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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 09:39 pm (UTC)
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:40 pm (UTC)
You hit the nail right on the head George (at least regarding BSG- haven't seen the other shows/movies you talked about).

It was so...lazy; such a cop-out ending. The first hour was riveting and then...they frolic through Tanzania for an hour? o.0 and then everything's wrapped up in a nice, neat bow by angel Caprica and Baltar explaining "God did it."

And, WTH was Starbuck? Some angel or something? Please. She SHOULD have been Daniel, but because so many people guessed that they must have felt like they had to change it to still have an element of surprise. This ending surprised me alright and I was pissed. I would have much rather seen something I had guessed than be "surprised" for surprise's sake.

I thought it was insulting to their audience's intelligence.

As for Lost, my hubby decided that everyone on Lost was probably dead like in season 2..so we stopped watching at some point soon after that, hahaha. As my writing professor says about Lost, "It's like they're (the writers) all drunk or high and just kind of doing whatever. It's all exposition and lazy flashbacks to 'explain' everything; It's one of the worst written shows I've ever seen."

I wouldn't go THAT far (I think the 1 minute I watched of My Own Worst Enemy was just about the worst thing I've seen in a while)...but it DOES kind of seem like they had a great, concrete storyline idea with Lost, but then got greedy when it took off so well. So they decided to stretch it out with crazy, last minute ideas/cast changes/ridiculous drama to make it "last" longer to make more money. So eventually I just stopped caring. Plus, I heard they killed off Charlie. I will never forgive them, I just can't enjoy it now :P
Apr. 7th, 2009 11:39 pm (UTC)
What do you mean Starbuck was Daniel? I haven't heard that theory, and I don't know who Daniel is. Bible Daniel? Chapterhouse Dune Daniel (which was kinda how I saw Baltar and Caprica - the alternative of them just being angels was completely unsatisfying)? Or some character from BSG I've forgotten about?

Also, I think you're dead wrong about Lost. And your professor is even more wrong. Lost didn't actually grab be until season 2, especially the finale, which made me say "these writers know what they're doing - they've had that planned since episode 1". I've trusted them ever since then, and they have yet to let me down. It could still fall in a heap, I'll admit, because there's a lot going on.

I think what happened with Lost was that the writers conceived of a very strange sci-fi show much like what's on television right now, but were clever enough to slip it onto the market - and into people's viewing schedule - by making the first few seasons much more ordinary.
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
I've heard it suggested that BSG was, intentionally, an interpretation of The Aeneid. It could be that the heavy-handed deus ex machina was meant to be in keeping with the Classical tradition...
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
With Lost now having the time travel element firmly established, I get the feeling they can go many, many places with the ending.

I wasn't a big fan of the most recent episode, but they have been top-notch otherwise, and I get the feeling it's going to stay strong right up to the conclusion.
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the end of BSG *was* pretty disappointing! It really seemed as though the writers themselves didn't know how they wanted to end it, so they just threw that together at the last moment. Which is unfortunate 'cuz there was obviously so much thought put into the rest of the show, and then to have them just butcher the ending in some attempt to tie up all the loose ends they had created. Kinda sad, actually.

And, yes, Lost had better have something much better in mind!

Btw, I would just like to take a moment to say that I am struck by how incredibly cool it is to be "chatting" with one of my all-time favorite authors about one of my all-time favorite shows! :-)
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:47 pm (UTC)
I always thought "deus ex machina" meant that the God ending came from nowhere, whereas in BSG most of the characters were speculating for the whole four years whether or not God (or gods) existed and was playing a part in their journey.

Not that I think it was the best possible ending, but I don't think we can say they didn't warn us....
Apr. 5th, 2009 09:48 pm (UTC)
You mean ASOIAF won't end with "It was all a dream"?


For what it's worth, I really enjoyed the (British) Life on Mars, and the ending was foreshadowed enough, and interesting enough in its own right, that I didn't mind. But then I think I'm a "journey" rather than a "destination" person myself (and for that reason expect to enjoy the latter books of ASOIAF less than the up-in-the-air, everything-to-play-for early books. But I hope to be proven wrong!)
Apr. 5th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
I would have strongly preferred rocks fall, everyone dies to the actual ending of BSG.
Apr. 5th, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC)
I was all set with my piece of paper reading "Butcher's Bill" and my pen, eager to record who bit the dust! *disappointed snap*

One of the characters who lived did so in a highly implausible way, medically speaking. He should have at least been maimed for his trouble, and he was fine. No, "they've got more modern medicine" is not a proper excuse!
(no subject) - werthead - Apr. 5th, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2009 10:14 pm (UTC)
Do you know about TV Tropes? (If not, cue hundreds of GRRM fans putting me on their shitlist because TV Tropes will eat all of your time!)

It's basically a site that documents (and often makes fun of) many of the common storytelling elements in media. Basically, everything is a trope. I think you might enjoy it.
Apr. 5th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)
Ironically enough, I thought you had more to say about the topic with the teaser you left in your last post. Oh well.
Apr. 5th, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC)
the british version of Life on Mars played the "it's a dream" thing quite well because it siggested it might be a dream but at the same time it might be the way into another dimension
it never really resolved it though, he started getting messages from Hyde and a number i can't remember off hand which turned out to be the ward in his hospital, and at the v end, to completely spoil it, sam swoke up in the hospital and lived out a few weeks in 2008, long enough to tell his story to a psychologist - who is the subject of the second program - ashes to ashes, and then killed himself to go back to '73 where he was happy, saving hunt and co

but the entire program is so worth the effort, there is only 16 eps- over 2 seasons - and i know that very few people who watched the original watched the remake because the original was so very very good
Apr. 6th, 2009 01:19 am (UTC)
I think they WANTED to do something that good, but just didn't have the time to develop it.
Apr. 5th, 2009 11:03 pm (UTC)
I think it's more the trend of "We started this without any idea of how to end it from the get-go, hoping to come up with something during the journey to end it with" syndrome.
Apr. 5th, 2009 11:20 pm (UTC)
Lol yeah sometimes this is really annoying and unimaginative. But in some cases like [spoiler] The Others [/spoiler] I really enjoyed the ending of "We've been dead all along". Depends on the overall style / if the movie / book / whatev maybe introduced it and not ripped off.

Maybe these kind of endings are just trendy nowadays. You see this "It's a trap!" ending in so many movies - sometimes it fits, sometimes it's just horrible and forced.

Well I haven't watched BSG but as you said.. the journey has to its own reward.. BUT... HOW... can someone.. who produces such a bad / boring ending produce such a good series?! (if it indeed is)
Apr. 5th, 2009 11:24 pm (UTC)
OMG Thank You!!! I've been fighting with my BSG buddies over the "god's plan" ending since it premiered. It was so lame. A bit of a cop out if you ask me. And still no actual answers about Kara. LAME.
Apr. 5th, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC)
Thing One- I think it is amusing and terribly cool that two of my favorite writers watch Lost!

Thing Two- With all the care that the writers have taken, *and* their consciousness of the fans (evidenced in so many ways, including having Sawyer call Richard "your friend with the eyeliner"), I can't imagine they'd be that cavalier. It feels to me, the way the story breathes (like the best ones do) that they will continue to respect the audience to the end. I never watched BSG, but am sorry that they took the easy way out. Such an insult to their fans...
Apr. 6th, 2009 02:06 pm (UTC)
How did I miss Sawyer calling Richard "your friend with the eyeliner"? That's so awesome! (But then again, I think just about everything Sawyer does is awesome.)

And I agree: I'm finding it so cool that one of my favorite writers watches Lost.

I really do hope they have a killer ending planned. Personally, I doubt it'll end up that they're all really dead. The way the series has been going, I don't see it going that way...but if it does, yeah, I'll be pissed.
Apr. 6th, 2009 12:25 am (UTC)
I personally agree with silellak - I no more found the ending of BSG to be Deus Ex Machina than I did the ending of Lord of the Rings, in which the guiding hand of an invisible power was present throughout the entire story trying to guide the protagonists to a happy ending - which the more or less reached, though not without loss and sadness. I mean, really, what did the Deus in the Machina "do" aside from plant some seeds a long time ago - which were part of the fun of the story, trying to figure out what they were?

Please please tell me that GRRM is not a Moorcockian-style Tolkien hater...I'll just be so sad!
Apr. 6th, 2009 04:24 am (UTC)
This is a highly selective reading of Lord of the Rings. Granted, Gandalf is an agent of the gods, but he acts of his own free will and his ascension is an award for his sacrifice. The Ring drives their quest, not to lead to a happy ending, but to kill them. I can't imagine what other external forces you could be thinking of considering that all the other characters they meet are exactly where they'd be expected to be, and act according to their nature, not contrary to it; but this may be a lack of imagination on my part.
(no subject) - taser8 - Apr. 6th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 6th, 2009 04:49 am (UTC)
What about the fact that making the "hallucination Six" an angel contradicts practically everything shown and said about and by her from the first season? Then there's the fact that the ending does nothing to explain why "God" would choose to contact the Cylons, achieve domination of their society, and then unleash them to destroy the sinful humans instead of just contacting the colonists and explaining why what they were doing was bad.

Then again, the show didn't explain what the colonists were doing that warranted the deaths of trillions either. One could argue that the enslaving of the Cylons was that sin, but that argument doesn't go too far because by the time of the genocide the Cylons had already won their freedom and the Colonists were maintaining a diplomatic station specifically to show that they meant the Cylons no harm and wished to live in peace with them. The only explanation we are left with is the one which Moore provides through Lee and the "angels" conversation in the coda; that commercialism, advanced technology, and the creation of sentient life is, in some vague and undefined way, wrong (besides, this would make god a hypocrite). Needless to say, that message is somewhat unsatisfying and even insulting to many. And I haven't even gotten into the pro-human chauvinism shown by "god's" nuking of Cavil's colony, or how its willingness to destroy the Cylons doesn't quite mesh with a god willing to kill trillions of humans in revenge for how they treated their creations.

Really, the show had so many plot-holes, and repeated so many of the same lazy writing conventions (issue of the week format; introducing characters that are never seen again; telegraphing the deaths of major characters with heavy foreshadowing) that its fans deride other series for making, that I have difficulty understanding why so many are so convinced it was so great. Compared to the other sci-fi running when it was introduced it was pretty good, but I think in an objective sense, compared to series from the past, it was not great but just good and maybe even slightly mediocre.

Plus, that robot montage was just silly. I laughed. And not the happy kind.
(no subject) - hippoiathanatoi - Apr. 6th, 2009 08:13 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 6th, 2009 12:28 am (UTC)

Seriously. Even "rocks fall, everyone dies" is better than deus ex machina.

Apr. 6th, 2009 12:42 am (UTC)
Newhart is the picture perfect way to use the "it was just a dream" ending.
Apr. 6th, 2009 04:47 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. And because it was a comedy and didn't need to explain why strange things happened, choosing to "explain" it was even more hilarious.
Apr. 6th, 2009 12:56 am (UTC)
The original (British) version of Life on Mars had what I thought was a much more satisfying ending.
Apr. 6th, 2009 01:09 am (UTC)
Hey, George, next time you put a huge spoiler on your blog, could you please, please put it under an LJ Cut so that those of us scrolling up our friends list don't accidentally read the huge spoilers first before the warning?

Apr. 6th, 2009 01:24 am (UTC)
I have full faith in the LOST writers and so I KNOW they must have something mindblowing in the wings, especially now that we're getting to see the "others" in their natural habitat.
Apr. 6th, 2009 01:26 am (UTC)
Spoilers here too, but i love the topic.
The Lost guys have promised they're not gonna hand us a snowglobe ending, though apparently the LOST video-game ended that way (in the guise of some kind of time cycle, starting and ending with the plane crash). I nearly stopped watching Lost after the last season, but this one has made it SO worth sticking around. The dog finally stopped chasing his tail.

Back in college, my cinematography class started epic-long discussions about whether DEM endings work for the better. It came down to circumstance versus consequence, and Wizard of Oz worked best as an example. In Oz, Dorothy might've been dreaming but she still had to resolve her issues in order to wake up. Groundhog Day presents a similar philosophy; someone becomes enlightened or transcends before moving forward. Groundhog Day also does its homework and gives the impression that Bill Murray could not ever have escaped unless he transcended his old self.

But if the characters didn't have to struggle through the high stakes and -develop- because of them, the stakes were never high. Nothing improves from this. The great tragedies don't end with Macbeth waking up from a nightmare and you don't even need writing 101 to figure out why.

(I know I posted a lot here, this is just one of my favorite topics in fiction.)
Apr. 6th, 2009 01:31 am (UTC)
Does the Adam and Eve ending count as bad writing if A) it's only a part of the ending (i.e. people other than just "Adam and Eve" survived and B) it's an integral part of the mythological idiom you're writing in (i.e. not ending with an Adam and Eve wouldn't be true to the source material)?
Apr. 6th, 2009 01:32 am (UTC)
Nobody writes bad endings like the Japanese. I think I've seen two anime series now where everything is going along just fine, and then, BAM, they fly up into the moon and explode, the end.
Apr. 6th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
I think that's just cos we don't fully understand Japanese storytelling. They have a completely different way of looking at things because their culture is so different from American or European culture.

Also, whether you like their endings or not, it is my firm belief that the Japanese take more risks with their endings than us Westerners do.
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George R.R. Martin
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