|Even dead, he was still the most interesting character|
I was interested to watch a new show premiering on ABC this season called 666 Park Ave. It looked creepy and had the guy, Terry O’Quinn, from Lost in it. Entertainment Weekly was also good enough to tell me exactly when it was coming on at the exact moment that I was sitting on my couch with a remote control next to my hand, so the stars aligned and I set it up to record.
When my wife and I sat down to watch the show, it looked like the DVR had recorded for about a half hour. It’s not unusual for the DVR to miss a minute or two of the beginning of a show, so when it came on mid-scene I wasn’t too surprised. As the show progressed and I had absolutely no idea what was going on, I became a little more surprised. And then frustrated. And then mad. And then just disappointed. I was experiencing the five stages of new show rejection.
When it was over I was like, WTF? (That's not 'What Terrific Fiction!') The elements of a cool show were there, but I felt like I’d been thrown into the middle of it with no explanation as to why anything was happening, who anybody was, or why I was supposed to care about any of it. I don’t like to be made to feel stupid. I also don’t like to spend thirty minutes working at something to be left unsatisfied (That’s what she said – Michael Scott).
Now there are stories that can throw you into the middle of everything and give you enough context clues that you don’t fall behind. I’ll use an easy example – the original Star Wars. There’s space ships, there’s fighting, there’s some caped dude in outer-space scuba gear. He wants some plans. To what? Why? Is this what a contractor looks like in the future? And there’s this girl in a bathrobe who’s stuck something in a beeping garbage can and shot it out into space with a golden, metallic butler.
Obviously, we weren’t spoon fed the back-story, so being thrown into the middle of things in a story can work. In fact, when we are finally given the back-story, in a series of three prequels, most of us kind of wish we could get the taste out of our mouths.
The good news is, this blog has a happy ending. We found 666 Park Ave. On Demand, which is a little different than just DVRing it (another post), and it was a full hour. We had watched the second half of a well-formed, properly set up story. It all made sense now! I understood why things were happening. I knew who the characters were and why they were where they were doing what they were doing. Clarity – but still plenty of mystery! It was a great show, and a great story. I cared about what was happening and was anxious to see more.
This experience taught me a lesson about throwing a viewer, or a reader, into the middle of a story. Star Wars is essentially an adventure story, based on classic, timeless themes. The subconscious mind will understand things without having them spelled out just based on the visuals and how the images are presented. Other stories require a more methodical roll out.
In general, to have a payoff in the end, you have to be willing to invest time in the beginning. That’s usually the best place to start.