, and I think what you hit on is the definite lack of chemistry. I didn’t care enough about the (American) characters to return this past week. An editor at Carina recently sent me back a ms with suggestions for developing the story line a little stronger, but with the statement that the reason they liked the story in the first place was solid writing and very strong chemistry between the characters. You’re right. Chemistry is EVERYTHING – between the characters AND between characters/readers.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 4, 2011 at 8:31 am

      Perfectly said, Kay. It’s the chemistry between the characters that makes all the difference. And if it’s forced, readers will know!

    Roni Lynne said:
    February 4, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Rosalie! I was beginning to think that I was the only one that caught the bad writing on the US version. I commented on this a few weeks ago back on the FFnP loop. Admittedly, I’m on a bit of a dialogue crusade at the moment (my CPs will attest to this), but STILL! Do you think it’s the forced-sounding dialogue that is impairing the chemistry the most or is it something more? Because I totally agree with you at this point: the leads have no chemistry whatsoever.
    In the Brit version, you can feel the affection that the leads have for each other & it makes everything else believable. It pulls you in to the story. Not so with the US version. I’m continuing to watch the US show–I’m willing to give it a chance–but every week it’s the same bad writing & cut and paste attitude from the Brit version.
    The 3rd episode (which aired this past Monday) had small moments where I thought I might be getting pulled in, but immediately after would have a run of poor dialogue or a disjointed feeling scene & I was kicked back out of the story.

    Sort of related side note: there were episodes of AMC’s The Walking Dead that I thought were also poorly constructed. I was taking Kat Duncan’s Scene and Sequel workshop at the time & there was one episode (either #3 or #4) that appeared to me to be a bunch of sequels strung together for 3/4 of the episode. No new information was given, no characters were further developed—it was all CONVERSATION, not DIALOGUE—which writers should realize are not the same thing. Apparently not for those writers. I did see that the producers of The Walking Dead hired a new writing team for the second season. I’ll be tuning in to see if this team does better!

    Thanks for making this observation Rosalie! I knew there was a reason that I liked you!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 4, 2011 at 9:38 am

      All right, Roni, I’m glad you agree! I honestly think the trouble with the American version is not only the forced dialogue but also a genuine lack of connection between the characters. It’s not anything I can describe, but I don’t FEEL it in the American version. With the British version, it’s obvious from the get-go.

      I think the difference is that the British actors play off each other in a way the American ones don’t. And granted, it’s early days yet. Maybe this will change. But I honestly don’t think I’m going to stick around to find out.

        Roni Lynne said:
        February 4, 2011 at 11:46 am

        True. In the Brit version, you feel the connection between characters right away–even between the leads and secondary characters. For example, in season one of the Brit version, when Annie meets the ghost from the 80’s, you feel the connection grow between them over the course of the episode, so that by the time the door appears at epidsode’s end, you feel sadness.
        The US attempted their version of this storyline in Monday’s episode & there was ZERO connection between Sally and her 1980’s ghost.
        Maybe SyFy’s not sure what to do with this series? They do some other genre series well, like Sanctuary, Warehouse 13. I’m not sure why they’re fumbling so badly on this. (& also why they’re not taking it in their own direction—with internet availability of episodes, DVDs, NetFlix, & of course cable, satellite etc. tv, the Brit version is available to Americans who want to seek it out. Why make the US version almost a carbon copy plot-wise?)
        Some of my thoughts…

        Rosalie Lario responded:
        February 4, 2011 at 1:00 pm

        I think maybe Syfy rushed to get the show out there before the craze died down. That’s all I can think of.

    Sharon Hamilton said:
    February 4, 2011 at 11:01 am

    I think I read part of the debate Roni was talking about on the loop. I had to bite my fingers to not jump in. I have to say, Rosalie, I agree completely with your assessment. I’ve tried to get into the American version, and I’ve fallen asleep on both tries – that’s a huge indicator for me.

    And I love the vamp in the Brit version. He is the face and character of a hero I’m writing now. I was hoping the were was done better, as sometimes he comes across whining, but that’s his character, and it’s grown on me so I actually like him better now.

    I don’t feel any chemistry in the American version.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm

      Yes, Sharon! After watching the first episode of the American version I have no desire to go back. The vamp’s characterization is perfect, in my opinion. He’s got a great blend of strenth, vulnerability and humor; that’s the stuff heroes are made of! The were is a bit whiny, but his character is getting stronger as the episodes go on.

    Julia Rachel Barrett said:
    February 4, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    I haven’t watched either version…guess I better start. The British version seems darker, more gritty and right up my alley!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      I highly recommend it, Julia. I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (oh, how British!), but I love it. The storyline as well as the interplay between the characters gets my muse going, which is always a good thing. 🙂

    Ciara Knight said:
    February 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    I haven’t seen either version. I think I’m going to check it out. I think more excited about the British version. 🙂

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 4, 2011 at 7:28 pm

      It’s an interesting concept, especially for paranormal lovers.

    Rebecca Ryals Russell said:
    February 4, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Fascinating post. I’ve enjoyed the show, but now wish I had access to the British version.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 4, 2011 at 7:29 pm

      It’s a good one, Rebecca. 🙂

    Sandra Allan said:
    February 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    I haven’t seen the US version but I love the British version.
    When I heard the opening to the English one I thought- ‘wow, this is going to be good.’
    Just reading the US version has me going ho hum. I don’t have any investment in the characters.
    I sometimes think that the tv executives don’t give the American public the respect they deserve. Good writing crosses every barrier.
    I don’t know why they have to mess with it and stuff it up.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 5, 2011 at 9:46 pm

      I guess Syfy wanted to put their own spin on it, which is understandable, but in this case it didn’t make the story stronger. I really don’t understand why they needed to remake the show anyway. The British version is still on.

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