In Praise of Planning

Babylon 5Anyone who reads this blog knows that I paint often, and when I paint, I binge watch/listen to a show in the background. It keeps me engaged, and gives me something to do while I am waiting for a layer to dry. The last few weeks Babylon 5 has filled that roll nicely. As a show, I think it is awesome, and easily the best sci-fi of its era. Sure, these days the graphics are a little rough, and it started off a little slow, but as get ready to start the third season there is so much to appreciate, and so much to like.

Though the sci-fi epic certainly deserves an article, that’s not quite what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about the nature of plot and story arc’s.

There is nothing I like more about a story than one that has a concrete beginning and ending. It’s a rare thing to find in anything longer than a novel or a trilogy. As a great fan of comics for instance, I would consider the infinite serial nature of the medium to be its greatest weakness. After all, if you stay in print long enough than you’ll find your heroes waking up from comas to discover that their evil twin has married their sweethearts like any common soap opera. Look at the X-Men. Every hero and villain worth naming has died and switched sides at least once.

Battlestar Galactica is a good example of this to my mind. Every few episodes, every season, the focus of the story changes as the writers struggle to maintain focus. They don’t know what high notes they want to hit, or how the story will ultimately end. I remember reading an Entertainment Weekly article back when it was in it’s first season, where one of the producers says that they wanted to keep things fresh ans unpredictable, so he decided that Laura Roslin’s cancer should come back. Whether such a decision could be called penny wise is certainly debatable, but it was definitely pound foolish. Like Lost, the show had some truly great threads that it was completely unable to weave into a memorable tapestry.

That’s why I love shows like Babylon 5. The nature of the plot twists, and foreshadowing leave no doubt that the end was planned for at the very beginning. It’s this kind of thinking that is really necessary if I am going to place my trust in an author. There are plenty of other examples, sure. The first three books of the Song of Ice and Fire is a good one, that like the fifth season of B5 suffers a bit of mission creep after the main plan is executed. There are several comic titles that also fall into this category, Lucifer for instance.

So, what do you say, am I alone in my desire to see cohesive story telling triumph over easy plot twists? Do you have any favorite examples of this technique that I should be reading or watching?

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This entry was posted by David Winchester.

6 thoughts on “In Praise of Planning

  1. Didn’t the same guy write “Rising Stars”? I think I remember him saying he always writes with a clear beginning and end with a vague notion of how it will middle.

  2. J. Michael Straczynski had pretty much plotted out the entire show from beginning to end. In an article I had read, he talked about how he even had escape hatches for the characters in the event that an actor left the show. His run on Thor was also quite impressive.

  3. JMS was the writer/editor on The Real Ghostbusters cartoon back in the 80s, too. That’s probably why the show holds up as well as it does. ;-)

    I love epic stories; after some friends introduced me to Babylon 5, serialized sci-fi shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation (which I grew up with) just didn’t measure up anymore. I don’t want to invest the time and effort to get into a show that’s not going to try to tell a top-notch story, or worse, a show that doesn’t take itself seriously.

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