I have been Missing in Action of Late, what have I been doing? Not blogging - that’s for sure. I didn’t intend on taking a break this week. I kinda did that last week. I think what happened was that I took my break then and found I liked it, so I did it again. Also, I finished that draft of my novella and haven’t bothered to even turn on my laptop for the most part for a while. Sorry if anyone has felt neglected. Although, my bets are on most folks not realizing I’ve not been around.
Anyhow – I’ve been watching Arrested Development with my son. He was too young to watch when the show was on air, but now that he’s older and can perceive a lot of the subtleties and nuances in the show he’s enjoying as much as I do. What I think I love most about the show is how intricate the subplots of the show culminate by the final act into a large clusterf**k of disaster. It was as cleverly done as the best of Seinfeld and was consistently great. I'm sad it's gone.
Unlike Seinfeld, this show never developed the fanbase to carry it to commercial success, I think the lack of a laugh track hurt (were there sitcoms before that didn’t use laugh tracks? I know several that don’t now), and they made irony the backbone of the humor.
Recipe for disaster. Oh, and I’m going off on a tangent, let me try to reel this back in.
It has me going back to plotting and how much I think I’ve missed out by not doing this in the past. I tried to write a novel last year, another seat of my pants story, and it had multiple viewpoint characters and several interwoven plot threads – and I had no idea where any of them were going.
It was as real test of faith for me, putting my belief system on the line. Stephen King, a huge proponent of the ‘pantser’ philosophy of writing has preached that your subconscious will sort all that out and you’ll get to where you need to in the end. I liked where that method had taken me in the past, but as I wanted to try more complicated stories I found that it was getting tougher and tougher for me to write anything. I got into a habit of introducing characters and having them say something vaguely cryptic and the rest of the cast looking to one another and asking one another what’s going on.
By the time I figured it out, I had so much rewriting to do that the only logical thing to do was to scrap everything I had and start over – which means that whole first draft was really a giant brainstorming session… mostly unnecessary.
I recall the first time I noticed, and I mean really noticed, how amazingly things seem to come together in an episode of Seinfeld. It was the episode where George was pretending to be a Marine Biologist to impress a girl. During the episode there was a subplot about Kramer and his desire to hit golf balls into the ocean.
If there are a few people who haven’t seen the episode, and still want to, I’m about to give it away here, so stop reading now if you don’t want the spoilers. Although, I think there is really no reason for me to avoid spoiling it, as this episode aired well over 15 years ago… it’s a long time to keep something on your DVR unwatched. Anyway – the episode ends when George and his girl are walking along the beach and find a crowd surrounding a beached whale. Someone in the crowd desperately cries out for a Marine Biologist – of course, George must continue his charade if he wants the girl so he agrees to help out…. Of course the big reveal is that the cause of whale’s problem was one of Kramer’s golf balls being wedged in its blow hole.
Now, that isn’t to say that this episode is more special than a thousand others that have been done before, or better, in other shows, movies or books, but it was when I first had my epiphany about storytelling.
I was an adult at the time, and was a pretty hearty reader then too, but I never considered why a story might work, or about how different elements might come together to tell a bigger story. I had tried my hand at writing then, but never took any writing advice, never read anything about what makes a compelling story, never did much except write. I don’t even recall taking a course on writing prose before then.
So, I’d never thought about it. And when it hit me, it hit me hard. The writers had to have worked out the ending first, and worked backwards from there.
Wow. It never occurred to me you could do that before then. Get an ending you wanted, and go backwards to work on the beginning.
I was on my way to being a writer. Too bad I didn’t actually implement that revelation into practice. I kept thinking about it though, I got better, somewhat, at writing drafts that seem like they’re going somewhere, even when they’re not.
But watching Arrested Development, at least at the level of a single episode, has reminded me how a story so tightly worked out can be enormously satisfying. All the jokes and gags early in an episode that may fall flat have been building to a larger finale.
It’s pure genius. I’m going to start work plotting out my next novel length POS soon. I can’t wait.