2018/08/28

Promise Breakers Inc.

Apologies to my readers for the lateness of this post. circumstances beyond my control deprived me of internet access this morning. As a result, my planned post about Big Social going all Alex Jones on Mister Metokur will have to wait. That situation still seems to be developing, so it's probably best to hold off till all the facts come in, anyway.

Instead of adding my two cents to the Metokur affair, tonight I'll share my insights into a subject on which I have a more informed opinion: storytelling.

I haven't followed legacy television for at least five years now. The cultural decay may have infected other media sooner, but it first became widely apparent in TV. Talk to guys in the #PulpRev, and a common complaint you'll hear about post-1980 storytelling is that nobody knows how to write an ending anymore. This lament encompasses epic fantasy and sci-fi series that bloat due to scope creep with no end in sight, but also writers' general inability to bring closure without prompting the reader to make toast in the bathtub.

It's fair to bring up the deleterious effects of Postmodernism, SocJus convergence, and the Futurians. All stand over SFF's corpse holding bloody knives. One consequence of the barbarians, commies, and purse puppies who've been running amok in the genre for most of our lifetimes is that authors have forgotten a vital rule of storytelling: Don't break promises to the reader.

Currently it's not only common, but expected, for TV shows, comic books, and novels to jerk the reader around. This disastrous trend may date back to JJ Abrams' Lost, but I wouldn't be surprised if it started sooner. The Walking Dead was the last "event" TV series I remember being excited about. I checked out after the season one finale made it clear the writers had no intention of following through on the show's implied promises.

The mass audience defection from Star Wars is largely a result of Abrams pulling his usual shtick of laying out a trail of breadcrumbs that goes nowhere and Rian Johnson spewing radical Leftist agitprop into the breach. No one likes to be made ridiculous, yet making fools of its audience has become a cornerstone of Lucasfilm's corporate culture. That statement holds true for every major pop culture operation. Lefties are whining about the death of Star Wars, mainstream comics, legacy publishing, and the NFL, but the fallout was entirely predictable.

How do you avoid the miserable fate of Disney, Tor Books, and Marvel Comics? Tell a story with a definite beginning, middle, and end. Revise with an eye to finding implicit promises you made to the reader, and make sure you keep those promises in satisfying ways. Follow that plan consistently, and you'll build an audience.

For an example of a space opera action series with a satisfying conclusion, check out The Ophian Rising, the final book of my award-winning Soul Cycle.

The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier

34 comments:

  1. "I checked out after the season one finale made it clear the writers had no intention of following through on the show's implied promises."

    I've since checked out of watching The Walking Dead (gave up after the third season), but I'm curious. What implied promises were broken at the end of the first season?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's been years since I saw the season one finale, but what turned me off was the episode's total irrelevance. Our heroes' arrival at the CDC implies that a possible solution to--or at least an explanation--for the zombie virus is forthcoming. Instead the show took an hour to say nothing. Two characters die, but that's nothing new.

      A season finale should bring some kind of resolution, however temporary, with a promise of more to come next season. See The X-Files for an example of how it's done. The Walking Dead first season finale may as well have been a mid-season episode.

      Delete
    2. I see what you mean. And now that I think of it, far too many shows and movies are guilty of this, though I think it's a bigger problem with TV.d

      One of the biggest disappointments for me was Supernatural. My brother and I were both huge fans for awhile, but once the main story arc ended with season 5 (which was how the original creator wanted it to end), they had to drag it out. It could have ended with a bang, but it continues on stretched and thin, a shadow of its former self.

      Delete
  2. "writers' general inability to bring closure without prompting the reader to make toast in the bathtub."

    It took me a second, but I got there. Part of the problem is the happy ending can't be the ending. It's ruled out. Probably because most writers can't imagine it. Writers and studios also don't want a big depressing ending either. So what do? Make the ending about nothing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You got it.

      Happy endings are also forbidden because Hollywood hates the audience and wants us to be miserable.

      Delete
    2. I wonder if many writers simply forgot how to do depressing, yet satisfying endings. Possible spoiler alerts for Wind River.

      Wind River, I think, is an example of a movie that has a very satisfying ending. The mystery is solved and there's some sweet justice doled out. That said, the ending still manages to be quite depressing because the you begin to see that none of this actually brings back the ones you lost. Great movie that manages to get it right.

      Delete
    3. They can't write happy endings for the same reason they can't write good characters. They lack both empathy, and any semblance of hope in existence.

      If you want to see what pure written nihilism looks like, then turn on the television, go to the cinema, or open a tradpub book. Nothing but manchildren, Strong Female Characters, evil and stupid elderly people, and sugar-infused dopey children.

      They could turn all this around by simply writing good stories again. But they can't. They're too far down the rabbit hole to turn back now.

      Delete
  3. Brian,
    Happy endings are so cismaleheteronormie but frankly I miss them. I'm tired of inept writers aping Satre, Althussier and the rest of the French niilists and then pretend that the stories are unflinching hard truths.(tm)
    Um no. I want resolution. Ideally happy ones

    xavier

    ReplyDelete
  4. Good to get additional confirmation that my decision to drop TV and in-theater movies from my diet was a valid one.

    I get a taste now and again if I'm stuck in an airport or a waiting room, and the taste is bitter at best. The exposure quickly reminds me that I have dodged almost 20 years of boredom, mediocrity, and flat-out annoyance, all designed to indoctrinate and dispirit me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You made a wise decision. The only time I'm exposed to television is when I visit my Baby Boomer parents. TV had become dreary and inane when I stopped watching years ago. It's gotten shockingly worse. The screenwriters, newscasters, and advertisers don't bother to hide their contempt for normal people anymore.

      Delete
    2. The poz has crept into print ads, too. The last Kohl's flyer showed two smiling tweens. The white girl was on the mulatto kid's back.

      The ostensible purpose was to sell clothes, but you couldn't see what the girl was wearing. The real goal was to tell tween girls to seek out muh dik.

      Afternoon tv ads with drug ads are way less depressing than primetime.

      Delete
    3. Man of the Atom: I’m with you. I remember being bored with TV in my late teens (right around the turn of the millennium). Having other hobbies helped. Now, watching TV is torture. My wife and I cut cable back in 2010 and haven’t missed it for one second. It’s actually FAR easier to control what our son is exposed to when we can actively pick appropriate things on Netflix or Hulu (yes, they exist) during allotted TV time.

      Brian: Visiting my (younger) Boomer parents is also the only time I’m really exposed to TV myself, but all they watch are the classic movie channels and Fox News, and not when we’re visiting/talking/eating/etc. So it’s not that bad.

      Delete
    4. "My wife and I cut cable back in 2010 and haven’t missed it for one second."

      Well done.

      "So it’s not that bad."

      It will be. Murdoch's heirs will turn Fox News into Cuck Central.

      Delete
    5. I didn't mean that Fox News itself wasn't that bad, just that the amount of TV they actually watch is pretty minimal.

      Because you are right.

      Delete
  5. These clowns lament the death of stuff they themselves killed. It’s laughably pathetic.

    Keep your promises...words to live by!

    ReplyDelete
  6. >Revise with an eye to finding implicit promises you made to the reader, and make sure you keep those promises in satisfying ways

    An often overlooked aspect of Checkov's Gun. It's not just advice you should remove content if it doesn't add to your story. It's a challenge to remember the elements you introduced, and use them. He didn't say, 'don't have gun hanging on the wall." He said 'if there is a gun hanging on the wall, it better get used in the final act."

    That cool thing you threw in your chapter since you thought it was cool? You better figure out way to make it relevant so you can keep in your story. If you can't, THEN it needs to be cut out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hear, hear! Many authors falsely think Chekhov's Gun is about foreshadowing, but it's really about keeping promises.

      Delete
  7. Talk to guys in the #PulpRev, and a common complaint you'll hear about post-1980 storytelling is that nobody knows how to write an ending anymore.

    Lois McMaster Bujold did this with the Vorkosigan Saga. Or rather, she wrote a wonderful plate to end the story (just as the first books end with Miles' birth, there is a book that ends with Miles becoming a father)...and then kept going further.

    I stopped reading Girl Genius because the story took a hugely bad turn to keep conflict going rather than bring some resolution and then starting on something different. Wheel of Time violated my sense of story in book 5 enough that I never wanted to finish the book, let alone read others, despite the intriguing setting.

    I wonder if nihilism has something to do with the inability to have a story end?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "I wonder if nihilism has something to do with the inability to have a story end?"

      Yes. It's what fuels the smarmy, "Every story ends in death if follow it far enough," types.

      Delete
  8. Contrast and compare Lost with The Fugitive. In the former, fans had to make it through several years of plot twists to find out they are really just back where they started. In the later, the audience was given exactly what they were promised, a freed Richard Kimble and a one armed man brought to justice (of a kind). You don't ask people to tune in every week without giving them answers to the questions YOU raise.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have bittersweet memories of concluding The Grey Havens and not wanting LOTR to end, then of eagerly devouring the appendixes and any ancillary material I could find, Lost Tales, Unfinished Tales, etc.

    Ditto with the closing of Return of the Jedi, and how I eagerly seized up any new novel that came out, because I didn't want the adventure to be over.

    Memories like that might be a reason for the endless installments of today. I've come to a sad realization: sometimes it's best that a story just end.

    Either you die a hero, or you live long enough to become a Disney property.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Either you die a hero, or you live long enough to become a Disney property."

      OK, I'm stealing that line.

      "Memories like that might be a reason for the endless installments of today."

      Possibly. But look closer, and you'll see something else going on. Tolkien and Lucas (at first) adhered to the showbiz principle of "Leave them wanting more." Bring the curtain down with class on a reasonable schedule, leave some burning questions unanswered, and fans will eat up all the ancillary material you can dish out.

      That's how media empires are made. New York and Hollywood used to understand this model. The fact that they ignored it and are retroactively bloating Star Wars film canon proves they're not motivated by love of the franchise or greed. They just hate the fans.

      Delete
  11. Tis a far, far better fate for your favorite series to die when it still has life in it then to go on without a purpose. I much prefer a series cut short these days than one that flounders onwards into mediocrity. A series that continues onwards with no end in sight will spoil even the memories of the good parts, which is why I no longer read the Dark Tower or watch Friendship is Magic. (Even the writers admit they wanted to end the series ages ago.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's one reason I ended the Soul Cycle with such finality.

      Delete
  12. I find the waters of indie creations much more satisfying. I'd much rather have a story that's told to completion rather then taking it out back, milking it til it dies three times over, parade its corpse ala Star Wars, then demand we pay for it while calling us X-isms.

    Fiannawolf

    ReplyDelete
  13. Your average show is poz. Your average children’s cartoon is full blown AIDS.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Keeping promises to the reader boosts their experience. Breaking promises boost the self-importance of the writer. I think far too many authors are interested in Being A Writer and wielding the power they think that means, rather than entertaining and enlightening their customers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. Your theory is absolutely correct.

      Delete
  15. Didn't David Lynch originally intend his show Twin Peaks to have an ending that was just one of several alternatives, written down on bits of paper, and drawn out of a hat, or by some other random way? For the central murder to remain unsolved?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lynch did intend Laura Palmer's murder to remain unsolved, which was a mistake on his part. Then the network insisted on doing a second season, which was a mistake on their part.

      The only story I've heard about an ending written down on a small piece of paper referred to Lost Highway. Rumor has it Lynch was having severe writer's block, took a break from working on the script, and went down to a local bar. Allegedly he'd sketched a basic outline on a rectangular napkin when a stranger sidled up next to him. He asked what Lynch was doing. Lynch explained he was writing a movie but was stuck on the ending. The stranger supposedly took the napkin and joined the ends so the outline formed a loop. He handed it back to Lynch with the act I outline in front and said, "There's your ending."

      Delete