Monday, January 19, 2015

Tying Up Plot Lines

Writers find inspiration in varies places and through many venues. There's nature or a crowded area such as a mall or subway station. People-watching can conjure intriguing traits for one's fictional characters - minus any creepy gawking, of course. Two of my most favorite venues for revving up my writing verve can be found in music or artwork. 

There are innumerable elements to inspire, but admiring a fellow writer's work is probably the most common denominator among all writers, myself included. And a lot of book writers also find inspiration while watching a film or television show. Despite being written to stimulate the visual and auditory senses, those are still stories. We writers love stories.

The other day I was reading an article about one of the most popular television shows of the last twenty years - LOST. The article, found HERE, highlighted a conversation between an outside source with one writer from the LOST writing team at the show's peak in ratings. Initially, this person was thrilled that he was about to discover how the writing team planned to tie up the numerous plot lines. But to this poor guy's dismay, he uncovered the show had NO plans on taking any story lines to a conclusive end.

I was like "What? That just doesn't make sense?", basically reiterating what the writer of this article said to the LOST writer. And then the realization hit me as to the reason I stopped watching the show - the lack of answers to the numerous questions drove me nuts!

It got me thinking about how we novel writers take our initial ideas from beginning, a brief idea of a middle, and then to a conclusion at the end of our books. 

For myself, fresh ideas always slam into me as the beginning of a story flows to its middle. I'll admit I definitely write overly-threaded moments and scenes that confuse even myself. But each time I end up seeing a flicker that eventually guides the frayed thread to a meeting place, which answers at least some of the questions I've created. That's called: typing up what is necessary to satisfy the reader. I don't tie up everything, because life is never that easy, simple, or perfect. 

So I read that article again and thought What if I went so extreme with one of these new fresh ideas that I knew a proper conclusion could never happen? Would I just write it anyway and would anyone keep reading it? Most of you probably are having the same initial writer thought I had - Would I tick off my readers to such an extent they'd never want to read my work again?

I guess I'm looking for a reason why the show LOST was so successful, yet used the format for creating that they did. The article stated that they basically thought up the  most messed up stuff they could and just wrote it with no regard for any purposeful conclusion. I've heard that not all 'loose ends' are bad. Granted, that had to do with student learning, but still... Did the creators and writers of LOST know something the rest of us are missing or did they make a grave error in feeding the public fantastic story lines with forever fraying ends?  

What sayzzz U? How many plot ends left loose at a novel's end are too many?
 photo Sheri2.png

29 comments:

  1. I would be frustrated with a storyline that never had conclusions. No wonder I never got into Lost.

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  2. It's very frustrating when loose ends aren't tied up, but I also think every story line is different and will require a different ending. One of the subplots in my WIP is left open ended, but I think it works. If it feels realistic and you don't think it will frustrate the reader, then maybe it can work.

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  3. I was furious with the writers of LOST. And they LOST a customer, because I probably would have bought that series to own and re-watch if it had ended properly. (This was pre-Netflix streaming by a little bit.) In my mind, as story-tellers, they cheated their audience -- deliberately and gleefully. I haven't watched anything created by that team since.

    So there. *raspberries to them*

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    1. Haha! You made me laugh. I feel exactly like you do.

      *double-raspberries*

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  4. I think TV would be such a hard medium... Imagine writing a book series... Like Harry Potter... but during each book you don't know if you will get another... it depends how well people like it... and then suddenly you are told... okay... last one. Tie it up... or (almost worse)... no--you're selling really well. We want to do at least three more! I think it makes it really hard for a show that should have a long-term arc like lost did. I think they figured it out, but there were a couple "filler" seasons in there that were a little weird.

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    1. Hmm.... This is a really good point, Hart. I hadn't looked at it from this perspective. You've given me something to think about.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Yup. Be outrageous! That's my theory anyway.

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  6. Lost was successful because it intrigued, and, like you, people thought these threads would come together. I think many people felt cheated, and it was because the writers didn't do their job. In rough drafts, we have a lot of liberty to figure it all out later!

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  7. I usually try to tie up all loose ends, unless the story will continue then I may leave one plot end loose so it can continue in the next. You know, I watched a few episodes of Lost when it started and then stopped, before everyone got sucked into it, so I never understood the hype.

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    1. I'll admit, I got sucked in for a few seasons, but the lack of answers began to drive me batty. I stopped watching. I was truly surprised by this article, though. The fact the show left watchers hanging on purpose really irritates me.

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  8. I don't think everything has to be tied up nice and neat, but it should at least indicate how it will most likely end up.

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  9. I try to tie up loose ends. I can;t imagine writing a show like that, just randomly throwing stuff in with no idea how to resolve it - or desire to resolve it. As a fan, I'd feel so cheated.

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    1. Yeah, cheated is a good word for this sort of situation. It drove me nuts. I eventually stopped watching.

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  10. I understand that not every plot question must be answered, but there are important ones that just have to be or I won't find it a satisfactory ending. They don't even necessarily have to be "happy" ending (though those are what I prefer), but it must be satisfactory.

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  11. Lost writers completely irritated me at the end. Many (many) years ago, I took a screenwriting class from a Hollywood screenwriter. One of the key things I learned from him was to deliberately place plants at the start of your screenplay and BE SURE to pay them off in the end. This has stuck with me into novel writing, as well. So reading the article about how Lost writers had no plan to pay anything off is infuriating.

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  12. I think the key word is 'satisfaction'. As we a writer, surely we are aiming to satisfy ourselves and our readers. Being a neat freak, I couldn't possibly leave all threads bare. There has to be some tidying up. Although I also like to delicately pave the way for a future story. Sorry, but I was never a big fan of Lost. It bored me. Wishing you all the best and thanks for a great thought provoking post.

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    1. No, I do agree with you. LOST definitely lost (no pun) it's luster by the third/fourth season. I stopped watching, but my husband continued.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving an awesome comment!

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  13. oops, excuse the typo. "As a writer......"

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  14. This was the reason I stopped watching LOST. I loved the first two seasons, but then lost interest by the third. The plot was just too out there. And every time you thought you'd get more answers, they'd pose more questions.
    I think in my own work, one of the things I'm bad at is holding too much back and end up confusing readers. I'm working on that!
    I like endings where most of the main threads are resolved, just as long as it's realistic and not too tidy.

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  15. I believe Lost kept going because the audience assumed that the questions would eventually be answered.That's why we may be forgiving with a novel series when the plot is not neatly tied up in the initial volumes. I don't like single books where you get to the last page only to find out those holes you wondered about will not get resolved.

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    1. Oh yeah, me neither. I believe I'm a very forgiving reader. I can overlook some grammatical errors, and even some structure. Those might begin to bug me, but - if the story is good - I'll keep reading. But to make the journey to a story's end only discover there really is no end .... Ugh.

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  16. It may have worked for Lost but pretty sure not tying up plot lines would be a big mistake for a book, where you've got a relatively small package compared to an ongoing TV series. I recently watched Breaking Bad on Netflix-- first it was Dexter then Breaking Bad. Loved both of those series, and they tied up all the plotlines and loose ends very well.

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    1. Yes, I think leaving too many plot lines open ended in a book could definitely lead to disaster. This article just made me think of the boundaries writers place on themselves for this element of the writing craft. And to be honest, I was furious about the way LOST ended and now more upset because leaving the watcher hanging was intended. I just don't understand the purpose of writing a story without some sort of conclusion, good or bad.

      Thanks so much for dropping by!

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  17. I stopped watching Lost early on because I'd gotten lost. There didn't seem to be any real direction but the "mystery" and the intrigue of the variables in play is what I consider as things that helped make it such a hit.

    I couldn't do that in my writing: create, publish and then just stop with undone plot threads. With my latest release, Beacon, it has loose threads at the end but it does so as the first book in a trilogy. I've already got plans to work the various plot threads through to conclusion. Maybe not the perfect happy ending, but the ending that works for the story.

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    1. I totally understand leaving a few loose threads to create the 'feel' or possibility for the world to carry on beyond the last page. I think that's a good tactic to use.

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  18. So, I was one of those that stayed with Lost until the bitter end. And bitter it was when "the ending" was revealed. I think my husband and I kept thinking there has to be a reason why all this is happening and we'll know, soon enough, we'll know. I think with readers, it's the same way. They are probably okay not knowing everything after the first book, maybe not even the second, but if you have a planned trilogy, I think most of the questions need to be answered by the end of the third. That's what I did with the YA novel I'm currently querying. I was worried about having loose threads, but the more I read and research, it seems pretty normal for trilogies.

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  19. Actually, Lost drove me crazy. We quit watching it pretty early on because I could see all the crazy threads that couldn't possible tie back together. It wasn't until the entire show was OVER for a while that a friend told us we had to watch the rest. For me, it was all about the way it ended. Even so, it felt like one big sloppy mess to me, and I had a hard time enjoying the journey. I think, as authors, more is typically expected of us. Regardless, it you can harness the "crazy" factor and make it work for you, I say go for it.

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    1. You described it perfectly - one big sloppy mess. I totally agree. I kept hoping the threads were going somewhere. How could we as writers create a roadmap for our characters that takes them nowhere?

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  20. I've been meaning to watch Lost. I watched the first few episodes on Amazon, but then life got too busy. I want things tied up neatly. I'm not satisfied if they're not.

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