Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Random Writing Tips – Mystery for mystery sake


There was a show I watched where I was debating giving up on it, but then it was cancelled, so problem solved.  It did end on a bit of a cliff hanger, so on one hand that sucked, but on the other hand the show wasn’t that great.  My main issue with the show was it was poorly written.  Probably the biggest issue I had was how they had several opportunities to explain things, but instead would give out little dribs and drabs.

Basically, the main character gets dropped into this weird mystery.  They dig around, and they eventually figure out about 10% of the mystery.  And then they meet someone who, doesn’t know the whole story, but does know about 70% of the mystery.  For some time there is the question on if the main character can trust this new person, but eventually they do.  Now, in the real world, the main character would then take an afternoon to sit down with this person and have them fill them in on everything.  But that wasn’t what the show did.

Instead of the main character learning more than they wanted to know, coming to grips with it, and then going on to solve the rest of the mystery, the new person gave them some crumbs which lead to a shocking reveal.  And then the following week they’d give out another crumb which lead to another shocking reveal.  The next week, another crumb and another shocking reveal.  And all the while there was a super basic question the main character never asked; for a real person in this situation it would probably have been their first question.  I don’t know if the scene was cut for time, or what, but its lack left me somewhat dumbfounded. 

Now, there are a few ways this could have been done better.  Maybe the new person only knew 30% so most of the mystery is still unknown, maybe they only have ten minutes and can’t tell the full story, or maybe they could have written more interesting characters so “How will X react to this shocking reveal?” doesn’t need to be used every week to get people to come back.

If you hold too much information back, you audience may get bored because nothing seems to be happening.  But if you flood them with information right at the start, they can get overwhelmed and give up.  So you need to find a compromise.  This, usually, is just giving as much information as is needed right now.  How else do you do you multiple seasons of a show?  But, if there isn’t some in-universe reason for the dribs and drabs of information, your audience may notice the manipulation and not be surprised, or care, if your show is cancelled.


Image from Pixabay.

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