A while ago, I wrote about surprises in fiction that weren’t surprising.
I’ve been pondering this dilemma again, though this time, it’s more about plot developments that are meant to be exciting, but which are so over the top and inconsistent with what’s gone before that they’re unbelievable and disappointing.
Some of you will be familiar with the expression Jumping the Shark, which came from a daft incident in the comedy series Happy Days, when Fonzie does just that, using water skis to jump over a shark.
This gimmick didn’t save the show from going downhill, though it lasted for another seven years
Recently, I’ve noticed several such desperate twists in novels and films that marred otherwise decent stories. John Colapinto’s novel About The Author is an engrossing thriller about a talentless writer who steals his dead flatmate’s manuscript, which becomes a bestseller. His success is haunted by a woman who stole the flatmate’s laptop, with a copy of the novel on the hard drive. It’s well-written, making me wonder how the situation would be resolved, but there came a point near the end when two unlikely incidents had me saying to myself “That simply wouldn’t have happened.” It felt a bit like John Colapinto had written himself into a corner and needed a way out.
Last night, I watched Greenland, a 2020 disaster movie.
Well-acted and the behaviour, selfish and generous, of people fleeing a comet rang true, but it didn’t take me long to realise that the whole story was a vast Jumping the Shark exercise. Key people have been chosen to be evacuated to Greenland. The hero is a structural engineer needed to rebuild cities. The premise of running to Greenland is so flawed, as if it’s the only country in the world with fallout shelters, that I wondered how the script had ever been accepted. Also, Greenland is treated as if it’s another state of the USA or at least an unincorporated territory, like Puerto Rico. I couldn’t help thinking about a certain President who wanted to buy Greenland, which made things even more absurd.
The movie soon became an excuse to admire Computer-Generated-Imagery, as the comet bombarded the world. Don’t think about it, enjoy your popcorn.
Are we so oversaturated with violent images and unrealistic sights, courtesy of the internet, that the only place to go next is even nastier and more stupid? Some folk state that “Too much ain’t enough,” but it all becomes boring after a while, devoid of meaning.
With my own writing, I like to surprise, even shock the reader, while staying believable. As thriller writer John Buchan advised:
‘A good story should have incidents, which defy possibilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible.’
What do you think?
Have things gone too far in the entertainment media?
When writing your stories, how much effort do you give to making what happens credible?