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Sharing Information

I've finally caught up with the Internet on Stranger Things.  Turns out everybody was right this time; it's a pretty good show.

Naturally, I've been dissecting the storytelling as we go along because I can't not do that when I'm watching a good product.  This means that one of the things that had me on edge for the second half of the season wasn't so much the suspense, but whether or not the characters were going to share information with each other.

It's one of my biggest pet peeves.  It hurts most in a thriller or a mystery, but it can come up virtually anywhere.  You've got half a dozen characters from different backgrounds (kids, teenagers, a parent, a cop).  They're all separated by circumstance (school, despair, work).  They have unique motivations, but ultimately they're all working toward the same goal (finding the missing kid).  They independently discover something useful (spoilers).

...and then they proceed to sit on that information so the show doesn't end too soon.

I can't stand it.

I understand why it happens from a writing perspective.  It's a pretty common challenge with telling a story - if you give away all your information early, you don't have anything to do later.  Worse, you might just end up with a really obvious info-dump that bores your audience.  I faced the exact same thing when writing "Born Loser," and I'm still not sure if I tackled it the right way.

The lazy approach to this is to just have the characters not even acknowledge it.  Like, they'll each individually know something useful, but instead of having them get into a useful conversation with each other, you just have them either completely ignore that conversation, or you have them say really stupid dialogue instead.  Yup, I am once again bitching about Lost.  I don't care if it's been six years, that shit will sting until I die.


LOCKE: "Say, Ben, do you know what the deal is with those numbers?"

BEN: "Yeah."


LOCKE: "Okay."


It drives me crazy.  Like, frothing-at-the-mouth, screaming-at-the-TV furious.  The whole point of language is to share ideas and information, and when you have a group of people working at a common goal and they forget that they have literally a whole dictionary full of words they could use for that expressed purpose, it agitates me to the point of lunacy.

Fortunately, Stranger Things was mostly pretty good about this.  I was a little irked that when the teenagers discover [redacted] in episode 5, they didn't immediately go to Will's mom to share it.  Likewise, when the kids discover [redacted] in that same episode, I was annoyed that they didn't even try to broach the subject with anyone.  But at the same time, the show took careful pains to set up reasonable motivation for the kids to want to keep everything they were doing a secret.  So, it was handled pretty well.

This is why one of my favorite parts of the show was when the cop discovered [redacted] in episode 4, and then one of the very first things he does in episode 5 is go visit Will's mom and say, "Hey, here's a whole bunch of important shit you should know.  Teamwork!"

Coming up with believable reasons why your characters can't communicate essential information is one of the most rewarding parts of building a story.  It can be a challenge, but the stories that pull it off are memorable and beloved because they tried hard and figured it out.  Here's hoping they keep that in mind for Season 2.