So I was recently reminded of a bit of television writing wisdom that I wanted to expound upon. And I’m not necessarily saying the following really has anything to do with anything, just that sometimes my brain makes strange leaps and I thought, what the hell, let’s make a post.
Okay, so when I was in college during one of my script workshops, Drew Goddard came in to work with us for a couple hours. He had a ton of interesting, useful shit to say, as you can imagine, and I’m totally gonna butcher the paraphrasing of this, but essentially at one point he started talking about a certain way of looking at the difference between JJ Abrams’ and Joss Whedon’s approaches to writing for television. He’d worked with both of them extensively (on Alias and Lost, and BtVS and Angel respectively), and his perspective on the both of them was really fascinating.
And basically what he said was that you can almost look at storytelling on TV, especially when it comes to genre shows with long, drawn-out story arcs, as a series of questions, both overt and subtextual. Discovering the answers to these questions is a driving force behind getting the viewer to come back each week. (Who is the Kanima? Who’s controlling the Kanima? Will Scott and Allison get back together? etc etc. And then the less obvious as well, that people often don’t even realize they’re looking for answers to, questions that have to do with themes and symbolism and homoerotic eye-fucking and all that good stuff that die-hard fans write meta about.)
The difference, he said, between the two methods (and, again, paraphrasing horribly here but whatever), was that JJ would answer a question with a question, and Joss would answer a question with an actual answer that would then evolve into or beget new questions.
Though both those approaches get the job done, the latter is ultimately the more satisfying. But it’s extremely common for TV writers to fall into the trap of the JJ method, because it’s a hell of a lot easier all around. It simply takes a lot less effort, and it always seems like a good idea at the time because it feels like the obvious way of really hooking viewers. Never give them what they want, right? Always leave them wanting more. Never give a straight answer. Blah blah blah. It’s a cheap way of drawing out a mystery, but it often doesn’t look cheap to the casual viewer if you’re performing just enough slight-of-hand in the meantime. Give ‘em some lens flare and no one will notice.
The trouble with this is that, even when you’re able to get away with it for an extended period of time, eventually your audience gets frustrated, or bored, or both.
The idea is similar to the overuse of the myth of the Moonlighting Curse. The Moonlight Curse is not actually a real thing. It’s a big fat urban legend. But it persists because it’s a convenient excuse for the laziness of dragging out a will-they-or-won’t-they romance well past when it should have ended. Showrunners claim the audience doesn’t really want to see their OTP end up together, but this is just a cop out to avoid trying to entertain that audience in new ways. The thing is, the will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic creates automatic tension, and it’s a lot easier to forever rely on that same tension for several seasons of a show, rather than to do the work it would take to create different kinds of tension for the relationship in question.
So… I don’t know. This post really isn’t meant to have a point beyond me rambling about TV. But I have over the years often come back to that idea that Drew imparted. How Abrams answers a question with a question. And Whedon answers a question with an answer that leads to more questions. And whenever I come into a new show, whether as a fan or as a writer, one of the first things I ask myself is what school of writing the people behind it all would be more inclined to subscribe to.
The secretive, subversive Confederate group is thought to have hidden millions in ill-gotten gold across a dozen states to finance a second Civil War."
I think this was the plot of a Lt. Blueberry comic. KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE! ”The Northern California couple had walked the path on their gold country property for years before they spotted the edge of a rusty can peeking out of the moss in February 2013.”
Wikipedia— “According to a few fringe historians, after the Civil War, the [Knights of the Golden Circle] went underground and became a secret society. Furthermore, it has been alleged that the James-Younger Gang was the principal source of funds for a second U.S. Civil War that never occurred.” (James being, like, Jesse James). Fringe historians, hidden gold, famous cowboys, secret societies— how is Nicolas Cage not in this story???
They’re figuring the value of the coins at $10 million dollars.(via twiststreet)