I've been thinking more about what it is that hooks me into a story, after the post earlier this week, and a review of my bookshelves, DVD shelves and my TV viewing habits has revealed a few patterns.
On the shallow end, I'll admit that an attractive dark-haired, blue-eyed man will do a lot for catching my attention in a visual medium (TV or movies). Beyond that, I tend to be drawn to characters who intrigue me. That can include characters I identify with, characters who have something about them that doesn't quite fit, characters with a sense of humor, characters who have traits or characteristics that have a lot of story potential, characters who have room to grow (without currently being too stupid to live), and characters who are just plain lovable (nice, sense of humor, heroic, good at what they do -- especially if this isn't appreciated by other characters).
I do find that I make a distinction between the "bad boy with a heart of gold" and what I call the "jerk with layers." I don't like bad boys, but I can be drawn to a jerk with layers. The bad boy has an element of lawlessness, rebellion and often selfishness to him. He's all about breaking the rules. I figure that if he really had a heart of gold, he wouldn't be a bad boy. The jerk with layers may be superficially obnoxious, often being the class clown or the goofball, but he's not really a rebel or a rule breaker. The outer attitude is a defensive mechanism to protect a sensitive interior. I think perhaps my bad boy hatred has something to do with fan response. It seems like if a bad boy ever does one nice thing, the fans will then declare that he has a heart of gold and proclaim him a hero. But if the non-bad boy ever does one wrong thing, he's practically crucified by the fans, even if that one bad thing isn't nearly as bad as the bad boy's usual pattern of behavior and if the bad boy's one good act isn't as good as the non-bad boy's usual pattern of behavior. It's like if the bad boy refrains from mugging an old lady, he's considered to have a heart of gold and the fans fall madly in love with him, never mind that he's murdered and robbed plenty of other people. But if the hero gives a dirty look to someone, he's declared an evil jerk, even if he's usually sacrificing everything that matters to him to save others. I get disgusted with that, so I really dislike bad boys, while I can tolerate a guy who puts up an obnoxious show, as long as his actual behavior is generally good when it matters.
Aside from individual characters, I'm also drawn to interesting relationships, like a strong partnership or team or the "found family." I'm less interested in the "total opposites who bicker constantly" thing than I am in people who get each other on some fundamental level -- kindred spirits. That doesn't mean no conflict, just that I prefer the conflict to be based on more substance than "you're a stuffed shirt and I'm a free spirit."
A good case study for what draws me into a story would be my current blowing-my-mind-weekly favorite, Haven. I didn't plan to watch this show, and in fact I didn't watch the first couple of episodes. I don't remember how they were promoting it other than that it didn't appeal to me. They seemed to be relying on the Stephen King angle, and while I acknowledge that he's a great writer, his subject matter isn't really to my taste. But last summer I was in physical therapy for a bad shoulder, which meant doing tedious exercises every night. I'd run out of things to watch while I exercised, so I pulled up the pilot for Haven OnDemand, and was so hooked that I immediately watched the second episode and then had to wait for the next one.
So, what was it that drew me into something I hadn't been interested in watching? To start with, the first thing that happens in the series is a clock radio alarm going off playing "Love Will Keep us Together." That was my favorite song when I was in second grade, and that album was my first "real" album that wasn't a Disney record or Broadway cast album. That caught my attention immediately. That song came up again when it came on the main character's car radio just before a crack in the road suddenly appeared, driving her off the road and leaving her car teetering on the edge of a cliff. She risked going over the edge to lean forward and turn off the radio because she didn't want that song to be the last thing she heard. I may love the Captain and Tennille, but I can appreciate the humor there.
We meet the other main character when he arrives on the scene, looks in the passenger window of her car and asks if she needs help. She sarcastically tells him that she's fine, and he says okay and walks away, leaving her irked and flabbergasted until he reappears on her side of the car and pulls her out just before the car goes over the cliff. That establishes that our two main characters share a slightly twisted, dry, snarky sense of humor, and I could already tell that they were going to make for a fun partnership that's a lot heavier on the banter than on the bickering. They disagree about some things, but there are also times when they're on the same page (and often in unison). Later, we learn that our main guy has lost his sense of touch -- he doesn't feel pain, pleasure, hot, cold or anything else. I thought that made for an intriguing trait because it's this odd combination of invulnerability and vulnerability. We see in that pilot episode that it comes in handy for a cop because he can be shot and still keep going to take down the suspect, since the pain doesn't affect him, and we learn that he's a lot more sensitive in his other senses. But there's also the psychological impact of a condition like that because it separates him from the physical world, and there's the fact that he doesn't know when he's been hurt, so his partner has to keep an eye on him, and just about every mishap means he has to get an MRI to make sure there aren't any internal injuries he hasn't noticed. My brain was already churning with ways that could play into a story (and unfortunately, it's too distinctive a trait for me to be able to use it).
Meanwhile, there's a mystery about the main female character, who knows nothing about her own origins, as she discovers that there was a woman who looked just like her in this town twenty-seven years ago, and she was somehow involved in an unsolved murder case. Again, there are intriguing story questions there, and I like the idea of an orphan on a voyage of self-discovery. All that added up to enough to have me immediately clicking on the OnDemand menu to get the next episode. There were later plot and character developments that intensified my involvement, but these were the things that drew me from episode to episode to begin with. And, yeah, okay, there's an attractive dark-haired, blue-eyed man.
I've noticed that this season's promos are including the quirky humor and the characters with the Stephen King horror elements, so it would seem that they've realized that audiences in general responded the way I did.