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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).


( 151 comments — Leave a comment )
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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
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! :-)
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George R.R. Martin
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