For the record, I have only seen one episode of Lost. Didn’t care for it. Shows like this just aren’t my bag. Maybe I just get bored too easily. Maybe it’s not very good. Or, most probably, shows like Lost thrive upon becoming a cultural phenomenon and I’ve never been very good at being swept away in cultural phenomena. I’m a loner, a rebel. I walk the mean streets alone, with only my righteous fists and keen wits to see me through the dark.
I have nothing against cultural phenomena. Be it pogs, hula hoops, Lost, or any number of fads, these things are usually harmless, often fun, and worthy of enjoyment. I know when I say Lost is a fad, it’ll probably strike some people as dismissive, but fads are just fine. Fads are good. Fads give cultures something to obsess over and to share. When you think about it, in the long term, everything is a fad because everything is transitory. Yeah, I went there. Metaphysics. ‘Cause I’m smart like that.
I’m not really here to discuss Lost specifically. Although, SPOILER ALERT, I might accidentally give away some of the show’s surprises, so if you haven’t watched the ending episode, you might want to stop reading now.
Lost demonstrates a fundamental rule of writing stories. Nobody gives a crap about the idea. And nobody gives a damn about the originality of your story.
In the end, Lost appears to be just another Everybody Goes to Purgatory story. Not having seen the show, I am sure that there is more to this. But the basic premise has been done before, and in fact, if you were going to tell me what happens in the first episode of Lost, I would’ve put Everybody’s Dead But Hasn’t Figured That Out Yet on the top of my personal list of possibilities. And, really, as the show stacked bizarre incident upon bizarre incident, strangeness upon strangeness, was there truly any surprise in the answer? Aside from It Was All A Dream what other reasonable choices were there?
Lost isn’t the first story to explore the purgatory premise. It won’t be the last.
Now, I know that fans of the show will probably say that there’s more to it than that. There might be. I’m not interested in debating that. Instead, I’m using the show as the perfect example of how concentrating on ideas is a waste of time. Originality is unimportant (and probably impossible). What matters are the characters, the presentation, the style, and the ability to draw the audience in, however you manage it.
A great idea is worthless if you don’t do that. An unoriginal idea is great if you can.
I’ve noticed, perusing the internet, that there seem to be two responses to the Lost finale. The first group enjoyed it. They couldn’t care less about surprises or twists. They just are there to take the journey. Some saw the ending coming. Others didn’t. But the ending, while part of the journey, is just a technicality. It was the trip that made it worthwhile.
The second group felt profound disappointment at the conclusion. Because they were invested in the story itself. They wanted to know the answers, and they wanted a payoff. The Everybody’s Dead ending feels like a cheat to them. And I can’t honestly blame them for that. My assumption that Lost would end like that was one of the reasons I never watched the show in the first place.
While I can sympathize with this group, I wonder why they bothered watching. Of course, I have my own theory. They were most likely swept up in the cultural phenomenon. But those who watch these types of shows for a satisfying conclusion really are coming in with the wrong expectations. Lost isn’t about impressing you with its “mysteries” (I put that in quotation marks because anyone can write myseries without answers). Answers are secondary.
Ideas are worthless, unnecessary. Ideas might help you launch your story, but to work too hard on them is usually a waste of time. Lost and Avatar became huge hits built on ideas that would have been eviscerated if they were shown in a Syfy original movie. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. It only illustrates that the execution of the idea is more important than the originality.
I know this won’t stop people from asking writers where do we get our ideas, but it does show just how unimportant ideas and originality are. And that’s not a negative thing. Realizing it doesn’t make writing a story any easier, but it does allow the writer to focus on what’s really important.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,