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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. 6th, 2009 01:47 am (UTC)
I agree with you.

In art the ending makes the difference.

If I wanted "life", I would put the movie or book away and go outside.
Apr. 6th, 2009 02:19 am (UTC)
But what if?...
on Lost they were and dreaming in R'lyeh?
Apr. 6th, 2009 02:26 am (UTC)
my .02
Unresolved cliff hangers and lame endings have happened WAY too often with my favorite shows, Carnivale anyone?

I hope Lost pulls off a grand ending, like the Six Feet Under ending. That one was astounding, had me bawling and happy like a baby girl.
Apr. 6th, 2009 03:52 am (UTC)
Yeah, American television tends to have worthless stories these days, I think the main reason is the length of the story is dictated primarily by shareholders of the production companies...
Apr. 6th, 2009 04:18 am (UTC)
I haven't watched much of lost, but from what I have watched, and what analysis of it I've read, it seems pretty clear to me that the show-runners and writers are pretty dead-set on a bizarre time-traveling ending, and that the island is really a gigantic lab of some sort, or possibly an alien space craft. Then again, there are lots of places they could go with what they've done so far.
Apr. 6th, 2009 05:16 am (UTC)
The only thing that bugged me about the ending of BSG was the "OMG ROBOT'S" montage at the end. Did we really need it?

But yes, Starbuck was my favorite character, and having her go poof while Lee's back was turn was just a bad send off to the character.

Also, the never took the opportunity for Starbuck to offer someone "a little necrophilia".

Come on, one of the writers must of watched Brazil.
Apr. 6th, 2009 05:37 am (UTC)
Re: Lost.

It really looks like they are gunna go that way huh? Apparently they have a plan, but with time travel now thrown in, they can do whatever the hell they want.

BTW, some over sharing: I am re-reading your series, and remembered when I first opened Storm of Swords. I was like "Kingslayer?! I HATE HIM! I DON'T WANT TO READ ABOUT HIM!" and by the end of the book, I was kinda in love with him. THAT's good writing :p
Apr. 6th, 2009 05:41 am (UTC)
Haven't you all figured out yet that the Island on Lost is Atlantis? Lost has become my favorite show this year. I just hope they don't end with "it's all in Hurley's head." I've really enjoyed J.J. Abrahms other show, "Fringe," as well. If you watch closely, there have been several homages to Lost...including someone having tickets on an Oceanic Airlines flight.

The BSG finale was a terrible disappointment. Deus Ex Machina all over...God in the machine...God in the Cylons. Kara Thrace the Angel. Puh-leeze! Like any super-advanced tech society is going to 'go native' and throw away everything they know.

For the record, Tolkein was a great writer, but LotR is full of examples of Deus Ex Machina; i.e. Tom Bombadill.
Apr. 6th, 2009 07:12 am (UTC)
That was something that always bothered me about LOTR novels. The Ring is painted as this ultimate temptation, but most characters who come in contact with it, it has no power of them.

If something is a threat, don't constantly negate that threat at every turn.
Re: LOST - tuor - Apr. 7th, 2009 01:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 6th, 2009 06:45 am (UTC)
Thank f*ck I'm not the only one who thought that. Although arguably the worse bit about the BSG ending was that it's been done before, better, and involving telephone sanitisers.
Apr. 6th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
Yes! About halfway through the ending outdoor sequence, I burst out laughing, and explained to my wife, "Galactica is the 'B' Ark!"
Apr. 6th, 2009 07:03 am (UTC)
It is no different really to how they ended Quantum leap and Enterprise (a holodeck can quite easily replace "dream sequence") it just sucks really. If i have put in a "and God came down and made it all better" or a "and it was all a dream" in my Creative Writing lessons at school I would have been failed so fast the paper would burn. They are the classic "DO NOT USE" fudges ever.. It reall yis a pity that TV land is so desperate to throw stuff at the screen that it is dumbing down on quality. I think this is why iIread more books that watch TV these days:/
Apr. 6th, 2009 07:05 am (UTC)
Life on Mars' ending was rather more creative than that.
He REALIZED it was a dream/illusion but -chose to come back to it-. I don't see how that's any more ridiculous than coming up with a cockamamie sci-fi explanation and in fact his choice is a lot more salient than that.

Speaking of endings....
Apr. 6th, 2009 08:16 am (UTC)
The UK version was much better. Watch a couple of episodes of it and you'll be very confused by the casting choices they made in the US version. In the us version Michael Imperioli is a scene stealer. Completely changes the dynamic of the show.

BSG was such a heartbreaker. It was such a smart, dark, gritty show. Something like that rarely comes along. And then deus ex machina in the end felt like such a cop out. I was waiting for some great payoff at the end of one of the best series I've ever seen. I'd have been much happier if I had turned the episode off right before Starbuck vanished. Everything after that is just craptastic.

Luckily I know you'll do much better than that George. No pressure! :)
Apr. 6th, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)
Considering we have been told by the LOST PTB that they aren't dead I think there will be lynch mobs if they try to pull that one on us.
Apr. 6th, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
I didn't care for the ending of BSG, but the ending of the American Life on Mars pushed the entire series into irrelevancy. (I never saw the BBC version.)

The writers of LOST have promised that it isn't all just in someone's head and everyone's not dead, etc. I hope they live up to that promise. Don't forget there is also an Adam & Eve on LOST ..... more time travel, I'm sure.
Apr. 6th, 2009 02:17 pm (UTC)
Not sure if you've seen the British version of "Life on Mars" yet, but if you haven't - do so! It was written and executed much better than the American one and the ending fits the style of the show much better than the American "Oh it was a dream and we're on a spaceship." Both my boyfriend and I were looking at each other, the tv, each other and going WTF?
Apr. 6th, 2009 02:28 pm (UTC)
Well, the most common (only) reason for using deus ex machina is to fix bad plots and tie up loose ends you can't tie up any other way. Sooooooo.......
Apr. 6th, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
You should really watch the British (that is ORIGINAL) version of Life on Mars. Superb show, with a clever, yet sad, ending.
Apr. 6th, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
You have to consider who these shows were made for. This is all wide consumption, lowest common denominator stuff. This is why good literature and especially television are the norm but the exception. For example, I am a big fan of Ian McShane after seeing his work on Deadwood. But after seeing 2 episodes of Kings you can't pay me to watch that show. And so on.
Apr. 6th, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC)
LOST is my favourite tv series, it would be crappy if they pulled a "Los Serrano" ending (Los Serrano was a very popular familiar Spanish tv series which, after many many seasons, ended with the male protagonist apparently commiting suicide and then waking up to find himself at the beginning of the story, some 5 years back. The country was in shock the next day! It wasn't a good show, but the ending has to be the worst I've ever seen). However, I do trust J.J. Abrahams, and I think they will do a good job. We need more of Ben Linus, though.

ps: I don't really see the Tom Bombadil episode as an example of Deus ex Machina. In fact, all I see in LotR is human, and hobbit, struggle to survive when the gods are deaf and mute.
Apr. 6th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
Well, they did resurrect Gandalf when it was needed, but didn't do much beyond that.
Apr. 6th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC)
Woo, people debating LOST, BSG, LotR AND British vs. American TV in the same thread? It could get nasty in here.
I'm going to chime in with a bit of a defense for BSG. Was the ending great? No, it wasn't. It certainly wasn't on par with the rest of the show. But it was, at least, decent. Most major things were resolved, though there were some glaring omissions.
I was slightly disappointed, but I don't believe that it invalidated the rest of the show. The end is only part of the story - the greater part is the journey, and I definitely enjoyed the journey there. BSG featured some of the most mature, challenging writing on TV with a talented technical team as well.
Apr. 6th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
OK so I realized back awhile that I spelled "deus" as "deux" more than once - I blame the lack of intravenous coffee. Mea culpa, but I'm also Lazy and need to get to my own writing, so I ain't fixin' it.

On Battlestar Galactica...

I think what really bothered me the most was this: what they did with BSG's final episode that *worked* was so frakkin' COOL that it made what did NOT work stand up and scream.

The first hour of the episode? Priceless. I mean, heart-in-my-throat, hit-all-the-right-beats, fan-frakking-tastic. The "red stripe" cylons versus all the other cylon models (including the old buckets I remember so well from my youth)? Excellent. Baltar and Six finally figuring out how much they love eachother - or, more to the point, Baltar figuring out what Six saw in him all along? Nicely wrought. Getting in and out faster than expected? Perfectly OK. Boomer owing the Old Man, and fulfilling that debt? Rockin' (even with the flashback, which I must say kind of started the cut-across-emotional-impact theme). Chief finding out who killed Cali, and his response? Brutual, impactful, honest.

And then some dead chick's hand falls on a button, and it's over.

THAT's the act-of-god moment for me.

It's true that BSG has been exploring issues of religion throughout its course, so I have no problem with the Baltar/Six "angels," or even with the "it doesn't like to be called that" comment, because those leave the ambiguity (and therefore a brand of agnosticism)in place. The Greek mythology is pretty obvious, too, and in some ways the rise of monotheism from polytheism works.

I don't even mind introducing characters, creating an emotional connection between character/watcher, and then killing off the characters, particularly in times of war, because that can be - and often is - just cool.

But putting a "gun on the nightstand" option down means you just wrote yourself into a corner. And that corner ended up only being able to resolve itself with ... with ... deus ex dead-chick.

Talk about bad writing.

The second hour of the final episode had good moments - the ships going into the sun while the original theme song from the 70's played made me cry. It did. I'm a sucker. I didn't mind how they handled the President's death, or Adama's soliloquy, because sometimes that's what happens. Keeping Apollo on planet as the moral compass I like and even Starbuck and Apollo never really "getting together" worked for me. Shoot, I'm even willing to cop to the sudden agreement to stay planetside, because I know sometimes writing has to be swift.

But *poof* and she's gone? Cheat, cheat, cheat. "You will be remembered?" Gah. Saccharine.

Plus what happened to the technology left on the planet, like...oh...Adama's Raptor? Am I to "assume" that metal strong enough to handle jumping somehow degrades to nothingness by the time the archeological period starts? Somehow it's OK for an advanced society to breed with Anatomically Modern Humans - there's no social "ick factor?"

I did totally love the Chief as the founder of Scotland.

So overall? B-. Some great moments, but then what was bad really took so much away...
Apr. 8th, 2009 04:07 pm (UTC)
"I did totally love the Chief as the founder of Scotland."

So did I! I don't know why but that thing made me happy and made me wish to be a Scottish.

Otherhand, I agree with the Kara part. I dislike what they did with her (season1-2 charachter), she would have deserved better.
(no subject) - maine_character - Apr. 9th, 2009 03:28 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 6th, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
I guess we know how ASoIaF is not gonna end :) It went from BSG to just BS
Apr. 6th, 2009 05:09 pm (UTC)
For some people the ending is hard to figure out. For others it's the middle, eh, George?
Apr. 6th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)
I haven't even seen Lost (yet), but with regards to your last comment you may be more right than you know. The writers often compare it to The 3rd Policeman by Flann O'Brien. Guess how it ends?
Apr. 6th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
As to deus ex machina I'll repeat what others have pointed out. It has been the recurring theme of god or gods having an influence on universal and mundane events. The big "surprise" was the hot-fixed, soft re-boot of sapients. But even that was alluded to in previous episodes. The underlying theme of sapient society being a natural evolutionary product of the universe. With each new model, there is a change and possible improvement.

The Starbuck character has always been the avatar (sanskrit avatara) of first the Gods, then God and finally the Universe. When there is great need, the Hero appears. I suppose you can point her out as deus ex machina. But since she has reccurrently been used in this manner, it is better to view her as a force of Nature itself. The BSG writers have used Sapience and the Universe as characters throughtout the series. You didn't miss that did you?

I didn't like the ending of BSG because of the reference to mitochondrial Eve. With so many Cylon and Humans spread across the globe there would be evidence of multiple pockets of ancestral humans/hybrids. For the mEve to make sense, Hera or human Cylon couples would have needed to be in the same place. Simply throwing all humans and Cylons on Earth seemed to me a quickie, ill thought out ending. Maybe they couldn't stitch together an adequate plot for the alloted time.

With all it's flaws the series will find a place in my collection alongside Rome.
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( 153 comments — Leave a comment )


George R.R. Martin
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