Twisting the Knight Away

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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4 Responses

  1. Avatar Paul H. says:

    I really wish people would stop saying this about ‘Lost’ … the writers had an arc planned out before starting the first season (the basic events, the ending, etc.), and then a lot of leeway in how they got there.

    And this happens all the time, with Tolkien for example (he knew loosely what the ending of LOTR would be, but made things up as he went along; you know, creativity, etc.) David Chase didn’t have every single plot revelation in the Sopranos planned out in 2000, and yet no one holds this against him, right?Report

  2. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Actually, Paul, while the acting and dialogue and all that was quite good in The Sopranos, I felt that the overall plot–the multi-season plot–was rather flimsy. Not as flimsy as Lost, though. Lost may have had some over-plot that I’m just missing, but to me it seemed that the writers were impatient, introducing us to the Others much too soon and then floundering, uncertain what to do next. In an effort to create dynamic characters, they have instead created a cast of haphazard, inconsistent characters who rarely act out of consistent motive or even sensible self-motivation. I was quite enamored of the first season, but after that the show has lost me, no pun intended.

    I think what I left out of the above post is the inability of writers these days to exercise patience. A good plot should be sustained to the breaking point. Take the Office for instance. Season Two was much too soon for Pam and Jim to kiss. I think of an earlier show, Northern Exposure, which exercised far, far more restraint and kept that sexual tension running between its two leads much, much longer.Report

  3. Avatar Josh says:

    @E.D.: Ah, but why should the writers be any different from their viewers and, like, everyone else? (I mean, I know why they ought to; but they’re not exempt from the epidemic speeding-up and loss of patience our culture is going through.)

    I don’t think I’m going to suddenly articulate it in a comment at 3 a.m., but it has seemed to me for a while that there’s something else behind the sort of across-the-board suffering so many people cite in storytelling of recent years. Like, it’s harder to put together a good story than it used to be for, uh, reasons that have to do not just with the media of production (better special effects to distract us, the suits’ demand for faster delivery of the product, etc.) but also with our cultural psyche, if you will.

    As a person grows up, they demand more complex stories, moving from fairy tales to Harry Potter to Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren or what-have-you. And we see this culturally, too—we’ve gone from Donna Reed to The Brady Bunch to Arrested Development. So it doesn’t seem unfeasible to me that we might have reached a point where a large number of us—nowhere near a majority, but a large number—want more complexity from our stories than many storytellers can provide, in the sense of their inherent ability and in the sense of their practical ability to deliver the content to us.

    I also think there are just certain shifts that have made some long-reliable forms much less so. I mean, cell phones have rendered a lot of thrillers simply unworkable. But anyway, I’m just ruminating.Report

  4. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    I think those are extremely valid points, Josh. I have pondered this before, in a number of ways, in how not merely the stories themselves, but the means of telling them have impacted the way we hear those stories, and learn from them.

    I think perhaps culturally we have sped things up to such an extent that we haven’t learned how to incorporate patience into them–for instance, a show like Heroes. The writers rightfully felt that to keep audiences around (since so much competing media is luring them away) they needed a good season finale. And they provided one for the first season. But what they didn’t do was figure out how to make that finale just one small finale within a larger framework. Instead they took an almost season-by-season episodic approach, whereas what was truly needed in such a show was a mounting plot, wherein one finale leads to the next, in a coherent manner. I would maybe cite the first few seasons of the X-files to show how this can be done well; and conversely, the last few seasons to show what not to do…

    In any case, I think that our technology and media is maturing faster than we are, and it’s a problem, but I have no doubt that someone will find a way to right it. Look what Pixar did for Disney movies….Report