Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Question and Answer Period

Last week when I did a post on believability, Dianne and then Roland mentioned LOST, my third favorite show of all time, and since once I get started thinking about LOST I can’t stop, I decided to do a post on that shows favorite viewer hook: questions.

LOST was a show of mysteries and unlike procedural and crime dramas, it didn’t have them all answered by the end of the episode—or the end of the series. This frustrated a lot of people, not me, because I’m weird like that, but a lot of people felt cheated or just dissatisfied.

That’s the problem of having a series where the driving force is the what ifs, the whys, the hows. People tune in because they get hooked on wanting to know the answers. But answering the questions gives them limits. People might say it’s an ass pull or worse, the dreaded Deus ex Machina. And you can’t go back without inducing a retcon, and come on. That’s even lazier than a Deus ex Machina. So answering means everyone is stuck with what’s given, but never knowing, whew. No worries there. Hence, creators of massive mystery shows will probably avoid answering anything, at least until the clamor gets loud enough, and then you get stuck with something like Twin Peaks.

This doesn’t mean you should avoid questions in your own works, my writerly friends. But I’d make sure the answers make sense, not just to you but to the reader. Otherwise, you’re stuck with an evil smoke monster that can turn into dead people.


  1. I never watched Lost, but...

    Back in the way back of comic books (the 80s), everyone wanted to know about Wolverine's origins, which were unknown even to him. It was good that way. Since Marvel broke down during the 90s and started the rock slide of Wolverine's origin, it has only become an avalanche of nonsense from what I can tell. I mean, he's not even a human anymore but a mutant from a race of artificially evolved wolverines (or something like that). It was better when we didn't know.

  2. I'd like the last hour of my life back.

    I just clicked on your links, and that led to another click and another... Wow. So many TV tropes, so little time.

  3. Poor Smoke Monster. All he wanted was company.

    And to kill Jacob.

    @Andrew: the Jeph Loeb debacle you refer to made a dumb character even more convoluted. They ultimately ended up creating an arch villain named Romulus who stumbled out of the gate when he finally showed up. Hasn't been seen since.

  4. Dean Koontz is guilty of having a marvelous whiz-bang of a mystery and challenge at the start of many of his books, and then he fizzles at the endings. It stems from how he writes: he comes up with a sizzling idea of a problem or character with no clue of the why behind it, and then he lets the characters carry the ball.

    THE GOOD GUY, FEAR NOTHING, and ODD THOMAS are books I really enjoy despite his lack of a destination when he starts. Dean is driving me crazy: he wrote two thirds of the Christopher Snow trilogy (FEAR NOTHING and SEIZE THE NIGHT) and has left his fans waiting nearly 20 years for the 3rd RIDE THE STORM. Luckily, I only discovered the Christopher Snow books a few years ago.

    Episodic television is a victim of its nature: only BABYLON 5 had a clear start, middle, and end as befits a grand story.

    Interesting post as always. Thanks for the link to my blog! Roland

  5. I never got into Lost, but I enjoyed the post. :)


Please validate me.