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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 05:52 pm (UTC)
I actually didn't hate the American Life on Mars. It was rediculous and at times pretty cheesy but the music completely suckered me into it. Now the ending was...well it was absurd. I mean I assumed it was a dream from the get go but spacemen and actually going to Mars was out there. but it kind of worked when looking at it, it tied everything together, it played on the "spaceman" reference through the show, it explained how the characters related to each other in the 1973/dream and in the present... I mean it was far fetched and bizare but at least it was am "it was all a dream" ending that was unique.

Yeah, i'm done...And i agree that these endings are cop-outs but if they are going to be used just make them something entertaining. I was laughing so hard at the end of Life on Mars it was almost worth it.

And if LOST is a dream I fear for the lives of Abrams, Liddeloff and Cruse...
Apr. 6th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
Let's hope Robert McKee is not a fan of either show...
Apr. 6th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
I like the concept of history repeating
but I agree, the whole deus ex machina ending to BSG felt lacking in many ways.
Apr. 6th, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC)
Count me as another person recommending the British version of Life on Mars. It's pretty much perfection in television form, and its ending is the best I've ever seen.
Apr. 6th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
It seems there is a huge shortage of good, competent writers these days -- especially for TV and film. I not surprised to hear your news -- yet I'm still disappointed...
And I'm especially disappointed with The Legend of the Seeker writers. They obviously are spending the money on some special effects, but the writers have butchered a good concept and made it intolerably cheesy. Too much dependence on magic -- little potion viles that look like opalescent bottles of shampoo... Still, the chick who plays the confessor is hot...
I read about a quarter of that book when it came out before I decided I didn't want to read about Darken Rahl doing bad things to little boys... that's just sick. Little boys being pushed off a ledge several stories up is easier to read...
Apr. 7th, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC)
Re: writers
Yeah, I doubt you'll find too many Terry Goodkind fans here. That series self-destructed after about the third book, when the high fantasy turned into a right-wing diatribe.
Apr. 6th, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)
Sorry you didn't like the ending.

Personally I enjoyed it very much, and I thought it wrapped things up very nicely.
Apr. 6th, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)
Don't watch any of those shows (don't watch TV, actually), so I had no problems being spoiled!

Apr. 6th, 2009 11:52 pm (UTC)
Silellak ftw.

Seriously, what did you expect from a show where some people learn that they are without doubt artificial beings just for being able to hear some music? We already knew it all was a religious thing, all the way down from there has been one long happy holiday. Look at Baltar: he was exactly the way we are right away, which is skeptical, but skeptikal pose is intelligent only when strange things (say magic, say miracles) do not occur with such an allarming frequency as to think that they actually are whatever they pretend to be. At first I thought Baltar was just a turncloack, joining the winning side, but I've gradually understood that he's not, he actually believes. He lives in a world where the screenplay is set so that the message is "God IS something to think about". That is, you can enjoy the show if you manage to turn a blind eye to the corruption that means any godly message, and take it as what it is: some kind of Bible, which means mainly epic.

Unlike some others, I loved the mEve thing. Guys, its not Eve from the Bible you're been told about, it's Mithocondrial Eve, google it, for God's sake! This just made the rescuing Hera thing all worth. Who knows, maybe the tests Baltar ran to detect Cylons on the beginning of the series were just about finding mithocondria in the cells. That was quite cool.

I found indeed interesting, as a philosophical thing to watch out carefully, the fact that all that hi-tech society agreed to lose all the knowledge they had. We may find alien such a thing, but try their point of view: at that point they can be absolutely sure that there actually IS someone watching over them, or at least setting things up from the backstage, someone who already made them to lose everythig. The existance of God is no more a matter of faith, is something they all have experienced. Futhermore, why everything has to be a continuous line leading to neverending technological development? Actually it's not, it's us, in the little span of history we live in, the ones thinking alienly.

Excuse my english (I'm from Spain).
Apr. 7th, 2009 12:04 am (UTC)
It used to be original
... the ending of St. Elsewhere was lauded with critical and public praise for basically being "it was all in the mind of an autistic kid".

Suppose that sort of WWE style "swerve" at the end has gone out of fashion!
Apr. 7th, 2009 12:00 pm (UTC)
Somewhere along the line we stopped fostering creativity and went for commericial. If Gone With the Wind was "tested" with an audience today they would change the ending from "Frankly Scarlett I don't give a damn" to the two of them running into the sunset holding hands.
Apr. 7th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
Naw, the line would be changed to "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a f**k!" This would lead to a gratuitous sex scene in order to ensure at least a PG-13 rating so to grab a wider audience.
Apr. 7th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)
You watch Lost? I've been watching it since day 1, and I have NEVER EVER watched a show that drove me so crazy! Many of my friends/family have long ago given up on it, but every Wednesday night at 9 I am glued to the Television set. but I'll be damned if I know what's going on.

Hey George, do you watch the Tudors on Showtime? I'm hooked on that, and it seems like something you'd be into.
Apr. 8th, 2009 12:17 am (UTC)
The Tudors
Yes, I watch THE TUDORS. The first season was weak, I think, the second season much stronger. Too early to tell about the third season. The best thing about the show was the actress who played Anne Boleyn, who was really terrific. Probably the best portrayal of the character I have ever seen on film or screen, even better than Genevieve Bujold in ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS. The worst thing about the show is the lead, Jonathan Rhys Myers, whose portrayal of Henry VIII is strident and one-note when compared to what Keith Michell did with the role in the classic 1970 BBC series THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII.
Apr. 8th, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)
GRRM is right. We could quibble over how important the element of surprise is in defining deus ex machina, but that's missing the point.

Life is hard. Most of BSG paid careful tribute to this fact. The resolution in the finale flat-out denied it.

It's more compelling to see deeply flawed characters overcome insurmountable odds through some scrap of redeeming virtue--or to see them fail despite their best efforts because their flaws are too great or their circumstances too impossible--than to have every conflict and worry trivialized by the whimsical flick of a deity's wrist.
Apr. 8th, 2009 05:52 am (UTC)
Lost is my paradox puzzlebox and I love it! I have concerns about the very last episode as well. I hope the writers do it justice and have a satisfying ending. For instance if the last scene is of the colossal statue and it has Vincent's face {Anubis okay, Vincent no} then I am going to be pissed. Well, I am a bit obsessed over colossal statues, so disregard me. :D However, if Lost doesn't end with a creative twist that makes me swear colorful words at my television, then I will be a little disappointed.
Apr. 8th, 2009 09:41 am (UTC)
Life on Mars UK original is a must see.
I gave up on the US one around episode 8 I believe(and I just about never do that, and I watch a lot of bad TV). It was just too painful to watch stuff just so minorly changed from the original. And the american Sam and Hunt were fairly disappointing(No one other than Philip Glenister could be Gene Hunt). They really should have done something similar to Ashes to Ashes, and ideally gotten Philip Glenister involved somehow. And if you really want to see bad there is the first pilot they did where it was set in LA, how that got past the 'get the f out of my office' phase I have no idea.

As for BSG I found it adequate. It got slightly preachy at the end, with the "He doesn't like to be called that" line particularly annoying.

And again, you REALLY REALLY should watch the UK Life on Mars.
Apr. 8th, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC)
As has been said above, gods and God have been a part of the series from the start – prophecy, delusions/guides speaking of God’s plan, temples, signs in the heavens, and so on, and so I didn’t see any deus ex machina in the ending (although I would’ve preferred they cut everything after the pull-away on Adama since it was just a distracting gimmick). Ironically enough, two of the less religious characters at the start – Starbuck and Baltar – actually did get God (or their ideas of God and their roles to play) from the machines – Leoben, the hybrid, and Head Six.

I'm thinking you meant the lame Head talk at the very end, but even that’s just a reference to the cycle of the ages, as in Hinduism. It’s pulling way back and looking at Earth from the eternal point of view. Nothing interesting or unique about it – just something beyond our ability to know.

By the way, about Starbuck, I thought the ending was as good as we could’ve gotten, and Moore gives his own take on it here.
Apr. 8th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
[SPOILER about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books.]

The BSG ending surely reminded a lot of us of the ending to Douglas Adams's Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where the B Ark from the planet Golgafrincham crash lands among the cavemen.
Ford: Face up to it Arthur, those zeebs over there are your ancestors, not these cavemen. Put the ‘Scrabble’ away, it won’t save the Human race, because Mr. Ugh here is not destined to be the human race. The human race is currently sitting ‘round that rock over there, making documentaries about themselves.

I was wondering what other novels have this story - of a spacecraft landing or crashing on a planet in ancient times and creating a civilization? GRRM's own "Windhaven" is one, but I'm interested in those in which the people have no idea where they came from.

Apr. 8th, 2009 11:10 pm (UTC)
The problem I have with people calling the BSG ending a deus ex machina is the fact that a higher power having a hand in it all had been alluded to since the very beginning. Last time I checked a deus ex machina is a plot device that comes out of left field. With BSG it was not like this.

Be upset that they may have taken the easy route out, that's fine. I can understand that. But saying the whole thing was DEM just feels kind of wrong.

Anyway, I like to think of the whole of the show as being kind of predetermined instead of just god did it all. God may have had a hand in moving pieces but everything was meant to play out like that. Sort of like Lost and their whole "whatever happened, happened" deal. It's far more satisfying that way.

Plus, the show was always about the characters to me and I have no qualms about where they left them off. Some people will complain about Starbuck and I'll give them that but I really can't see any other possible explanation for her. For me it fit. My only real complaint, there was no Adama/Tigh farewell and that just felt off.
Apr. 9th, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC)
lost has already hinted at the fact that they are dead in the has to kill father episode. the tree of life in knowing was the best use of religious sci-fi that i know of.
Apr. 9th, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC)
BSG finale - you're wrong!
Hi George,

First I want to say that I'm a huge fan of your work.

However, I really think you're mistaken about the BSG finale. A Deus Ex Machina is when something comes out of left field with no prior build up.

Anyone who was surprised by the God angle of the BSG finale just wasn't paying attention. It has been abundantly clear that some sort of supernatural force has been influencing the events of BSG since season 1. It was confirmed that there was no technological explanation for the "hallucinatory" versions of Six and Baltar, and it was pretty clear that they were supernatural entities of some sort.

A deus ex machina doesn't just mean being saved via a God, it means that there was no hint for such a resolution in the preceding story. Battlestar has been hinting at this quite clearly since season 1, and much more heavily in later seasons.

I'm honestly baffled that anybody was surprised by the God resolution. There has always been a supernatural element to BSG.
Apr. 11th, 2009 01:32 pm (UTC)
BSG ending
Yes! thank god someone thought it was retarded as well. it seemed like a big giant cop out. it also ruins the prequel series since we all know the ending what's the point.
I think everyone's just glad it didn't jump shark that we haven't taken the second look at the ending to realize that it was a big giant cop out! thank god someone agrees!
Apr. 12th, 2009 03:08 am (UTC)
...you mean ASOIAF is *not* going to end with Jon Snow waking up and going "holy shit! what a weird dream!"?
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:58 pm (UTC)
Soooo,did nobody pay attention to the fact that battlestar was a religious allegory from the beginning?
May. 1st, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
Soooo,did nobody pay attention to the fact that battlestar was a religious allegory from the beginning?

If it was supposed to be a "religious allegory" from the beginning, Moore and Eick chose the wrong stylistic route to tell the story. They were the ones who proudly stated time and time again it was going to be a "realistic", "dark and gritty" series. They were the ones who made it token SF in "modern dress" in order to sell it as relevant to mainstream audiences.

For all the crap the original series got and still gets, it leveraged one of the strengths of SF (okay, space opera) and mythic patterns by clearly setting it outside contemporary Earth cultures and settings.

I actually enjoyed the finale. Unfortunately the enjoyment was largely the schadenfreude of a fan of the original series who was sick of the attitude that Moore and Eick's series was the best thing that ever happened to SF and TV.
Apr. 14th, 2009 05:17 am (UTC)
At first, I was trying to fight (in favor) of the ending of BSG. I kept trying to rationalize it to myself and to others. Now, I'm a bit disappointed in the route they chose. Sure, it's about characters, but story cannot be neglected, especially when so many loose ends were left untied or brushed under the [God] table.

I think I'll always compare any series ending to Babylon 5, and they all fall very short. :)

Anyway, the BSG ending made me wonder what will become of Caprica. Did Moore honk off too many people to really give Caprica a fair shot? And if not, does anyone really care at this point. After all, it's just God in the end.
Apr. 14th, 2009 07:45 pm (UTC)
The Angels
The Angels were created by God.
They rebelled.
They evolved.

Did the BSG writers really miss the parallel of "Angels" created by God to serve its purposes, with the human/cylon (i.e. creator/created) theme of the entire series? Do these Angels eventually overthrow God and then become Gods themselves?

Apr. 18th, 2009 08:49 am (UTC)
BSG BEGAN with "God did it," to be honest.

I've seen this frustration elsewhere, and I mean no offense, but... really, what show were you watching?
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George R.R. Martin
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