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Writing 101

Spoilers Below

Don't read this if you haven't yet watched the season finales of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and/ or LIFE ON MARS. I've finally seen both (we are TIVO junkies, so we don't always watch shows the night they air), and... well...

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA ends with "God Did It." Looks like somebody skipped Writing 101, when you learn that a deus ex machina is a crappy way to end a story.

And now LIFE ON MARS ends with "It Was All a Dream." Curiously, I actually found that a bit more satisfying than the end of BSG. But still... really??? C'mon. Writing 101.

Oh, and while I'm at it, let me spoil the new Nicholas Cage movie, KNOWING. I actually enjoyed that one, mostly, although everyone else I know who has seen it hated it. But the ending... this time it was space angels who did it. And when the little kids starting running through the alien grass toward the glowing alien tree, I almost thought the boy was going to say, "My dad used to call me Caleb, but my real name is Adam," and then the little girl would say... oh, wait, you've seen it?

Yeah, yeah, sometimes the journey is its own reward. I certainly enjoyed much of the journey with BSG, parts of LIFE ON MARS, and even some stuff in KNOWING. But damn it, doesn't anybody know how to write an ending any more?

Writing 101, kids. Adam and Eve, God Did It, It Was All a Dream? I've seen Clarion students left stunned and bleeding for turning in stories with those endings.


(I sure hope those guys doing LOST have something better up planned for us. Though if it turns out to be They Were All Dead All Along I'm really going to be pissed).


( 153 comments — Leave a comment )
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Apr. 5th, 2009 08:47 pm (UTC)
Now the pressure’s on you!
I guess with a rant like that, you will have to give a very solid ending to ASOIAF!

I think you’re piling presure on yourself just now :¬)
Apr. 7th, 2009 12:47 am (UTC)
Re: Now the pressure’s on you!
R'hllor did it.
Apr. 5th, 2009 08:48 pm (UTC)
I don't know if this is better or worse then the Sopranos ending that is not an ending. Knowing sucked, sorry. Why is it that you never see an ultra religious person go through an atheist revelation in a movie? Not that I'm an atheist, but still, ya never see that.
Apr. 5th, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)
Need to read more alan moore!
... okay so I haven't seen a RELIGIOUS person go through an athiest revelation, but Rorschach and his psychologist do
(no subject) - xanath - Apr. 6th, 2009 12:18 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - noctolator - Apr. 6th, 2009 01:41 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
as far as Life On Mars, that's how the BBC version ended, I haven't seen it though, so I'm not certain. But from what I saw of the American verson, it's not as good as the BBC's.
The writers of LOST have said that the people on the island aren't dead, but they also said that they wouldn't kill Charlie and they did that, so I don't trust them. But, considering they've given themselves an end date I hope they're working towards something massive and awesome.
I haven't seen the end of BSG yet (I'm about a month behind) but I have no expectations about the ending.
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC)
BBC Life on Mars ended with him jumping off a building to get back to 1973 though...and they never explained why he was fixated on 1973.

I thought the US version ended it with the only 1/2 plausible way they could to tie it up. Still disappointing...
Apr. 5th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
Life on Mars
out of curiousity, is Life on Mars, that you're watching, the Brit version or the American version?
I haven't seen all of the BBC Life on Mars, yet, and because of that, I refuse to watch American version and because it'll probably be second rate like most overseas TV shows that get americanized.

BSG was a good journey, despite the ending
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Life on Mars
you should really watch the end of BBC's Life on Mars, I cried. Seriously. I couldn't get through one episode of the American version, it was so pale in comparison.
Apr. 5th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, the end of BSG was extremely unsatisfying. I went and sold my DVDs after watching the final episode.
Apr. 5th, 2009 08:54 pm (UTC)
I think you just cemented my determination to never watch BSG. All that hype for Deus Ex Make-My-Day? Feh!
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
The show was really great up to the second half of season 2. It is absolutely worth watching up to Home 2 (and maybe the next couple episodes). Just stop there, it went down hill after that with just enough good spots to keep people like me hooked.
(no subject) - angrylagomorph - Apr. 6th, 2009 04:14 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC)
(I sure hope those guys doing LOST have something better up planned for us. Though if it turns out to be They Were All Dead All Along I'm really going to be pissed)

Okay, as a obsessed dedicated LOST fan, I love that you watch it, too xD
Apr. 6th, 2009 12:39 am (UTC)
Dead all along has been my prediction from the beginning.
Apr. 5th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)

if LOST ends with the dead all along routine, i'll be pissed right there with you!

Apr. 5th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
You know, in my group of friends we constantly joke about the end of Song of Ice and Fire being Ned waking up for a long, very vivid nightmare. Fortunately none of us have ever thought for a second you could do that, or we wouldn't be joking about it. But the scriptwriters from Lost? I don't trust that lot so much...
Apr. 5th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
Given they kept insinuating that BSG was some kind of Greek tragedy I've been trying to rationalize that deus ex machina somehow fits. But I'm still really angry with how they treated the Kara character, who will not be "remembered" as Apollo claimed.

So angry that yesterday I chased some pigeons.
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC)
My family had a long discussion about the "remembering" issue when we watched the finale, and it's pretty clear to us that the Galactica people are remembered through Greek myths, but that there are only a couple perfect analogies -- and no perfect analogies between the actual deity names and the personalities of characters with those names on the show. We did agree, though, that Starbuck is most certainly remembered -- or how else do you explain the mythical Apollo's psycho twin sister who roams the woods and will kill you if you look at her wrong?
(no subject) - maine_character - Apr. 8th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
I agree with the BSG finale... it was mighty disappointing. I don't think you have to worry about LOST, I've read the show runners said the ending isn't going to be aliens, or purgatory, or another cop-out.
Apr. 5th, 2009 08:58 pm (UTC)
It's the first time I comment here, so I love your books, etc, and I was also pretty disappointed by BSG (well I was disappointed by the whole of S4 to be honest, and a big part of S3) anyway... when you want to protect your audience from spoilers, the etiquette on LiveJournal is to make a LJ-cut. For this purpose you can put this bit of code in your entry:

That way people have to click directly on your entry to see what you said on the episodes, so it's easier to avoid spoilers by not clicking instead of averting your eyes in times. Much more safe for spoilerphobic people ^_^
Apr. 5th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
I'm not so sure "God did it" was necessarily the ending for BSG. It was vague enough that it seemed to imply that "someone did it" but it wasn't necessarily "God" although some characters certainly thought so.

It could have been space angels.

But your point is well taken. And man, I hope the Lost kids have something better planned.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
Lost has really -- like, really really -- upped its game during the past two seasons. There was kind of a slump around season three, I think, but seasons four and five have been very good indeed, occasionally brilliant. And we finally have a TV show whose time travel premise actually makes sense (i.e., whatever happened, happened; no silly startrekky or stargatey alternate time lines messing up temporal logic from here to Friday, at least not yet).

Thankfully, I think the show's past the They Were All Dead All Along point. But if it's not, and if they pull something like that, I'll friggin stop watching TV.
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)
The BSG finale brought "cheap" to a whole new level, I have never ever felt so cheated for plot.

On Life on Mars: Maybe watch the brit show, that one didn't end with just "It was all a dream", also it had far better actors and writers. Seriously who cast that fridge as Sam Tyler?

Edited at 2009-04-06 06:04 pm (UTC)
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
I just went and checked how they ended the US Life on Mars. Woah, that's really crazy stuff. Different, and less nihilistic I suppose, than the UK ending (although since the UK show has a sequel series, there may be more to the mystery than "It was just a coma-induced hallucination,") but still bonkers. It was all a VR-induced hallucination? Hmm.

BSG's ending was not quite what it could have been. The writers lost their way towards the end and seemed to have difficulty satisfactorily addressing all the mysteries they'd set up. That said, there was at least one vague hint that it wasn't God but some kind of space alien. Still weak though, and the "Robots are bad OMG!" ending was over-egging the pudding.

LOST, on the other hand, has been on fire this last season. Its use of time travel has been really fascinating to watch and implemented intelligently (unlike, say, HEROES). I suspect the writers have also got a better idea for the finale in mind than either BSG or LoM had, simply because they've set up all their mysteries ahead of time instead of just making them up as they went along, like BSG.

I take it we shouldn't be expecting R'hllor to turn up, resurrect Ned and then save the day at the end of A DREAM OF SPRING then? :-)
Apr. 6th, 2009 12:51 am (UTC)
there was at least one vague hint that it wasn't God but some kind of space alien

Are you talking about the "it doesn't like being called that [god]" comment?
(no subject) - werthead - Apr. 6th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - werthead - Apr. 8th, 2009 06:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - doubleplus - Apr. 6th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:16 pm (UTC)
Well we all know YOU have something better up your sleeve. :) Looking forward to it ...
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:18 pm (UTC)
A random observation: "deus ex machina" is, I suspect, very apt. It's not God -- "it" doesn't like being called that, we're told right at the end.

It makes me think of Asimov's "The Last Question", for some reason. So ... god out of the machine? God _is_ a machine (maybe).

On the whole, I thought the finale ended well. More importantly, it was told well, because it brought the focus onto the characters and their journey, temporal and spiritual. To me, this was always the central aspect of the show. The "mysteries" were something a lot of people were into, and to some degree the writers kind of fed that mentality, but it was really the story of the characters for me.

I know a lot of people wanted a lot more action, a lot more explicit closure, or what have you, but for me this felt like a fairly bold tack to take against prevailing opinion.

I'm told the LOST writers have said that it's not purgatory and they're not all dead and just don't know it.

As to LIFE ON MARS, as I recall, in the original British series, it was "all just a dream", but they were, I guess, "true" dreams. The character really did live back then, somehow, and then did wake up again in the present. IIRC, the follow-up British series references what happens to him after that point (in short: nothing good.)
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
In the UK LoM Sam Tyler was in a coma and everything was a product of his imagination. At the end of the series he commits suicide and 'dies' in the present, but continues to live in the 1970s for another seven years. When Drake gets shot in the first episode of ASHES TO ASHES, she assumes (as do we) that because she was reading Sam Tyler's psych profile and his detailed account of life in the 1970s, she created a similar fantasy world.

The whole thing gets thrown into severe doubt because in the final episode of the first season, Gene Hunt is revealed as having played a role in investigating the murder of Drake's parents as a child, so he really existed. Apparently the second season of ASHES TO ASHES is supposed to dive into this mystery in more detail.
BSG ending: the nature of God - dawn_pillsbury - Apr. 6th, 2009 12:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: BSG ending: the nature of God - noybusiness - Jul. 30th, 2012 03:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - noybusiness - Jul. 27th, 2012 01:35 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC)
So we don't have to worry about Rickon waking up from a bad dream in which all sorts of bad things happened to his family?

Apr. 5th, 2009 09:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah what a let down, and I totally agree with you about lost...
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:28 pm (UTC)
Better try the british Life on Mars
I can only recommend the U.K. version of Life on Mars. It's ending is a lot more satisfying (though surprising still) than the U.S. one. It's got a very good cast (even though I like Harvey Keitel, he is surely not the right cast for Gene Hunt, not if you've ever seen Phil Glenister in this role), and it's fun to listen to this typical northern english dialect (and also to step back more than 30 years in english history). They did a tremendous job with the prop and the music as well.
I can also recommend the sequel, Ashes to Ashes (which of course takes place in the Eigthies and is only slightly connected with Life on Mars, I was pretty surprised that they found a way to take the same premise and create another worth-watching story.
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
Except the LIFE ON MARS ending wasn't really "It was all a dream", or at least, I didn't get that at all. I think it was clear from the start that his experiences were tied to his coma and that he wasn't hopping in some delorean with a flux capacitor, but at the same time it was clear in the end that whatever he experienced was something beyond simple hallucination or dreams; the characters were too real, too continuous, and many things in that world were strangely tied to present-day events. Gene Hunt and his gang were almost guardian angels of a sort. Also see ASHES TO ASHES for a direct continuation of the story post-Sam.
Apr. 6th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC)
I think GRRM is referring to the American remake of LIFE ON MARS, which has a totally different (and far whackier) ending to the UK version.
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:31 pm (UTC)
worse than like x-files season 9

bitch about it w/ eisenstein, if I was still in her class she'd prob freak out.
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC)
It Was All a Dream and God Did It are just so unsatisfying. If one's watching an imaginative show, one expects an imaginative ending. It's disappointing when you get anything else.

I'd link to TVTropes' entries on both, but then I'd be assuring ADWD never gets finished. Or any other book. Or LJ entry. Or possibly even post-it note. It's that addicting.
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
I have to disagree a little here. The ending to BSG is not an example of deus ex machine. Far from it, actually.

While I do totally understand why people would've been disappointed by the BSG finale, from what people are saying, you'd think the idea that "God" - or whatever "it" was that was manipulating events - came out of nowhere just for this last episode, which is certainly not the case.

Like it or hate it, BSG had been building towards this ending for a long time. "Head Six" called herself an "angel of God" years ago. Both humans and Cylons happening to be in a star system at the exact moment it went supernova was long-discussed as very much being an "act of God" or a "miracle".

What I love about the ending is that "God" can be whatever you want it to be. It can be God as described in Christian mythology, it can be some personification of the universe itself, or it could even be an extraordinarily advanced alien race whose abilities appear "God-like" - sort of the reimagined versions of the Beings of Light from the original series.

One can certainly argue that they didn't like for BSG to go in this direction, but I believe it's somewhat disenginuis to have been at-all surprised by the "God did it" tone of the finale. At this point, it was, in many ways, the only logical answer. What other answer could there be for:

1. The previously mentioned Nova incident
2. How Starbuck - and even more importantly a DIRECT COPY of her ship - come back unscathed
3. The Head-Six and Head-Baltar characters
4. Hera knowing the things she knows
5. Starbuck knowing the things she knows
6. Human and Cylon characters sharing the same visions of the future


"Deus ex machina" to me has always implied something previously un-mentioned that shows up at the end of the day to save everyone, and I don't think you can claim the "God did it" answer to many of the big BSG questions came out of nowhere. The entire second-half of the series we were essentially being told "God is doing it." People may've held off hope that it was somethng else - something more "plausible" or "real" - but it certainly did not come out of nowhere.

There really is no solid "aliens did it" sort of answer that could've tied all these loose ends together and done so without ACTUALLY being a deus ex machina. If anyone can think of one, please let me know, because you have a far more creative mind than I do.
Apr. 6th, 2009 01:17 am (UTC)
Ditto. It's not Deus Ex Machina when the entire program is predicated upon direct involvement of a divine force from day 1.
(no subject) - patrick - Apr. 6th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nycfalcon - Apr. 6th, 2009 04:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - werthead - Apr. 6th, 2009 04:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
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George R.R. Martin
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