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Writers need to stop trying to outsmart their audiences (WARNING: Very long post! Spoilers for a variety of media inside!)

Oct 30, 2017
707
Westworld was certainly one of the biggest offenders seen. Just constantly trying to find ways to prevent being guessed that quality of the story overall get's thrown out the window.

The subversion in GOT is a problem because it's used as a crutch to entertaining people constantly evolved into turning into shock factor. It wasn't a big issue earlier on because they were relying on the source materials which gave plenty of lead up to the eventual consequences which made sense but even it was clear in those events that they wanted to make it as worse as possible. I think the Red Wedding is actually a fairly good point about it. Changes were made to Rob's Story arc, falling in love, trying to make sympathetic scenes with Catelyn stark etc that made the shock factor much higher when Talisa gets stabbed in the stomach killing their child and it's this kind of mindset that they go through with to try entertaining the audiences. They focus on getting the most emotional response in a moment regardless of how that makes sense in the long run and eventually give up on laying down the groundwork for the events to happen hence why people feel tricked and cheated.

The Endgame comparison is really good as well.

The Knick for example has one of the most bleak endings and not something audiences tend to want and cater towards a happy ending but I absolutely loved it because it's really well told and the ending feels like a natural sequence of events that led up to it and don't feel tricked just for the sake of an emotional response.
 
Nov 14, 2017
5,818
I agree with most of what's in the OP, even if I don't agree on all his ratings of the respective media (and I haven't seen Westworld Season 2).

Writing is hard. Writing something interesting and compelling, even harder. Long-form storytelling when there's no blueprint has got to involve a lot of hard choices. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to sit in a room of people who eat, sleep, and breathe these characters, and rationalize "they would totally do this."

When
Walt kills Mike, it's spontaneous on Walt's part and Mike is a seasoned killer, but you believe it. Mike is on his way out, Walt is still desperately trying to salvage his situation, and Walt's massive ego could never handle the truth bombs Mike dropped in his lap at that moment.

On the other hand,
Jaime giving up on life and embracing Cersei's fuckery after having saved the world, met teen Bran, made peace with his brother, and hooked up with Brienne? It feels like they just needed something for him to do while all the good fighters wrapped things up.
 
Oct 28, 2017
3,980
I haven't seen the inside the episode as I never watch them as they always come off like idiots, so if that's really the explanation they use in it fair enough, but I'd argue the episodes this season (and last) have explicitly and implicitly drawn many direct parallels to the Mad King while referencing Targ madness in general, so formalistically I'd have to say crazy is still the best explanation.

That's not to say seeds weren't sewn throughout the show that she had the potential to fall to the dark side as it were, but even those seeds aren't enough to explain massacre of civilians after the battle was already won.

So yeah, crazy's all I got there.
Dany has suggested killing everyone in a city or in a class indiscriminately on multiple occasions. When she is angry, she makes snap decisions that are often extremely violent. None of these past outbursts, and there are at least five or so major ones, are inconsistent with killing everyone in King's Landing.

There are references to the Mad King, but again I'd blame that more on poor writing confusing the issue than it being an actual explanation. It's not supposed to be, in any event, by the writers' own words.

P.S., I fully agree -- I hate those behind the scenes thing. This was the first I've watched in years simply because I was hoping for some kind of explanation for what I'd seen. I was not satisfied on any level regarding any event.
The only issue I have with your otherwise excellent analysis is that it tries to negate Dany's benevolence as being false or temporary, as if it were just a mask or something the real, malevolent Dany was just pretending to wear. That I don't think is true. When she does what she does in the books, her emotions are real and legitimate. She honestly does feel for the random peasants being killed and raped. She takes genuine offense at the idea of children being used for intimidation purposes. She does want freedom and better life for common people. What causes conflict in this is that implementing these benevolent intentions is not simple, easy, and can often backfire either due to honest mistakes or malicious scheming from enemies. Something as simple as trying to outlaw slave fighting, a brutal and exploitative industry, gets backdraft from not just people who directly benefit, but people who have this belief engrained in them that it's their right to beat someone (or be beaten) to death for fun and entertainment. One of the defining aspects of the series is that benevolent intentions and even actions that are actually beneficent do not translate to good things happening for you, so even when Dany does act the part of the Good Queen, bad things can still result from it.

The other point is her entitlement and imperialistic tendencies...I agree these are part of her character, but I feel simply saying that leaves an incomplete picture of her. Like, who in Westeros is a democrat? Who even in Essos believes in equality based social and governmental systems? Basically, wildlings and no one else. Characters all over are more or less unquestioning of the monarchical system. The closest example I can think of is when they elect the new leader of the Night's Watch, but that's only an election that takes place in their organization, they don't question why they need to have a king. So, yes, Dany is an imperialist. She believes the Iron Throne was stolen from her by treachery and that she is entitled to it back and if she had to burn the enemy to the ground, she sees it as the right thing to do. And, by the by, it's also not entirely fair to say that she just wants it out of personal greed or power hunger, with her backstory. Growing up, Viserys is the one who was obsessed with getting the throne back, with revenge, and he defined her life by it. And the idea of living in peace was something she entertained, once Viserys died. Then Robert sent an assassin after her, at which point she believed that her life will never stop being defined by her usurpers, so she sets out to get her throne back. The only time her life starts going her way is once she has power, because without it, she's just waiting to be raped by the next Khal that comes out on top.

None of this is to diminish that, yes, Dany is an imperialist and, yes, Dany does want power. But she wants power not just because power feels good in itself, but power is security. Power, she thinks, will be no longer having to fear the assassin's of the king. Power is getting back at the bastards who ruined her life by taking the throne in the first place.

And on that note, yes, Dany is also wrathful. When she thinks your a bad person, then you deserve to die and she relishes in being able to deliver that justice. The witch at the end of book 1 wasn't just some random lady that she picked out of the crowd. It was the woman who directly killed her husband and threw her life into disarray after it finally stablized into something happy (Which, btw, this witch only did because Khal Drogo destroyed her life and the slaughtered the lives of her people. Her last conversation with Dany was telling her how what she did was justice and she was happy to do it). She delighted in burning the faces off slave masters, but she did so because they were slaves. Maybe you believe that no one should take pleasure in the suffering of others and that's fine, but it's simply human nature take enjoyment of the suffering of those you deem evil. It's a very common occurance and one we see contemporarily all the time.


My point here isn't that Dany was actually really good and all her questionable actions are actually all morally justifiable. My point here is that she is was written in a complex way. GRRM didn't write a sociopath that hid her cruelty and sadism in some warped psychological trap, he wrote a complex character who is kind and cruel and well intentioned and spiteful and generous and entitled in various different ways, at different points in her life, for different reasons, which is what made her a great character. She couldn't be defined by any one thing nor could you not understand her actions, in all their varying extremes.


I'm not saying that there isn't a way in which you can write Dany deciding to make that decision in King's Landing, but it's on the job of the writers to not lose the complexity of the character in doing so. I believe if GRRM decides to keep the burning of King's Landing as a plot point, he will do this. That's what is wrong with all this, she just became abjectly evil for no reason whatsoever, simplifying her character to cartoonish evil proportions. And while I do think the points you bring up about her entitlement and wrathfulness and self-image of a liberator are very germaine to the analysis of her character, I think you're using them the wrong way if you're using them to recharacterize her as "No, look, she was evil all along!"

No, she was a complex character that you couldn't fit into a single good or evil, because she was both well intentioned and blind to her flaws, both knowingly wrathful and naively empathetic, both kind and cruel. That's whats so wonderful about the story GRRM tells, it's full of these super interesting and unique people that you can believe exist. Writing Dany the way they did destroys all that because they didn't write her as a complex person with warring desires and motivations, but as a homocidal psychopath waiting to be unleashed.
I mostly agree with everything you've said. I'll only say that I don't mean to characterize Dany as evil in the same vein as Cersei is evil. Rather, I think the benevolence comes through only when it's not at the expense of her power and wrath. Many of her benevolent acts were forced upon her when she wanted to opt upon a more destructive path. She exhibited very little ability to forgive any slight against her, with Jorah being maybe the only person she ever truly forgave and not at first.

Dany is a morally grey character not because she's doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, but because she does the right and the wrong thing interchangeably. I think she's interesting in that way and very well written and acted. My posts here only skewed toward the bad side to show that that side did exist.
 
Dec 21, 2017
178
Warning: This thread contains spoilers for Lost, Westworld, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Avengers: Endgame, and yes, Star Wars: The Last Jedi


I give up. I'm tired of having my expectations subverted. I'm tired of surprise for surprise's sake.
Amazing! I love your views (though I only read the ones I'm familiar with) and agree with just about every point. Great job!
 
Oct 27, 2017
3,426
What kind of moron let's Reddit dictate how they write their show?
I have to think reddit unraveling this plot early, which he saw as great genius, was somehow a blow to his ego. So he set out to show reddit he really is clever and ended up making an incomprehensible mess because that was the only way he'd 'win'. I also have to think he had a lot more time to create the puzzle that was S1.
 
Oct 25, 2017
7,614
I have to think reddit unraveling this plot early, which he saw as great genius, was somehow a blow to his ego. So he set out to show reddit he really is clever and ended up making an incomprehensible mess because that was the only way he'd 'win'. I also have to think he had a lot more time to create the puzzle that was S1.
Listening to interviews and BTS stuff, the Nolan brothers have always but come off as a little bit smug and pretentious, Jonathan more so. But if this is true, jeez, imagine having an ego so fragile that you feel the need to show up a bunch of nerds on Reddit...
 
Oct 29, 2017
1,968
I curse wheoever fed the nerds this hack film critique. Anyone who boils down their derision of a piece of work to "subverting expectations" does not understand how to engage with media except as a commodity.
 
Oct 27, 2017
3,426
Listening to interviews and BTS stuff, the Nolan brothers have always but come off as a little bit smug and pretentious, Jonathan more so. But if this is true, jeez, imagine having an ego so fragile that you feel the need to show up a bunch of nerds on Reddit...
I'm not sure I'd call it fragile, I think it's very human to feel disappointment that this intricate story you wrote gets dismantled with what seems like relative ease. Even 10 years ago I'm not sure it would have been solved early. His problem is not understanding the power of what was essentially crowdsourcing. If anything, like a WWII cypher, he should be proud about how many people it took to 'crack the code.'
 
Oct 25, 2017
5,222
I mostly agree with everything you've said. I'll only say that I don't mean to characterize Dany as evil in the same vein as Cersei is evil. Rather, I think the benevolence comes through only when it's not at the expense of her power and wrath. Many of her benevolent acts were forced upon her when she wanted to opt upon a more destructive path. She exhibited very little ability to forgive any slight against her, with Jorah being maybe the only person she ever truly forgave and not at first.
...I would recommend you read this in-depth book v show Daenerys analysis, because I think your interpretation of Book!Daenerys is all wrong, and in need of refreshing and separation from Show!Daenerys. They're extraordinarily different people.
 
Dec 1, 2017
2,148
I like the way Golden Age detective fiction did it, especially John Dickson Carr: he likened it to a game. He wrote an essay called "The Grandest Game in the World" where he described detective fiction as a duel between author and reader. The author feints, prepares tricks, but gives the reader the same opportunity as the detective to figure out his tricks.

The author does try to outsmart the reader, and tries very hard at that...but should the reader close in, there's no magical surprise that invalidates their reasoning or understanding of the story. If they come that far, fair play - the author takes off their hat and salutes them for winning fair and square.

It's not that authors shouldn't try to outsmart the reader - it's that they should be able to take their loss with dignity when they can't, because their loss means they got their reader engaged in the story enough to understand its inner workings. This should be an accomplishment, not a mark of shame.
 
Dec 12, 2017
134
Amazing OP totally agree on you. I suppose as a writter and creator of the content is really hard to deal with having such a fast feedback loop that questions you no matter if it is legit or not.
It would drive me crazy to have that kind of pressure so I guess in a way we get what we deserve in current culture dynamics.
 
Oct 27, 2017
7,121
I also think they shouldn't ever give the fans what they ask for. Fans are terrible for creativity.
I agree that surprise for surprise sake is dumb. But if it works, then it's fine.

Arya was a fine candidate though. Never had any problem with that. Never had a problem with Dany doing what she did either. Wasn't a surprise.
I just thought there needed to be more buildup between episode 3 and 5. Episode 4 was the real insult. For more characters than just Dany, but a lot of people seem most invested with her.

Never seen Lost. Breaking bad was fine. Sopranos was best. The last Jedi..... yeah.. i like Star Wars for the Sound and because of nostalgia. The writing has never been any good in Star Wars, aside maybe episode 4.
 
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Oct 28, 2017
9,654
I don't think the Daenerys heel turn was shocking for all the same reasons as you. For me it was shocking only because seeing such loss of innocent life and carnage is horrific, but It didn't actually subvert my expectations as a part of me always expected it.

Dany going mad queen and burning KL was actually a fairly common or popular end theory, not only because it was foreshadowed, but also because it made sense as a potential end game tipping point of her character arc, since she's always been a warmongering conquerer who's sole or primary ambition above all else, was to be ruler of the seven kingdoms, and one can only ever really achieve such a goal through blood, mass murder and violence.

Her dictatorial ways early on were more paletable only because she did some admirable things along the way, but those were a by-product or side development of her lust for power and rule, not the other way around. She didn't colonise lands to end slavery, she colonised lands to be the ruler of all the kingdoms. Her conquests and attitude in Westeros exemplify that (a land where there is no slavery and where people don't want her as ruler). Her positive actions didn't take away from the fact she was still ultimately a power hungry colonising mass murderer, and took power through force. In the end you either bow to her iron rule or you die (often in horrific ways, eg getting burned alive or crucified).

I think this quote drives the point home.

This is what gets me about the whole "Break the Wheel thing". A lot of people point to it as evidence of Dany being good, but it is literally neoliberalism. She went to a different nation and brought her weapons of mass destruction to free a backwards people from "tyrants". People bought that justification and thought it was OK, and I suspect a lot of it (for Americans at least) has to do with the fact that it is what the US does constantly. We were taught to think that was OK.

Here's the truth though, Dany was never going to break the wheel because she IS the wheel. She didn't have to come to Westeros with her dragons. She came there because at her core, she's no different from her spiteful and violent brother. She thinks she is owed something that isn't hers because of who she was born to and she violently lashed out at the people who feared and despised her. What her arc shows is that there is no benevolence in using warfare to "free" people, that people like Dany, self-made "liberators" of violent regimes are themselves violent, spiteful, and evil people at their cores.

With respect to the extent of her heel turn or wrath, you add in all the terrible losses, betrayals, failings etc she suffered by being too 'merciful', the state of mind she's in at the time (starved, depressed, isolated, angry, hurt, unloved, believing she's in a land she can only rule through fear, knowing she isn't even the true heir to the throne any more etc), the fact that her biggest successes have all come from the use of extreme force and violence, and the end result is not really subverting expectations, so much as it is putting the character through her absolute extremeties.

This article also covers some of these things quite well, detailing why for some what happened wasn't actual subverting expectations, rather a damming and extreme tipping point to a character arc that always had the potential for it, and certainly the build up (albeit far too rushed towards the end).

https://io9.gizmodo.com/that-sudden-game-of-thrones-turn-was-actually-a-long-ti-1834722527
 
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Nov 18, 2017
2,645
What is now clear with a decade of hindsight is that the writers were always more interested in how the mysteries affected the characters than the actual explanations behind the mysteries.
Sorry OP I had to stop there.

Lost writers made plans and then changed them in reaction to community theories and production circumstances, this led to “making it up as you go along”, focusing on the next cliffhanger, rather than a satisfying conclusion, which led to abandoning mysteries, plot threads and ultimately bailing on them all and claiming it was “about the characters” - which is hands down the worst way of writing an ongoing TV series. To imply the writers were always more interested in the characters journey is naive and gives them far too much credit.

Giving the Lost writers a pass on this, of all topics, blows my mind.
 
Oct 25, 2017
1,423
Good post OP. I agree with most of it. Except that I was very disappointed in TLJ, but I didn't find it subversive at all. I was disappointed because it gestured at subverting expectations, but then went back to the safest possible SW formula. "The war has only just begun" fuck off Luke this is the 8th SW movie lmao.

Anyway yeah, good post, and I want to shout this one out too, because I think it's bang on the money.
GOT spoilers...

I agree with everything you wrote but this:



Having just finished a full rewatch of the series a couple weeks ago, I can confidently say that you're right about one thing: GRRM did a fantastic job tricking everyone into believing what the characters thought about themselves. As early as Season 1 when she burns the witch alive, Dany has exhibited a nearly uncontrollable and irrational rage. As early as Season 1 when she tells Drogo to get her the throne, she has exhibited a narcissistic attitude wherein she deserves the love and adoration of the people by virtue of her birthright alone.

Dany has never shown that she cares about the common people. Yes, she cares greatly about freeing the slaves -- she was a slave once and the slaves adore her for it. Yes, she is enraged when the masters crucify the children. Dany and her advisors attribute this care and rage to her desire to protect everyone. They describe her as someone who is caring and benevolent. GRRM tricks the audience by telling one plausible explanation and so no one notices when they are shown an alternative, plausible explanation. Dany is not benevolent and caring, she believes she deserves the throne over all others and she believes her authority should not be questioned. She will happily kill anyone and did massacre people by the 1000's simply because they dare to take a different point of view.

So when Dany gets to Kings Landing, she is there to punish those who would not stand behind her. If the people went into the city to flee her, they did not believe in her and therefore deserve to die in her mind. And so she kills them.

Now don't get me wrong, the post-episode behind the scenes illustrates that the showrunners/writers had no idea what they were doing or why, but the action itself is supported by Dany's character and actions from the very beginning. We know GRRM gave the writers a brief version of what he expected to happen to the characters. Presumably, Dany obliterating Kings Landing with innocents inside was one of those things. The writers followed orders, but they failed to understand why. Thus, what should have been another Red Wedding-calibur shock followed by revelation that we'd missed everything the whole time instead fell flat and appeared to be wholly inconsistent.

So the writers did fail us here. But the actual action was not the problem -- it was the reason why.
Also I think it's fine that LOST was character-focused, I never viewed the mysteries as things to be solved as much as things for characters to react to, and building a sense of mythology. The actual finale was still hot garbage tho, for the most part.
 
Oct 25, 2017
6,493
On the other hand,
Jaime giving up on life and embracing Cersei's fuckery after having saved the world, met teen Bran, made peace with his brother, and hooked up with Brienne? It feels like they just needed something for him to do while all the good fighters wrapped things up.
It kinda feels like the entire point of that was to give Euron someone to fight.
 
Oct 29, 2017
3,486
Sorry OP I had to stop there.

Lost writers made plans and then changed them in reaction to community theories, this led to “making it up as you go along”, focusing on the next cliffhanger, rather than a satisfying conclusion, which led to abandoning mysteries, plot threads and ultimately bailing on them all and claiming it was “about the characters” - which is hands down the worst way of writing an ongoing TV series. To imply the writers were always more interested in the characters journey is naive and gives them far too much credit.
Considering that character backstories have been a vital part of the show for most of its run, taking up at least 25-30% runtime of an episode, it's pretty obvious that characters were always the most important aspect of that show. People have been saying Lost was a character driven drama since its first season, not after the finale.

"The Constant", which is most often cited as the best episode of the show, and despite featuring actual time travel and other scientific mumbo jumbo, ultimately works because of the strong emotional attachmenet the viewer has to the characters and the chemistry between the characters.

That's not to say Lost didn't have issues, of course it did, and given that it was a network tv show with no end date in sight until mid-s3 (which by the way, is unprecedented to this day - network shows dont get to have the luxury of having an end date negotiated most of the time) which obviously did mean that a lot of the stuff had to be made up on the go, otherwise there would have been no show to make. I fully believe that they planned out the ending quite early, but there was no way to plan out the actual road leading there until mid-S3, because there was no knowing how many episodes that would take.

"The Leftovers" is basically Lindelof's re-do of Lost on HBO. It has a very similiar show to Lost in what it tried to do with mysteries and characters - except it was much leaner, and had less of the crappy habits of network tv shows, which in the end resulted in one of the best shows made of recent years.
 
Oct 25, 2017
4,503
Great post, and I agree with just about everything. Importantly, the shows this mostly seems to happen to are genre shows (ie, Fantasy, Sci-fi, Comic book/some combination of these).

That's why shows like The Sopranos or The Wire didn't, and wouldn't, have people guessing like this.
 
Oct 28, 2017
199
Being a person who’s only read the books I thought it was fine and enjoyed it for what it was. I’ve never watched any other episodes besides the final season. The only people who seem to be upset are the people who tried to predict and wanted the story told in their way. Anyway fandoms suck and people complaining just sound like babies. You guys have way too much time on your hands.
 
Nov 18, 2017
2,645
Considering that character backstories have been a vital part of the show for most of its run, taking up at least 25-30% runtime of an episode, it's pretty obvious that characters were always the most important aspect of that show. People have been saying Lost was a character driven drama since its first season, not after the finale.

"The Constant", which is most often cited as the best episode of the show, and despite featuring actual time travel and other scientific mumbo jumbo, ultimately works because of the strong emotional attachmenet the viewer has to the characters and the chemistry between the characters.

That's not to say Lost didn't have issues, of course it did, and given that it was a network tv show with no end date in sight until mid-s3 (which by the way, is unprecedented to this day - network shows dont get to have the luxury of having an end date negotiated most of the time) which obviously did mean that a lot of the stuff had to be made up on the go, otherwise there would have been no show to make. I fully believe that they planned out the ending quite early, but there was no way to plan out the actual road leading there until mid-S3, because there was no knowing how many episodes that would take.

"The Leftovers" is basically Lindelof's re-do of Lost on HBO. It has a very similiar show to Lost in what it tried to do with mysteries and characters - except it was much leaner, and had less of the crappy habits of network tv shows, which in the end resulted in one of the best shows made of recent years.
This argument goes on forever.

There are a number of accounts from inside the writers room documenting the problems and abandoned plans. The ending intended in S1-2 was not the ending envisaged in season 5&6... hell, the ending envisaged at the start of S6 was not the ending they eventually delivered, there’s a clear u-turn midway through the season. Having the end date set in concrete didn’t seem to help the writers form a satisfying ending.

I will check out The Leftovers though.
 
Oct 25, 2017
10,085
This argument goes on forever.

There are a number of accounts from inside the writers room documenting the problems and abandoned plans. The ending intended in S1-2 was not the ending envisaged in season 5&6... hell, the ending envisaged at the start of S6 was not the ending they eventually delivered, there’s a clear u-turn midway through the season. Having the end date set in concrete didn’t seem to help the writers form a satisfying ending.

I will check out The Leftovers though.
As I understand it they never had a plan and never intended it to go 5+ seasons which is why the tonal shift in the show happens. I guess we can liken it to Twin Peaks season 2 where the network influence is really apparent.

There’s some ham fisted stuff, like MIB and Smoke Monster, or the wheel, but I do think by and large it was always meant to be about the characters.
 
Jan 10, 2019
1,161
I disagree. Every writer has the right to do as he/she pleases, and I like all the examples the op gave as bad examples.

And I personally love to be shocked by a sudden twist.
 
Oct 30, 2017
4,931
Denmark
I think a lot of writers, even good ones, succumb to the pressure of one-upping the thing the audience already loves, and they stumble over it by losing sight of what really matters because they think they have to impress the audience rather than focus on what the story really is. All good stories turned bad I can think of were from some sense that the writers were like "We need to PROVE that this is ART!", think the kid in the third Mass Effect or some of the flaccid revelations in the rear end of the Harry Potter series. The idea that the next story has to be waaaay better than the previous one doesn't make sense. It just needs to be continually good and the ending will automatically feel even better because it has all the baggage as its context.

The whole notion of "bigger equals better" just needs to die already, and screw people like Damon Lindelof and Mac Walters and Rian Johnson who all seem solely concerned with how to superficially create "meaning".
 
Oct 26, 2017
380
People who don't think "subverting expectations" applies to TLJ I'm not sure understand the context it's being used by people who hate the movie.


It's the middle part of the trilogy, and they spent the whole first film setting things up. TLJ "subverted expectations" by basically throwing those points in the fucking garbage. "Oh you thought 'x' was important because we spent time in the first movie making it so? Well TOO BAD it's meaningless fooled you!"


Feige spent a decade sprinkling little lines and stuff throughout all the Marvel movies that actually paid off in some big or small way in Endgame(AoU Thor being the only one to notice Cap budging the hammer and yelling that he knew it when he uses it), and they couldn't get a trilogy right in the second movie because of no planning.


If your plan is to throw the audience for a loop, you can do that, but it has to be worth doing.
 
BDS has written a great analysis and one I find myself agreeing with.

I only have one additional perspective to add: sometimes writers retreat behind 'we just want to surprise the audience/provoke discussion/subvert expectations' when confronted with negative feedback.

Instead of critically reflecting on the complaints, they're basically saying 'we didn't write a poorly constructed storyline or problematic theme, you're just incapable of understanding our grand design'.

Two examples that come to mind are Far Cry 3 (Eurogamer: 'Far Cry 3's writer argues critics largely missed the point of the game') and Mass Effect 3 (Kotaku: 'Mass Effect 3's Director Didn't Want you to Forget the Game's Ending').

Now, I can see how some artists are genuinely motivated by the above but I'm highly (HIGHLY) skeptical when it comes out of the mouth of someone working on a pop culture property worth millions. I'm also unconvinced about the artistic merit of surprising/shocking/subverting audience expectations - the presumption seems to be that it's harder and more worthwhile to do while I'd argue that suddenly going 'rocks fall, everybody dies' is the most childish and simplistic way of stirring emotions in your audience.

And even if the artistic aspirations are sincere, the play is the thing: who cares about your motivation if you can't execute on it?
 
OP
OP
BDS
Oct 25, 2017
6,834
I like the way Golden Age detective fiction did it, especially John Dickson Carr: he likened it to a game. He wrote an essay called "The Grandest Game in the World" where he described detective fiction as a duel between author and reader. The author feints, prepares tricks, but gives the reader the same opportunity as the detective to figure out his tricks.

The author does try to outsmart the reader, and tries very hard at that...but should the reader close in, there's no magical surprise that invalidates their reasoning or understanding of the story. If they come that far, fair play - the author takes off their hat and salutes them for winning fair and square.

It's not that authors shouldn't try to outsmart the reader - it's that they should be able to take their loss with dignity when they can't, because their loss means they got their reader engaged in the story enough to understand its inner workings. This should be an accomplishment, not a mark of shame.
Agreed, if you put a lot of effort into your story and some of your audience figures it out, you should feel commended that they were so invested as to put in that much work.
 
Oct 25, 2017
3,662
Wonderful OP. I haven't been able to articulate why I like TLJ but your description hit the nail on the head, and it shows the strength in connecting the subversion to a theme to highlight a point versus GOT where they devolved into shocking talking points. At times GOT felt one step removed from those clickbait "You Won't Believe What ________ Did!" headlines.
 
Oct 25, 2017
1,415
Boston, MA
IMO with Lost, television writers created their own hell.

Lost, its immediate copycats, and everything influenced after it, were predicated on trying to confuse and mystify the viewer in order to utterly hook them into following the show religiously. And provide free marketing by talking about theories obsessively.

Well, it worked too well. Writers helped encourage a culture of television viewing where sleuthing and fan theories were central to the experience. Then writers started to get insecure about being able to stump fans and keep them engaged. As if they felt viewers couldn't be allowed to solve the puzzle too easily and ahead of time. Because it wasn't about respecting the audience - they had to keep the "phenomenon" going. That was more important than producing a quality show.

The problem is that a lot of writers just aren't that good, or they work under network pressure, or suffer being rushed. As a result it seems writers are falling back more and more on non-sequitur as a way to force the audience to be shocked in the 11th hour. It doesn't matter if fans have solved the mystery box, when you do something batshit that nobody could have rationally predicted.
 
Oct 25, 2017
21,733
On the contrary, movies always try to kill the bad guy every single time. Killing thanos early pushed the movie to the most boring plot to bring the gems back causing paradoxes everycorner.

Leaving thanos alive would lead to a different, complex writing buuuut since we dont have Adam warlock or any other holder who would lend the gems easily the writing was down to "no more gems go for other gems"
Boring?
 
Oct 28, 2017
4,351
Great write up. Having seen Westworld, Breaking Bad, TLJ, and Endgame, this thread ended up being right up my alley and mirrored much of my thinking about writing for those.

Endgame did have surprises in that not only did many not predict Infinity War and Endgame despite all the speculation, there were genuine surprises, even when I could see it coming. Going back even further, I was surprised by the end of Civil War, despite knowing the seeds they had planted before and understanding the context of clues dropped in the movie. It only meant I figured it out a little sooner than the rest of the audience, but it was still satisfyingly executed. Same with Infinity War, if you know anything about the comics, there are moments you probably saw coming, and the movie tells you multiple times what it wants to do, but it still ends up being a shock when it happens because of the execution and how they chose to end the movie.

Between Infinity War and Endgame, they made some surprising decisions on who dies, and yet, not only do they have pretty good character and story reasons for who dies, they manage to make deaths surprising, whether you could have seen it coming and even if you suspected someone was totally safe, and yet, they managed to not make it feel like they were being shocking for the sake of shock and that they weren't being cheap with who they chose to kill. Those are all aspects that can upset fans and divide fans and, sure, not everyone is on-board with everything, but I think generally the overall fanbase is pleased with the end results and they give you so much care through every aspect that there is likely lots of other aspects that you feel good about and can get behind that makes it easier to accept aspects you don't like or are disappointed by.

The Mjolnir misdirect in Endgame was another moment I saw happening before many others but it was still very satisfying, even as someone that expected it and despite being a big fan of Cap, I wasn't all that hyped about the potential of that moment being fulfilled just since I didn't believe it could end up as cool as people build it up in their heads, but it was way cooler than I could have imagined.

The portal surprise was another misdirect that they made you forget that they snapped and brought everyone back. You see half the Avengers buried and Cap, Tony, and Thor being unable to beat Thanos, then Thanos just kicking all their asses, the audience just hits such a low note where you feel the hopelessness and despair as Cap tightens his shield to march to his doom and take his last stand. Like, you know that can't be the end but they make you forget that there are whole armies ready and waiting to get right back into battle, and when Cap realizes, the whole audience gets to be in on that moment as well.

Another example I thought of because of this thread is that Markus and McFeely recently talked about how the movie was written originally to have the entire Nebula switcheroo to be a surprise where the audience wouldn't know they switched places until she makes it back and brings Thanos to the present. They said that when testing it, they realized it would be too confusing in that moment to realize what had happened and to try to piece it all together would take away from that moment. They realized that having the audience clued in swapped the surprise for tension that the villains knew something the heroes didn't. It also allowed them more of a chance to focus on character, which gave them the opportunity to have the moment where Nebula confronts her old self, which was a great moment, but wasn't in the film until they realized they needed to restructure that plot thread.

It's great to be able to have shocks and surprises in a film, but it is unfortunate when writers think the surprise is more important than building it up or cohesiveness of the narrative or because they are afraid some people may figure it out before they want them to.
 
Oct 25, 2017
8,026
“Subverting expectations” is such a dumb meme at this point. When it works, it works but in the case of something like GoT it’s more the writers not understanding their show than actually doing that.
 
Oct 26, 2017
2,707
Great read, op. I fucking hated west world season 2 and quit at episode 6 because it was just navel gazing bullshit that was convoluted for no reason at all that served the story.