millarworld.tv Comics Creators

A thread on storytelling...


#1

I don’t know if I can make this work because it is so broad and open ended, but I want to start a thread discussion on the basic storytelling and “tropes” in movies, books, tv, etc… Here goes…

Case in point: I was watching some shows where the story revolves around finding a resolution like in The Incredible Hulk where Banner wanted to find a cure, Voyager wanted to find a shortcut to Earth, and even Gilligan’s Island wanted to find rescuers. (Some combination, eh? :smile:) Thing is shows like that are limited because once the resolution comes the show is over, so therefore it comes to fulfillment only after years of teasing the viewer. Banner came close a number of times in finding a cure, Voyager teased a wormhole shortcut several times each season, and of course Gilligan’s Island with Gilligan always messing up being discovered and rescued off the island.

Other stories like Star Wars and comic superhero teams feature a cast of varying characters where you like the team but identify with at least one whether its the hero, antihero, etc. Then, you have your whodunit stories, those long adventurous quest/voyage epics, tales with a traitor in the midst, etc…

I could go on with plot devices, plot holes, limitations, and so on but I want to leave this open ended on what is your favorite, least favorite, and so on.


#2

For ideal storytelling, you can’t get much better than Scheherazade and her tales of the Arabian Nights. Each night she tells an engrossing story, that leads into another story that she postpones until the next night; rinse and repeat.

Stan and Jack did a similar thing in the early days of the Silver Age.


#3

Scooby-Doo.

I will never not be surprised that the original series only lasted 25 episodes. It’s incredible to me since it’s such a nice churning concept to have. Even in the ones that exist, it’s teens either solving/stumbling into/butting into some thing they find interesting and uncovering some weird activities (not necessarily a crime even). Yet it ended so short and overall there’s been more content in the franchise that diverges from this simple formula than actually sticks to it. Like a lot more.

The formula is basically in the minority.


#4

As far as the so-called resolution shows go, I don’t agree that once the resolution happens, the show has to end. Case in point, even though I know a lot of people disagree: Prison Break. Once Michael had successfully, y’know, affected the prison break of his brother Linc, by this logic the show was over. But the second season was thrilling in its own right, as Michael and his gang evade authorities, even though there was technically no breaking of prisons involved. The third season actually did put some of them back in prison, which in turn looked kind of forced, unless you just accepted the storytelling logic at that point. But the fourth season finally advanced the narrative so that the machinations that had put Linc in prison to begin with were themselves resolved. Which just goes to show that even if it was three out of four original seasons, there was still three seasons of storytelling from the original premise, even though the first season achieved the original goal.

My thought is, too often viewers think too small. Even Voyager, which had many, many detractors, actually made people angry all over again at the end of the series because we spent all that time rooting for them to get home, and yet we never get to see home. There really are fans who wish there would’ve been more. Conceivably, there could’ve been a whole new season following the return home, following the crew as it acclimates back to “normalcy,” and whether or not it even is normal, after spending seven years together the way they did.

There’s always more story at the end of a story. Granted, it has to feel earned (another “too often” for me is that too often a story continues but really just spins its wheels because it isn’t actually adding anything relevant to the narrative). Good storytelling always looks beyond what seemed like the original point. That’s why I liked Lost so much, and why it bothered so many other fans. It just kept getting bigger, rather than settling on one simple answer, which I think is what a lot of fans wanted. That first season looked like it was just full of nonsense elements that were just there to be nonsense elements, or to have a far simpler solution than what was eventually delivered. What’s in the hatch? Well, to those fans, the answers. Except, that hatch contained more questions. Although ironically, it also did, basically, have the answers. Just not in the way fans expected, again. To truly appreciate what we found in the hatch, there had to be a lot more layers of the onion peeled back.

Which to my mind is the only kind of storytelling worth taking seriously. If you’re just going to mess around, don’t waste my time.


#5

I’ve talked about Scooby Dooing in the past. The story where the character end the tale in exactly the same place as when they started. It’s an incredibly skilled writer who can do that in a satisfying way. Most can’t. Most write the illusion of change and then cheat to reset the characters. It’s a true dying art.

In this modern age the successful franchises are built around the heroes journey. I believe that’s essential. The way to extend the story beyond that resolution is simple - introduce a new hero. We have franchises still churning out material after decades. Nothing gets to end if there’s money to be made.


#6

Oh definitely. I was mostly thinking back then in the 70’s. It’s just mindboggling to me that they felt the need to retool it so many times.


#7

I disagree that The Incredible Hulk revolved around Banner finding a cure. You never expected Banner to find a cure. You never went into an episode thinking “Is this the week he will do it?”, or left surprised and upset at the end when he doesn’t. It wasn’t a pivotal plot point for the story in every episode, though it was occasionally a lead-in to a situation.

“Looking for a cure” was simply a character trait, the same way as “Always short of money” was a character trait for Jim Rockford, “Building a boat in his cellar” was a character trait for Jethro Gibbs. It was irrelevant to the actual stories being told.


#8

It’s really about what people used to call ‘story engines’, isn’t it? Banner travelling from place to place and helping people while he searches for a cure is the same as Sam Beckett leaping from place to place and helping people while he searches for a way to return home, or the A-Team being on the run and helping people while they try and do… whatever it was they were trying to do. (Clear their name?)

The shows are nominally about the lead characters trying to achieve a certain goal, but if they did, the show would be over as the ‘story engine’ that generates plots week-to-week wouldn’t be there any more.


#9

I think that most things-not only shows, but videogames, movies, comic-book, manga and anime-deal with it in a way that the “objective” so to speak it’s kind of simple: You have to defeat this guy; you have to go to this place, etc.
But they deal with it in a way were the matter it’s not the “objective”, it’s the way they arrive to it. Like in a DBZ shonen-style series. The “objective” it’s usually “beating this powerful bad guy”, but the interesting thing is the road to that objective, training, cool fighting scenes, character development.
This is not something against DBZ shonen-style series. In fact it is my favourite stile, it’s that I think that after all, videogames, movies, comic-book, manga and anime are, basically, a form of entertainment.


#10

But again, why? It’s the same thing as Moonlighting syndrome, where supposedly it’s no longer interesting once a will-they-or-won’t-they relationship has been resolved. Is it really about the question of whether or not it’ll happen? Isn’t that really just the initial hook? Why does it have to be endless? It’s like saying, “Well, Law & Order solved the case that first episode. Guess they can’t have one next episode.” If you look for one-trick storytelling, that’s certainly one thing. But something that begins as seemingly one-trick doesn’t need to stay one-trick. Again, that’s lazy storytelling. And complacent viewing.


#11

I figure it’s more like “Mr. Monk just found his wife’s killer” than simply that. It’s a piece of motivation that doesn’t factor into the plot of any regular episode, but still something that can be drawn upon to wring something from.


#12

I get that. I’m just trying to make a point. If something ends, it doesn’t need to mean the whole thing ends.


#13

No, and there are examples of series that change that overarching objective over time, like you say.

Still, for episodic TV of the kind that we’re talking about, there has to be some kind of overarching story concept that doesn’t really change, into which all the individual episodic stories can fit.

It was a way of ensuring that people could get the basic hook of a show’s concept without having to watch every episode. So you knew that every episode the Hulk would be somewhere new, helping out a new group of people - or Sam Beckett would be in a new timezone putting right something that once went wrong. Their end goal wasn’t really the point of the series, but just provided a larger context for the series’ individual stories.

It’s maybe a less relevant model now, though, in a time where the distribution models mean that you can assume that a lot of people will watch through every episode of a show, in order, and follow a larger developing story rather than just tuning in for odd episodes here and there.


#14

I may not have the best track record with successful shows that changed things season to season. Because another example I have is Fringe, which continuously changed things while remaining mostly episodic, where the point each episode was still weird-science-of-the-week.

But a more extreme example would be the original British version of Life on Mars, which eventually continued as Ashes to Ashes.

Even the Doctor Who model of nominally rebooting things with a new lead actor while remaining much the same is relevant. Admittedly a niche model, but again, Law & Order, with its continually revolving cast over the years, kept things fresh. NYPD Blues was similar, once David Caruso left. It had to keep introducing new characters, and did so quite successfully.


#15

My point was some story premises have their limits. There was a show Wiseguy about an undercover cop who “always gets his man” trying to take down a mobster. How long could such a series go? The viewer asks “If he is such a good cop, how come he hasn’t gotten him yet?” So that became an arc and afterwards the cop went elsewhere to other storylines.

“Banshee” had to end because the premise was this crook assuming a fake identity of a sheriff and how long could he keep it up and fool everybody? After a while, stretching it out starts to insult your intelligence…

Then you have Deus ex Machina which is a cop out…


#16

That brings up a good point and reminds me a lot about the first season of Designated Survivor.
A show that was focused on this mystery about a splinter cell within the United States government.
Now when your main characters are: an FBI agent who is shown to consistently be correct, and the President of the United States in a scenario where the audience is shown pretty much everything…the series ran out of steam incredibly quickly.

In fact they changed showrunners and retooled the show after about 10 episodes.


#17

I’ve been watching some Incredible Hulk reruns on the El Rey Network, and something about it cracks me up.

I have gone my entire adult life without getting beaten up or being in a serious fight.

But David Banner can’t walk across the street without being beaten up by rednecks, bikers, or teamsters. The guy walks in a bar, and five minutes later he’s getting tossed around by lumberjacks.

It’s such a strange formula.


#18

Usually the premise of an episodic TV show (or comic) has a built-in reason for the lead doing exciting stuff every week: cops because it’s their job, Steve Austin because it’s his job, the A-Team because they specifically advertise their services, Spidey because he swings round the city deliberately looking for crimes, and so on.

I think the first question the creator of an episodic TV show needs to ask himself is “Why is this guy in trouble every week?” If the answer is “Just because,” then he’s not making a show about the right guy.

Banner isn’t in trouble every week because he’s “searching for a cure”, or even because he’s “hunted by an obsessive reporter”. He’s in trouble every week “just because”. Which is ridiculous. He’s the unluckiest man in America.


#19

Ah, Vinnie Terranova, played by actor Ken Wahl. That was a great series, especially the first season which consisted of two story arcs, the second of which featured “newcomer” Kevin Spacey as the bad guy.


#20

To bring in comics…

As for Morrison’s JLA run and the Authority… How many disasters can happen to the Earth and where did all the megalomaniacs come from?

To borrow a term upthread… Earth has to be one of the unluckiest planets in the universe.