Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Johnny Carson once remarked that the longer it takes to tell a joke, the bigger the payoff has to be at the end.  The same applies to stories - the bigger the mystery, the better the result has to be for the person listening.

Too many forget this.  Both Lost and Twin Peaks were awful at it.  They spent so much time building the mystery, and they never seemed to resolve anything.  It was fun at first, but it eventually grated on audiences and wore out its welcome.

Eric Kripke of Supernatural put it best - you need to resolve issues within a reasonable amount of time so that the story can progress.  J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 had the same attitude and refused to let an issue go beyond a season and a half in his show, for he knew the patience of the audience wasn't what he might like all the time.

I recently read the first draft of a novel for a friend of mine.  He built in a great backstory, as well as a mystery to the overall story.  I got into it...at first.  However, I kept waiting for the damn thing to resolve.  When it finally did, I was disappointed.  That's not to say that it wasn't clever - it was - it's just that it would've satisfied me had it occurred about 150 pages before it did.  By the time I reached the climax that revealed everything, the payoff was lacking.  I was actually kind of pissed that I waited so long for a small pop.

We need to keep this in mind as writers.  We all want people hunched over our work, eager to know what's coming next.  However, if we keep them on the hook too long, we can make them mad when our idea doesn't meet expectations.  You want your story and its resolution to blow the reader away, not make him or her shrug and/or get frustrated as they brashly declare they could've done better.

No comments:

Post a Comment