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.
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.