This Blog Entry is not “The Event”

I have not watched The Event.  Nor do I ever plan to.  I can’t offer any criticism on the actual show, but I can say that its promo material is a perfect example of how NOT to intrigue your audience.

Here’s just a general tip from a semi-famous novelologist.  You don’t hook your audience by telling them they are going to be hooked.  You don’t keep people interested by telling them something interesting is happening (or will happen possibly at some point in the future).  You don’t tell people that, if they just stick with you long enough, they’ll be rewarded at some point with a few measly plot points and maybe some character development.  Because nobody cares.  If you don’t keep them interested with an interesting story told in interesting ways than you’re just a gimmick, and people don’t generally like gimmicks.  Especially uninspired gimmicks.

I was not a fan of Lost.  It’s just not my thing to sit and ponder mysteries that I’ll never get the answer to or that will inevitably lead to endings I probably won’t find worthwhile.  But if you put that aside, Lost was a well-executed show.  While I might have considered it gimmicky, it wasn’t written nor promoted like that.  The show was built on mysteries, on a cult-like devotion to unfolding questions leading to more questions leading to more questions.  But the show knew better than to lean on that to keep the viewer interested.  Instead, Lost was an adventure into the unknown, a thrilling fight for survival with characters that intrigued the audience.

The Event falls spectacularly short on this front.  Even as a mystery, it fails.  Though a mystery, Lost could be summarized easily.  Some people are stranded on an island.  Weird stuff happens.  It’s an intriguing premise or at least an easily explained one.

But I defy someone to tell me what The Event is.  Heck, even the promos don’t want to tell us.  This is not The EventThat is not The Event.  Have you ever tried to explain a story to someone by telling them what it’s not about?  Good luck on that.  The Event is about . . . something mysterious.  Terribly mysterious, in fact.  But a mystery is not a story.  Not by itself.

And then, even more annoying, the show continues to tell us how it will hook us.  “If you watch this episode, by the end, you’ll be hooked!”

One of the things I’ve learned at my writer’s group is that bad writers expect the audience to sit through a bunch of boring crap.  At the DFWWW, we read our work aloud.  We’re allowed 15 minutes, but I find 10 works well.  If you read something aloud for 10 minutes and your audience is bored, then you’re doing something wrong.  Good writers realize this.  Bad writers always wish they had another 5 minutes to get to the good parts.

Every part should be the good part.  Every scene should help the audience want to move forward.  Telling a story isn’t complicated or tricky.  What I do, on the surface, is easy.  Make some interesting characters.  Have something interesting happen to them.  Give them a problem to solve.  Then have them work on solving that problem.  The end.  That’s it.  And maybe if you’re writing “literature” (i.e. pretentious stuff that is intentionally written awkwardly to make it seem intelligent) then you can get away with breaking that rule.  But if you’re writing “genre” (i.e. good stories with a plot that makes sense and offers a satisfying resolution) then you need to just build on the basics.

Who is going to tune into a show, week after week, with absolutely no idea what it’s about?  Lost might have been confusing, intentionally so, but they were still given problems to solve and for the most part, they solved them.

Yet The Event is a show so vague, so mysterious that I don’t know why I should give a damn.  It’s intentionally confusing, but not in the “How Mysterious” way, but in the “I’m going to make this really hard to follow” way.  That’s not good storytelling.  That’s clumsy at best, cheating at worst.  And it seems to me there’s no better way to annoy and / or anger your audience than to continually taunt them and telling them that they really, really need to watch your show for a long time before they’ll be able to understand any of it.

Maybe that crap flew with Twin Peaks, but even that didn’t last long.  Plus, Twin Peaks was at least unique for its time.  What’s unique about The Event except that it’s just another overlong mystery told in overlong fashion that takes forever to get anywhere and will inevitably implode from all the plot threads its trying to keep dangling.

I could be wrong.  Maybe The Event will be huge.  Maybe people will be willing to give it five or eight or eleven episodes to catch their attention.  But that seems awfully optimistic in a world with increasing choices of entertainment media.

I would like to plug No Ordinary Family.  The first episode showed promise, and unlike The Event a lot actually happened in it.  The family gets superpowers.  Characters are given moments to shine and develop personal relationships.  And they even managed to throw in a brief superfight between a superstrong character and a teleporting villain.  It was creative, fun, and everything Heroes should have been if it hadn’t been so jaw-droppingly full of itself.  It’s nice to see a show where superpowers aren’t automatically assumed to be negative and where a family can have problems without getting absurdly angsty about it.  Thumbs up from this lowly novelologist.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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10 Comments

  1. Posted October 2, 2010 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    AMEN!!!

  2. Rippley
    Posted October 2, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Right on, brother! Whooha!

  3. Posted October 3, 2010 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    I have watched the first two episodes, though I’m not sure why. Like you, I thought thd promos where purposely vague and just plain trying too hard. Turns out the show is just like that. The thing that bothered me most was that everyone in the room knew what ‘The Event’ was, but would still call it The Event. It felt like they were cheating to create mystery.

    Also, they like to use flashbacks just to use them. I can think of 5 different ways to start the show and not have to use flashbacks. Again, trying to make the show confusing to make it seem good.

    Sorry to ramble, this show has that effect on me.

  4. Zack
    Posted October 3, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    With LOST, things started off simple enough and became progressively more complicated over the course of several seasons. With THE EVENT, it starts off in need of a flow chart, or something, to make it easier to follow and that’s not a good thing.
    Having been burned by the lack of mysteries solved on LOST, I’m more than a little gun-shy about having it happen again with THE EVENT.

  5. Will
    Posted October 3, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    A novelologist, I take it, is someone who studies novels? And that’s in addition to being a writer? No matter. Good critique of the promos.
    I watched a few minutes of the 2nd (I believe) episode of Event. Part, if not all, of the premise has already been explained. And it appears to be straight up sci-fi rather than the “this might be sci-fi, this might be fantasy, there might be a simple explanation” prolonged tease of Lost. Enough to make me watch the pilot on Hulu.
    Heroes, at it’s best, was appealing to people like me who left superhero comics behind when they were kids. And because I did, I will probably never watch Ordinary Family although Michael Chiklis rocked in The Shield.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted October 4, 2010 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      I can’t wait until they reveal the “shocking” truth that aliens were behind the JFK assassination.

      Will, I’ve heard that theory on comic books superheroes for a long time, but I’ll admit I never got that. Superheroes don’t have to be boring to be “adult”. No Ordinary Family seems as if it has adult themes and ideas as well as superhero adventure elements. Heroes was just dull. Maybe that might qualify it as “adult”, but for me, “mature” and “fun” don’t have to be contradictory qualities.

  6. Posted October 5, 2010 at 7:14 am | Permalink

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  7. Jesse
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I watched the pilot to No Ordinary Family on Hulu. The one thing that I thought was super lame was that the son’s power was the ability to see math equations. Really? his power is that he’s able to pass an algebra class? Or was that calculus? Does that some how make it more impressive?

    I was a little confused why the bullet penetrated the father’s skin a little bit too.

    It was a fun show though otherwise, but very cheesy.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted October 5, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know if I find super intelligence any weirder or unbelievable than super strength. I’m assuming he’s more than just a math genius and will end up being the gadgeteer of the family.

      The bullet penetration seems to indicate that the father is not completely invulnerable and that being shot at close range might pose a threat. We’ll see how that develops.

      I didn’t find it “cheesy”, but I feel that word is used far too often. Aside from the superpower angle, the show didn’t seem especially campy or strange to me. And I don’t classify superpowers as cheesy because they’re simply a fantasy element that you accept or don’t.

  8. Jesse
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    It’s not that super intelligence is any weirder or unbelievable it’s just that it’s lame. His super power is the ability to be able to do math on par with graduate level math students? Super strength, su per speed, mind reading, these are cool because no one else can do them. The son has the ability to do high school level algebra in his head… if that’s a super power then I’ve been super powered from when I was 14.

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