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[Comments] (3) Excess Capacity: Sooo close to having a completed draft of this novel. Writing it has been a humbling experience, as I often find myself criticizing someone else's work when I suddenly perceive the same flaw in myself.

For instance, recently people in my feed reader started writing about Lost. This has happened on and off for a few years and I always tuned it out, but this time the chatter didn't go away, and soon enough I learned that the series finale was approaching. Now, I don't own a TV, since I have more important things to--no, just kidding. I do own a TV, and I even watch a couple shows. But I've only seen one episode of Lost (the Allison Janney one, which I saw in Utah with Susanna and John).

When the show started, I didn't watch because it sounded like a boring soap opera. Over the years I heard faraway rumors of fantastic and science fictional elements being added to the show's world, but it never really stuck with me. When I saw JJ Abrams do something nerdy like guest-edit an issue of Wired or get hired to direct the Star Trek reboot, I'd think: wow, what a weird choice, like: "You know who would be great for this? The guy who created House, M.D.! He's busy? Okay, we'll settle for Lost!"

But recently things heated up. The tor.com weblog started doing a Lost roundtable every week, and a lot of people whose weblogs I read turned out to be Lost fans who'd simply been waiting until the end was in sight to post about it. Within the space of a couple weeks, the show's cred was hugely enhanced in my eyes. The Allison Janney episode was lackluster, but every show has bad episodes. I found myself eager to vicariously experience everyone's reaction to the finale.

And then the finale happened and the excited people in my feed reader became really disappointed. Not Battlestar Galactica disappointed, but pretty bad. Disappointed because almost none of the fantastic or science fictional elements introduced into the show had amounted to a hill of magic nanobeans. In terms of closure, it could have just been a regular soap opera.

Except, wait, why am I saying "soap opera"? That's kind of a disparaging term, but it's exactly how I was thinking of my novel: a story about more-or-less ordinary people who have weird interrelationships and complicated backstories. And achieving any kind of closure in a soap opera is nothing to sneeze at, since soap operas, like life, are not designed with stopping points.

But given that a show is gonna end, generally better to pay off any outstanding plot-loans. I went to a fan wiki to check out these fantastical elements that didn't participate in the closure. Honestly, I was blown away. There is some great, evocative stuff here, especially in the DHARMA Initiative region. I was sold on the cheesy orientation films alone. If you dig deeper into the worldbuilding it decoheres, the same way the Star Trek movie makes less sense the more you think about it, but that's television SF for you. The worldbuilding was entertaining enough to get me to spend an hour browsing a fan wiki for a show I've only seen once.

But yeah, what happened to this stuff? In fantastic fiction the constructed world is a character. In Lost it's the most interesting character by far. And that character didn't get any closure. If you're Stanislaw Lem you can get away with this--I don't have a pressing need to know what "really" happened on the Lost-esque planet in "Eden". But you're not Stanislaw Lem.

But I can't stop there anymore, because I now see the same flaw in myself. My novel contains elements that advance characterization or plot within the context of a specific chapter, but which someone looking at a wiki page afterwards might say "Why didn't that go anywhere?" Well, it didn't go anywhere because it was a flashlight designed to illuminate something else. That's just a technique I use to avoid infodumps. But what if this whole time you thought the flashlight was a gun I'd carefully placed on the mantelpiece?

I'm pretty happy with the ending I'm writing. It won't be perfect, but I'll get better with practice. I hope I'll stay happy with it, but the more I complain about other peoples' work, the more problems I see in my own. Moral: stop complaining??

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Comments:

Posted by Brendan at Wed Jun 02 2010 02:07

I think your worry is not entirely necessary! People are pretty good at parsing the throwaway from the nonthrowaway. The problem that struck me about BSG (and to some extent in Lost, about which I have pretty much the same domain knowledge as you) is that the writers' cruft-parsers failed. They ended up working really hard on very fancy flashlights that were pointed at the wall.

(Sumana asked if that was a Plato's cave reference, and it wasn't, but now it is. Also hi!)

Posted by Camille at Thu Jun 03 2010 06:37

thanks for writing this. while i refuse to forgive the writers of LOST for the years of my life that they wasted, i could exercise more compassion and gentleness towards myself. there's a voice in my head saying "if it isn't genius, it isn't worth it." but i need to find ways to remind myself that it's not true. telling the story you want to tell in a way that you are satisfied with matters, honing your craft may matter even more.

Posted by Susie at Sat Jun 05 2010 10:10

I wasn't disappointed with the Lost finale. The writers said they would answer the character questions, not the Island questions. Sad, but they followed through.


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