Always a Boom Today

I just saw the season premiere of Madam Secretary, and I’ve lost track of how many episodes begin with an explosion (or a shooting, or crash), and then flash to “one week earlier,” or “yesterday,” or even “one hour ago.” This episode was yet another of those.

I’m seeing it so often that I’m starting to feel like I’m the only one who finds this form of storytelling both annoying and lazy. I get that television is a collaborative form of storytelling, so it might not be the writers’ fault or the directors’, but why do these storytelling teams feel the need to do it at all? Are they so unsure of their own abilities that they think the audience will turn the channel if there isn’t a boom in the first five minutes? I’m not watching for the crashes, I’m watching for the story. And if they can tell an engrossing story, the explosion can come at the 34-minute mark—or the final scene, or not at all—and I still won’t care. In tonight’s episode, it wasn’t even a “here’s the boom, now we’re going to show you where it came from,” because the cause did not flow naturally from the building story, and had nothing to do with the “one week earlier” we watched after we saw the explosion. Thus, when the explosion came the second time, we were still surprised by it, as were the characters. Indeed, the explosion had nothing to do with the main story line, which ended with that explosion, so they could tell a completely different story for the final third of the program.

I also see this laziness cropping up in printed fiction (short stories and novels), with a prologue giving a taste of some “action,” followed by the introduction and beginning of the story, with the action piece showing up much later in the story.

I may be the only one, but I’m an editor, so I’m making my opinion known: if you have to give us a taste of the explosion that actually shows up half way through your story, you’re doing something wrong. Isaac Asimov gave the writing advice “start as late in the story as you can.” He didn’t mean “and then tell the whole story as a flashback.”

#writing #storytelling #madamsecretary

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