It’s still dark outside, so no crows to welcome me as I entered Panera for my morning soufflé and coffee. It’ll brighten in time, but for now–darkness everywhere. Which is really sort of how I like it, strangely enough.
Wrote some last night, then watched First Men in the Moon and The Time Machine, because I cranked out a thousand words that left me crying part way through, and not because it was the most horrifying stuff I’ve ever penned, but because it was sad, and it left me sad. So it was on to TV, and though I tried mightily, I couldn’t make out the Woody Woodpecker laugh during The Time Machine, even though I know it’s there. This is likely due in part to being half asleep at the time, and the sound for the movie was, in a word, crap. But if you watch the movie, any time the Eloi are taking it easy–which is most of the time–listen for Woody.
Last night I was asked if I plot out my stories, if I have an outline of where everything is headed before I start down this road of madness. The answer is in the affirmative, because that’s how I roll. I’m a little like Asimov–and I do mean little–in that I need to know my ending before I start writing, for one of the Good Doctor’s bits of sage advice was you need to know what lay at the end of your trip before you can start. So I follow said advice. (The other writing advice I follow comes from Harlan Ellison, who said that before he could write a story he needed the title of the story, and that you have to sit and write every day. I do follow those words as well.)
This is why I’m able to do an outline for my story, because I know where I’m going, and where I’m starting. Everything is in the meta, so I see the words on the cards and something in my head clicks. Sometimes that click says, “What the hell did I mean here?”, but most of the time I know what I meant, and I get to meaning.
One of the conversation I had with friends, writers and non-writers alike, concerned the ending of American Horror Story: Coven on Wednesday night. Many of my fellow Coven Followers–or is that Horror Followers? Is there a name for us crazy people?–were, to say–what is the word . . . okay, take it away, CumberKhan–
I’ve seen all sorts of people saying they expected there to be some kind of video game Big Boss Battle at the end, but really, that was impossible? Why? Because the logic of the show wouldn’t have allowed it. And while the writer’s logic may have been inspired by meth smoking monkeys flinging feces while listening to Aphex Twin catalog played backwards on a loop, there is some logic there. And that logic said, “You get the Supreme we want, not the Supreme you want. Balenciaga!”
Why did this happen? Who know? Maybe the cast got drunk one night and started throwing darts at the Plot Board so they could put their own ending together. Maybe Tim Minear was distracted by the three hundred fans who text daily begging him to kidnap Joss and bring back Firefly, which could become a major plot point in Season Four of American Horror Story: Atom Bomb Fashion Crazies. Maybe there wasn’t any money to pay the staff writers to come up with something that made sense because the budget was blown on shawl twirls.
In television it isn’t unusual for a show to start off without having a single idea where it’s going. 24? They blew up Los Angeles and then pretty much forgot all about it two episodes later, which is two hours show time. Battlestar Galactica? The Cylon’s plan was “Duh, okay, we got some hidden Cylons, what do we do next?” Twin Peaks? The bad guy came about because the set director for the show blew a shot, and boom! He’s the demon causing all the misery, lets work from there, boys. Lost? No, really? Ha ha, you ‘re serious, right? Planned? Ah, hahahahahahaha.
There were a few shows that were planed out from start to finish. Babylon 5 is probably the best known of these, which was planed to run five years, no more, and ended up uneven because first there wasn’t going to be a fifth season, so adjustments were made, then there was, so adjustments were made again. There were a few other issues with actors (Michael O’Hare’s mental illness being major among them, which required a major restructuring of the story), but as with the Good Doctor, J. Michael Straczynski knew the end before starting at the beginning. Supernatural was originally suppose to run for three seasons, then the story was expanded to five seasons, at which point everything was tied up–save for the money that was coming into the CW faster than the execs could count it, so on it runs on beyond the end.
Television is a tough beast to write. It’s high pressure and unforgiving, and if you’re working with a staff of writers, each with their own style, who are expected to go by the bible for the show and come up with something that’s going to fit within whatever passes for a coherent story arc, you are gonna have your hits and misses. Sometimes the best thing to do is set one word pimp down and have them crank out the vision so it doesn’t stray. Tim Minear did this for a big part of Angel, and Straczynski–starting with Season 2, Episode 18, Confessions and Lamentations, Michael wrote every script until Season 5, Episode 7, Secrets of the Soul. This was back when they were producing twenty-two episodes a season, so if you’re doing the math that’s fifty-six episodes in a row. The next episode was Day of the Dead, written by Neil Gaiman, and then Micheal finished out the run by writing the last fourteen episodes.
And I’m going to point out here that the series finale, Sleeping in Light, was filmed during the fourth season, when it was thought the show was ending, because Sleeping in Light was always meant as the finale. And one of the episodes penned during the marathon run, A View From the Gallery, was based upon a story by Harlan Ellison. Episode 20 of Season 5, Objects in Motion, was also based upon an Ellison story.
Now, I’m not writing for television: I’m working on novels–in this case a big novel. But I’ve ideas for this, and for a couple of other novels, that extend beyond this single story, and that means I need to know the end for some of the people in my stories. For my unpublished novel Transporting I’ve plotted out a few hundred years of history; for Her Demonic Majesty, I know what happens to all the main characters over about a twenty year period of time. And as I’ve pointed out, I know where Annie and Kerry started, I know how they live, and I know how they die. If I ever get around to writing everything about them, there will come an end, and that’s it, story over, let’s go on to the next story.
I’m not saying that everyone should work out their stories in the sort of nutty detail that I live for. I’m sure someday someone will read one of my stories and mutter, “Man, did that ending suck! Bitch ran outta ideas–“, and I’m cool with that. You aren’t going to please everyone with your work–but you do need to please yourself. And if you’re happy with how your stories come to their conclusions, that’s all that matters.
And if you’re not, ring up the next batch of meth head monkeys and their nutty logic.
‘Cause we can always use a little of that now and then.