Uncategorized, Writing

The Problem with Building Basements

*Note* For there are some mild spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead

I am an avid comic book fan.  Comics is something myself and my brother share in common as he is the one that introduced me to comic books. We share several titles that we love together and share in.  One of these is the Walking Dead. When AMC announced they were adapting it for television, we freaked out in delight. Through the ups and downs of the series and its spin off, we’ve been dedicated viewers of it.  

Interestingly, I almost gave up on it in the second season. I it was a little past halfway through and I felt the lull of the second season kick in. The departures from the comic was becoming very real and I wasn’t feeling as invested in the show as I had been the comics. My brother shared the sentiment and together we decided that was it for us. That coming Sunday, I was at my parents house visiting for the weekend. At the time, I was getting ready to leave for my home, packing up all my belongings, when there was the gentlest sound of shuffling down the hall; the footsteps of my father.  

Sure enough, moments later, he knocked softly on the half opened door and waited for me to turn to look at him.  I did and smiled, “ Yeah, Daddy?”

“H-hey Weasel,” he began, using the name he always refers to me as. “That-that show you and your brother watch is about to start. I put it on in the living room in case you wanted to watch it before you go.”  

I remember studying him for a few minutes.  My dad isn’t one for his directness when it comes to speaking with us.  He never just asks something. He infers and lets us deduce what he means.  This deduction didn’t take long. Dad had sat in with my brother and I on many of our watching sessions, listening to us as we debated comic versus show.  We never gave it much thought as my father never actively participated in it. That is until he reminded me my show would be starting. You see, while I was throwing in the towel on the series, my father was anticipating a night with his children.  I laughed and told him that I had forgotten what day it was and would be there in a minute. I sent a text to my then long time ‘room mate’, Mori, saying I would be home in the morning, and went into the living room to watch the Walking Dead with my father.

I’ve only missed three episodes since that day with him.  Each of those three times, he records it to watch it with me another day. When Fear the Walking Dead started, we had more times in the year to sit and watch this show together. It’s the only television show I watch as it airs.  I call it family night. The one night I make sure I am there to share dinner and an episode with my father. He has learned to talk about it and ask me questions, which we do quite passionately.

Exactly a year ago, we were without power.  Hurricane Harvey just hit the Gulf Coast and the towns just south of us received at least 70% structural damage to them, if not more.  Our town had more buildings that stayed up, but the wind damage alone ruin just about every stop light in our town, and our power grid was damaged for months after.  My own house didn’t get power for 12 days. My parents only went without for 5. We all stayed with them until we could return home. One house, 7 people (one that was disabled), 13 cats.  It wasn’t pleasant, but we all managed. We all grew stronger from it.

Last week, Fear the Walking Dead aired its 10th episode of the fourth season called “Close your Eyes”.  For those not familiar with the series, this second half started with a hurricane to all the characters who are in Texas.  This was something close to home for us. My family has lived on the Gulf Coast all my life and all my Father’s life. We have lived through several hurricanes.  One with zombies was a little humorous to us and oddly fitting. Given a year before we lived through the worst we had encountered to date, it was also a humbling experience to see a hurricane on television.  

“Close your Eyes” focused on two characters, Alicia played by Alycia Debnam-Carey and Charlie played by Alexa Nisenson.  These two characters have a lot of history within this one season.  The major takeaway is Charlie killed Alicia’s brother and was responsible for the death of Alicia’s mother, the last of her family she had left.  Now both were stuck in the same house during a hurricane. It was inner drama by every sense of the word.

I’m not going to take away from that, by the character dynamics, there was great writing done for both characters as well as great performances by both actresses.  It was compelling and engaging. However, as much as I have read on people praising the episode, I cannot like it. It has nothing to do with the characters or the acting.  That I loved. What gets me is the setting. They are stuck in a house in the greater metropolis area of Harris County to Beaumont. I gathered this by using key places referenced by characters in this episode and the one following.  I live 2 hours South of the expected location. Charlie stated her parents planned a day trip for her to the beach for the first time before the outbreak hit. This beach was in Galveston. Where I am from, Galveston is not a day trip. You go to Port Aransas or Corpus Christi for a day trip.  They were not my far South.

The kicker was the house itself.  I was ok knowing they were up north.  Hurricanes happened there too. It is still part of the Coast, but where they are is closer to Louisiana.  Bayous. You would be the same level is not lower than the sea level. This means… there are no basements. You don’t build down in a Bayou.  You build up. It is common sense where hurricanes and flood plains commonly occur. Yet they were in a house in this area that had a basement.  They made a point to show it as a basement early on and the whole climax and character building occurred as they thought they were going to drown and die…. in the basement.  A basement that would not exist in this area.

Fiction should suspend your belief in reality.  There should be some circumstances taken for the benefit of a story.   It bends it ever so slightly while still taking you on that journey. You don’t completely break the concepts of reality and replace it with what you feel works.  It kills a story. That killed it for me. I couldn’t really respect the acting placed into it or the writing for them because all I could see was the fact that none of this should have happened as there are no basements in our area!

My siblings live in that area.  My sister still does not have a home because hers was flooded during Harvey.  It nearly touched the roof of the first floor alone! Her whole street has homes being condemned because of that flood.  If it was water coming in the main floor, then it would have been different. They chose to go with a basement when there are not basements in the Bayou City.

Last semester I got criticized on a piece I had submitted because I chose the wrong type of tree for an area.  A tree is semantic and only impacts the story to the extent you utilize it. Had the entire story been about that tree, I would have understood the argument.  But as a reference in color passing, it is something that I can suspend my belief enough to go with and move on as it was never mentioned again. When your entire plot is based around something that would not or should not have occurred for that area, then it is bad writing.  It shows that there is no consideration for location over character. Location is part of your character. It never speaks in words yet it says volumes in its presence and tone. Setting is one of the main parts of a story and in that one episode, setting was thrown out the window.

I am angry for it.  It won’t make me stop watching the show. It would disappoint my father, and that is something I don’t want to do. I will say it was enough to ruin my viewing experience for this week’s episode.  When asked by my dad what I thought about it, I retorted with, “ There were no more basements in Texas.” To which he laughed. I know there are in West Texas and North. I do know there are extreme ordinances on construction of subterranean structures in our area.  The University of Houston at it’s main campus has an Underground. It is actually a rare occurrence, it is not common in residences nor are they structured the same as most because of the conditions of our area. My point in the comment was that this week’s episode was more believable than the week prior.

So for those creating stories, remember setting matters.  Remember that it is not all about a character and their actions, but it is about creating a cohesive and breathing world. Remember to leave a fiction world that is believable for the area in which you are writing in. Do your research. Please, don’t fall into the trend of building basements where they wouldn’t be.  Just like in real life, if it is not build right, it crumbles.

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