A while ago, I was reading about the entertainment biz. Someone was commenting how many movies were being made from TV shows, and wondering why so many of them flopped. The answer was one that was both profoundly simple and profoundly accurate that it stuck with me.
Movies, they said, are about the most important part of a person’s life. Everything up to the beginning of the movie are preparation for the events captured on film, and their life after the credits roll will always be affected by what happened in that time.
TV shows, however, are about a whole section of a person’s life. Events of various degrees will import, but there will not likely be a single climax to the events. This is because in TV land, there’s almost always a next episode to be considered. (The final episode of “Angel” being an outstanding exception. See also “St. Elsewhere” and “Newhart.”)
Over the years, this thought has wormed its way in and around my brain. I’ve started referring to the two types of storytelling as “serial” and “singular,” and found it’s very easy to divide genres into the two. For example, novels, graphic novels, and music tends towards the singular. Comic books and blogging is serial.
It’s an important distinction to make. As a blogger, the temptation to try to write a “blockbuster” piece is tremendous. To write the Grand Unified Theory of postings — one piece that sums up everything the author has to say, and wrap it all up in a big bow, then release it to wide acclaim — is an unacknowledged fantasy of most bloggers.
But then the comic book editor or TV network exec voice in your head says the inevitable: “That was great. What you got next?”
Because that, in the end, is the big question. What’s next?
The important lesson here is that life, itself, is serial. Life, like entertainment, builds on itself and continues. The “dramatic structure” — exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement — is an artificial construct and is a wonderful way to depict what we want, not the way things are.
And always remember one thing: if your life has reached its highest peak, its climax, its turning point, then there isn’t a hell of a lot to look forward to for the rest. There’s not much reason to stay past the credits in a movie, but there’s always next week on TV.