Saturday, January 10, 2009
A Cymbal-Banging Monkey
I hate to post the equivalent of "what he said," but Chris is right on the money. I am a natural entertainer, and I like entertaining with words the best of all. My goal when I write is to write the most entertaining, clever, and readable story that I can write.
As for what I owe the readers, well, that's a slightly different answer. I owe them a good story. That's it. There may be more implicit things going on, but in the end, what I owe them is a good story. Hopefully, what makes it good is a compelling set of characters, plotted just so, written with aplomb, and with a few twists and surprises thrown in. That's the alchemy, but it's not a science. Case in Point:
The much-discussed and much-maligned ending of the Sopranos. Chase is on record as saying that he can't believe that so many people liked Tony Soprano because he was a sociopath. I'm reminded of Hitchcock's observation about American audiences. Paraphrasing, they will put up with any scoundrel provided he's good at his job. And that, to me, was the biggest theme that ran through the Sopranos--the tension betweeen who you are at work and who you are at home.
Anyway, Chase, as a creator, and knowing what he did about the audience for the Sopranos, had a few obvious and several not-so-obvious choices. Tony could go to jail. Tony could get killed by the New York Mob. Tony could be arrested. Tony could have his family stripped from him again, and wind up alone, again. The ducks could come back. I'm sure you can think of a dozen other plausible endings in a similar vein.
But to have that ending--which is to say, NOT an ending--to have the narrative just stop dead, like someone lifting a needle on a record (pushing pause on your iPod for you under thirtysomethings out there), that was an unforgivable sin on Chase's part. As an audience, we would have been completely content if Tony got busted in the end. We were half expecting it. And it would have been the ending that Chase wanted to write, because he was a sociopath and should be punished. If Tony got whacked, we would have accepted it. Oh, there would have been some chat room and message board outrage, but really it would have been more about the show being over than Tony getting some kind of just desserts.
Chase owed his audience an ending, the most basic part of a good story, just as important as "beginning" and "middle" no matter how you look at it. In some ways, the more important part, if not the most. And he blew it. He didn't stick the dismount. Hell, he fell off the balance beam and acted like that was his plan, all along.
In the end, I think that's what we owe the readers. Even if it's a story they've heard before, as long as it's good, they won't complain.