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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. 19th, 2009 09:44 am (UTC)
The original British series is SOOOOOO much better and the sequel series "Ashes to Ashes" series is about to air on BBC1.
Apr. 21st, 2009 08:50 am (UTC)
I've been thinking quite a bit about your deus ex machina criticism of the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica, but – if you're interested and willing to hear me out and consider my reasoning – I think I've finally decided that that isn't quite fair.

If anything was deus ex machina, it seemed to me, it was the all-too-quick-and-easy decision by the whole society to "go native" on New Earth and to assimilate among the native humans. That pushed the bounds of my credulity moreso than did the idea of an FTL Drive, although I recognize the concessions one makes to the time limits of episodic television. Most of us, with our merely 21st-century technology, couldn't survive a jump back to such primitivism. And I certainly like my indoor plumbing too much to try. But the divine aspects of the ending to Battlestar? Not so problematic.

A real deus ex machina ending truly makes the ending thus-and-so. This perfectly lines up with Greek ideas about fate, which one can see in both their mythology and drama as well as in their more secular historiography. Whether explicitly or implicitly, it was characteristic of Greek views of reality that one had a pretty set destiny.

What we saw in Battlestar Galactica was, as should be no surprise, inevitably influenced by the historical infusion of Judeo-Christian perspectives into Western culture. Most important for the theology of Galactica is the higher vision of human freedom that came along with Jewish-Christian theology and anthropology, tempering the Greek determinism of a world where our destiny was either in the hands of the gods, particularly the Fates, or in demythologized belief in hard-and-fast fate.

So what we see instead of deus ex machina in Battlestar is actually much more akin to the Jewish-Christian idea of grace. God enters into the historical process in a way that offers a kind of aid but which still respects human freedom, as that, too, is the will of God. Battlestar incorporates this vision of things, featuring a number of "interventions" in history of the more dramatic sort characteristic of the Abrahamic faiths: inspired texts, mystical experience, encounter with other orders of beings.

But none of this adds up to swinging God out over the stage on the machine to decree the ending. Each of the characters has to actively participate in their freedom: doubting their own sanity, risking the Battlestar equivalent of the very post-Enlightenment ridicule of those who deny any veracity to religious experience or history whatsoever, and even risking their very lives. On what? On such moments of trust or faith in their intuitions of the meaning of their accumulated personal and shared experience.

Kara's final decision to start inputing musical notes from this experience she had been having – in light of her accumulated experiences? Chancey. Free. Out-of-her-fraking-mind insane. Very Kara. But not determined. Not forced upon her. Not deus ex machina. Instead, it was part-and-parcel of a grace-style theology that we had seen throughout the series. Now, certainly we can take issue with that if we want to, but if I'm reading all this correctly, I don't think it's quite fair to the writers to say that they trotted out a shockingly-deficient deus ex machina ending. It seemed perfectly consistent with the whole.

(And, should you have made it this far – since normally I wouldn't think of distracting you from your work by chattering away on your LiveJournal – let me just mention what a great deal of pleasure you have given me in A Song of Ice and Fire, and to thank you for it.)
May. 2nd, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
I was about to say this very thing; thank you for putting it succinctly for me. It's many things, Mr. Martin, but if I were to write a story about God's possible presence in the world of science fiction and then ended the story on a note that conclusively proved His divine hand in things, and then my editor rejected the story because it was a deus ex machina, I'd smack him in the nose.
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
I commented on this before a couple of weeks ago but I'm still really unhappy about how BSG ended. I think I'm going to write sci channel and let them know i won't support any more BSG related shows. And I won't touch anything else Ron Moore touches unless I know I won't get crapped on again. I felt like I followed this great show for 4 years and then at the end they pulled a rug out from under me, laughed at me and showed me that what I was following was a joke and that they were laughing at me the entire time.

Seriously what a way to jerk your fanbase around.
Apr. 25th, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC)
The end is the beginning
A journalism prof once told me to know the ending before I started the beginning - not necessarily down to the last detail, but with enough clarity to know when the article/feature/poem/whatever was going off the rails. Twenty years of making a living with words later, it remains the best advice I was given. "Art" doesn't suffer for being well-planned. You don't always end up in the place you planned, but, you don't waste quite as much time and aren't reduced to "god did it." :)
May. 10th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
Late response sorry!
To be honest i thought that the ending to BSG was pretty amazing, they should have ended it with Adama burying Rosaline though, but hey I can ignore that ever happened. My Mother has a habit of never reading the last chapters of books she says the ending is never acceptable and that you can then end it on your terms... I have inadvertently done the same with a good many books, the last being the final installment in Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series... I really should finish that. Anyway you are blatantly not going to read this it being a reply to an old entry but who cares ^_^

p.s. I really hope the adaption of Game of Thrones into a TV series is better than the TV adaption of the Sword of Truth, "Legend of a Seeker"... It was pants.
Dec. 17th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
A fast forward into the future, and how did LOST end?
> 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.

Haha. The nail was struck straight on the head, knowing how Lost ended. Sorry for the late post, though.
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George R.R. Martin
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