Saturday, March 28, 2009

Thoughts on Serialized Fiction

I spent the better part of the afternoon working on a post over to The Rundown on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, in a larger sense, serialized works. Regular readers there (at least) know I am not a fan of the "arc." In case you don't know, an "arc" is basically a large plot or storyline spanning several episodes/issues. And it's pretty much the only way creators work these days.

To my way of thinking, there's no other way to work in serialized form - am I wrong? I mean, there are more or less two types of stories in serialized work: the stand-alone episode and the "arc." Obviously, the stand-alone episode is one which can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of what they know about the rest of the series, the characters, or what is currently going on; everything else basically has to fall into an "arc."

I mean, a series is an "arc," but in that huge sense. What we're talking about here is a closed-ended storyline which takes place over several episodes. The "arc" has a specific beginning and end - a story within a story, to varying degrees - with all the characteristics of a story (climax, denouement, etc.). These days, it is used as a selling-point for comic books (mainly) - the selling-point being that the audience need not own any of the other issues or even be familiar with the ongoing series in order to enjoy the "arc."

My problem with this is that too many creators are using the whole idea as a cop-out to avoid dealing with continuity. While it could be argued that serialized fiction need not have continuity, I've come to the conclusion that it most certainly does. Even in serialized work, plots and storylines do not resolve when there is no change, and if the characters "reset" at the end of every arc, then nothing ever resolves. And the characters and story generally do change following these arcs, but very selectively (not imperceptibly, but conveniently) and that's a total cop-out!

However, the more I've considered it, the more I'm convinced that we, as the audience, are at least partly to blame - because we accept it. Younger audience members, as well as those ignorant of the creative process, writing, and so on, don't really know any other way for things to be, but those of us who do have become all too comfortable with letting the creators and companies off lightly.

We "understand" that the characters are properties, that whatever is done is destined to be undone, that certain things play-out the way they do for marketing reasons - on and on. Entertainment is a business, and I'm tired of the opposing side trotting-out that old, "the Business of show" song and dance whenever we complain of mediocrity; we understand that - we "accept" that - but that is no excuse for manufacturing shit. And we've become so used to it that we no longer put up a fight.

Of course, the real way to prove this point is to do it - in life as in writing, one should show, not tell, but that kind of goes against the grain for this blog, doesn't it? So I'm going to discuss it executively and make it a running theme. I demand better entertainment, and seeing as how one can hardly land a contract without assuring backers one has the makings of an ongoing property (three-book deal, the movie trilogy,, there is no getting around this.

Best of all, the Web is the great equalizer! We don't have to vie for a contract of our own to prove our point; we can be creator, editor, and publisher all on our own - no executive producers, no money men! Granted, we are working (more or less) for free, but isn't it worth it? Wouldn't it be great to prove to everyone out there that quality does not have to be sacrificed in order to produce commercially-viable content? Still, let's keep this conversation exactly that: not a strict "show vs. tell" but an actual discussion, examining the various points involved.

And let's demand better quality entertainment!

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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