Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lost (the TV show) and Resonance

SPOILER ALERT. If you are a Lost fan and haven't seen the last season stop reading. Also stop if you havent read Wuthering Heights. And then go read Wuthering Heights right now.

I was a very dedicated Lost fan for its whole 5-year run until the last season, when it did exactly what we were all terrified it would---ended with no reasonable explanation for any of the last 5 seasons apart from the deus ex machina of all deus ex machinas of this stupid cave full of light that was somehow the source of good and evil in the world. Or something.


So why am I writing about this here? Because the real reason I am angry at the story tellers behind Lost connects back to what E.M. Forester is famous for saying: ' "The king died and then the queen died" is a story. "The king died and then the queen died of grief" is a plot.'

This means that a plot has to have cause and effect. Hamlet acts crazy and gets everyone killed because he suspects his uncle of murdering his father. Jesus suffers a horrible death because he is the son of God. Jake Ryan notices Sam because she writes a note about him. There is a chain of events, not some collection of unrelated incidents that happen by chance.

Lost told a story, and it was beautiful and nuanced and layered. And then in the end game we're told that none of it was for any reason (other than magic) and not a lot of it (Walt? Aaron? Mr. Friendly?) had any effects either. Why were these people brought to this island at *this moment in time*, rather than, say, a year earlier or a year later? Totally unclear. Were there tons of groups of people brought to the island, and we followed this group because they turned out to be successful "candidates"? Totally unclear. Did all the strange events and people and behavior LEAD to anything or CAUSE anything? Um, maybe? Maybe it lead to the status quo?

Basically the reader wants to know why you are saying what you are saying---that's what turns an anecdote into a story. If I tell you about my crazy abusive neighbor whose ex girlfriend died in childbirth, and isnt it weird that their kids are now in love, that's an anecdote. If I tell you about two lovers torn apart by inner turmoil, fate, and whim, and whose fiery and destructive passion trickles down through two generations of people only to dissipate in the gentle love of a third generation, in a redemption caused by an intense and unsinkable humanity---that is a story.

The same thing applies to essays. The reader will ask, why are you telling us this? You don't have to spell it out or get all Aesop Fable on us, but there needs to be resonance. A sense that the sum is more than the parts. On this note my next post will compare two recent New York Times essays---one that I think really told a story, and the other one that left me thinking, ok that was mildly interesting, but so what?

No comments:

Post a Comment