So I just finished watching LOST (And my confusions about story-writing in general)

So i'm writing a (proper) blog here after a long LONG break. Like, after about 2 whole years. The last blog I wrote was about my excitement for Skyrim. Oh man time passes by really really fast! (That's a topic for another blog though)

So I started watching Lost ... well i'm not exactly sure when, but I'm guessing around late 2010. Giantbomb's Deadly Premonition Endurance Run had ended earlier that year, which had led me to watching Twin Peaks to scratch that DP ER itch. And after TP, I started watching X-files to scratch the Twin Peaks itch. But X- files didn't really satisfy me, so I landed up on Lost. (Pretty cool how Giantbomb is the cause of it all right?)

(To get in the Lost mood, you could play this while reading the blog :P)

*******LOST SPOILERS AHEAD******

Man the show has left me feeling really empty inside, and I knew it would. I was actually scared to finish watching the show and I really slowed down during the last season. I even planned the situation I wanted to watch the finale in. Alone at home, while it rained heavily outside. Beautiful.

And that's what I loved about the show. There was always so much beauty in all of it. I'm sure many people watched it for the mysteries, the thrills and everything (at least in the beginning) but what got me hooked were the heart breaking and beautiful stories of the characters. I guess people find what they look for. What mainly got me hooked in the beginning was John Locke. His perception about life, about their role in the island, his immovable faith in things that other people could not understand were what mainly made me fall in love with the show.

The point in the show where they revealed that he only regained his walking ability upon reaching the island completely blew me away. Suddenly, him lying on the sand, staring at his own toes moving within his socks, in the middle of all the chaos suddenly made sense. Him helping Charlie out with his drug addiction ("The Moth") almost had me in tears - tears of happiness. I had finally found the show to satisfy my new itch, but probably something more.

From then on, that was mainly what the show was about for me. And every episode delivered. Every episode had those amazing moments, and even though Locke gradually lost his initial aura, and suffered a change in character (plus, you know, death), I kept finding new characters to love - Sawyer, Hurley, Charlie, Ben linus (started loving this guy), Jin and Sun (broke my heart a billion times goddammit) Miles, Faraday, Jack and eventually even Desmond. I really loved all those moments towards the end when they all began to remember one by one. Their expressions were priceless. Add to that the beautiful music, and I felt like the producers and writers of the show exactly what satisfied me. I think I'll never love a show like I've loved this.

Infact, I feel like this is the most satisfying and beautiful peace of art/ fiction I have ever experienced. Better than any book or film I have read or seen. And this is what sort of worries and saddens me. This is for two reasons:

Firstly, I was impressed with every episode I watched. I could not understand how the writers possessed the intelligence to remember every alternate life story they had written and make them all come to some sort of a conclusion. I'm currently writing a book (or im trying my best to) , and writing a single page is a challenge. What they have written, involving so many lives, with time travel, mysteries, histories and then all the beautiful, emotional moments, is worthy of some sort of a lifetime achievement award. If I was one of the writers of the story, I would consider my life complete. I am that impressed. (although I would've preferred if the ending was actually about an alternate timeline rather than a purgatory, that doesn't change much.)

But in contrast, stand the reactions of the rest of the world. George R.R Martin joked about its ending, a lot of people really criticized the ending and called it a "cop out". Many people called the writing of the last season weak, while some even said that the whole shows script was just improvising on random ideas and the writing was clueless. And this is what saddens me. Have I not watched and read the same things as these critics have? Because it feels like their opinion comes from more experience. As if they have seen better shows, better films and read better books. It's a little sad, but also confusing. What works of art have I missed out on, even though my life seems to be headed in the direction of devotion to some of these forms of art? How am I gonna catch up in time?

These are the exact same things I felt after finishing Bioshock Infinite, which got criticized for "poor writing" as well by some. I mean, I guess my question is: How much better can you possibly do? What the hell is "good writing" then? Does it exist?

And if it does, I want suggestions (please). In any form: books, films, TV shows or even games. I wanna know what qualifies as good writing.

Because I love writing. I LOVE a good story. I think it's all I want in life as well. A good story. I want to write a good story, and I want to live a life that can be remembered as an amazing story.

Which is my worry #2: Will I ever have what it takes to create an amazing story? Do I have the ability? Or will I continue to be Lost exactly the way I am right now, wondering what "good writing" is supposed to be. Wondering what it is people have read and seen that gives them their perceptions about writing. It seems like a huge mountain I need to climb, and if I do end up learning anything, it'll take a pretty big revelation. Because I am currently quite confused.

But especially after watching the last episode of Lost today, I realized that this is a mountain I want to climb. And then meditate on it and be enlightened, of course. But climbing the mountain comes first. Struggle and indulge in worldly affairs like writing and then give it all up. Pretty crazy right? But I guess writing is what I hope to understand life though, before I... Move on (wink!)

The story that I'm writing is just about a boy who has lived in a monastery all his life (that's twenty years), and the things that he learns about life outside and among people as he and an elder student travel across the land - to reach another monastery that they need to deliver books/ scrolls to. I'm 80 pages through it, but all those things I described above really make me worried about my own efforts.

So yes, that was a pretty long blog, and thanks for reading through it all (if you did). I'm looking forward to some good replies. Try not to be too harsh though, I've bared my soul in the form of a blog after a long time ;)

Oh, and goodbye, Lost.

16 Comments
16 Comments
Edited by killacam

I think I get where you're comin from here. To me, Bioshock Infinite and Lost were both great stories; I loved seeing them each unfold, but I definitely think they have major issues. For the purpose of alleviating some of your confusion and not to start a fight about these stories' respective merits, I'll go into it.

Bioshock Infinite packed a huge punch for me at the end and I really enjoyed slowly getting to that point, so I think it did a great job of what it was trying to do. However the writing in it is heavily contrived. Each plot point seems to exist purely to set up that end twist. It's like Levine worked backwards once he knew where we wanted the story to go. again, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this... But I believe good writing is achieved not by setting up a plot and having your characters act it out for you, treating them as puppets, but instead by creating believable characters and letting their motivations determine where the story goes. To me this seems to be a much more organic way of telling a story. The former, puppeteer-esque approach is generally considered to be one of the chief causes of bad fiction.

I really enjoyed a lot of the characters in Lost, but there were many times where I thought to myself that a certain character just wouldn't act the way they did.. It was purely to satisfy some crazy plot twist. It also seems like the writers just sort of lost the thread of their narrative after the third season or so. It's been a while since I watched it, otherwise I'd try to give examples. Either way, this isn't to say there's nothing redeeming about the show/game. While their stories are entertaining and often emotionally powerful, I wouldn't say they are great examples of fiction.

I'm going to recommend a monster of a novel called Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. He killed himself not too long ago, and reading his stuff it's not hard to see why. It's Not that his stories are overly dark or depressing... Moreso that his neurotic genius became too much of a burden. But if you're into learning about "good" writing I can't recommend this man more.

Posted by armaan8014

@killacam: Thanks a lot! Your explanation made good sense, and I agree that letting characters shape the story could create a more... real story. Now that I think about it, giving that aspect priority rather than having them behave as puppets would probably feel truer.

Luckily, I feel that this is also a less mind boggling way to write a story. Things like crafting a crazy plot and having your characters respond to it was something that was worrying me about writing, but letting my characters shape it seems much more of an natural and...easier task.

Thanks for the recommendation, I'll check that out

Posted by armaan8014

Bump?

Posted by LiquidPrince

It's all subjective man. It's as basic as that. I also loved Lost and had pretty much had the same feelings towards it as you did. But some people have ideas about where they want stories to go, and don't like it when it goes a different way. Similar situation popped up recently with the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones. For me good writing needs to be engaging and believable, and hopefully be devoid of massive plot holes. I think Lost satisfied most of those things fairly well. It was also emotionally engaging, and that is what makes good writing.

Posted by natetodamax

Ah, Lost. That was really the first TV series that I watched all the way through. Even though I've seen many others since I've finished it, I still consider it to be my favorite because of how hard it grabbed me and brought me into its world. It was the first time where I was heavily invested in so many characters and felt that I was somehow involved in the events unfolding in front of me. Every death, every shocking revelation, every triumph, every mystery, all resonated unbelievably well with me.

If anything, I disagree that every episode was terrific (the Pablo and whatever her name was episode was an abomination). But I'm with you in that most criticism of the show just goes over my head. I care too much about it to hate any particular aspect with the exception of a few episodes.

Oh, and the sad piano theme (I don't remember what it's called unfortunately) kills me every time I hear it.

Posted by wrecks

Despite some of the bloat of the 3rd season and a few misteps in the last season, Lost was a groundbreaking work of fiction that kept me awake many, many nights trying to figure it all out. I still miss that experience and doubt any TV show will ever match that level of narrative and character complexity. Good luck with your book, I've been working on mine for a couple decades with no end in sight. :)

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Posted by joshthebear

Man, I really miss Lost. Despite its flaws (which were many), it is the only other show besides The Wire and Six Feet Under which completely drew me in with the characters and writing. Good luck on the book duder.

Also, season 4 is the best season.

Posted by Bocam

The only thing I remember about LOST is how much my mother hated LOST.

Posted by Revan_NL

Loved Lost seasons 1 through 5 and then season 6 ruined the entire series for me. Not just the ending, it was a real struggle to watch every episode of season 6, something I didn't have in the previous seasons.

I went back to season 1 not too long ago and that reminded me why I loved this show so much. I just whish season 6 was never produced, even the white flash at the end of season 5 would be a more satisfying conclusion

Edited by EXTomar

I always though the quality of Lost was dubious at best. In general a "What is in the box???" mystery is not a compelling story unless you show us what is in the box.

Posted by Stealthmaster86

I have a deep love for LOST. It was the first show that I truly followed and loved. While most people say that the questions and mysteries was the reason why people watched it. To me it was the characters. Watch season 1 and then watch season 6. It's night and day. There was some missteps, but not every show is perfect. Since LOST ended I try to at least watch it every year. I'm pretty sure that I'll watch this series again sometime this year. As weird as it might sound, if it wasn't for LOST, I would have never seen Breaking Bad. Mainly because I was looking for a show to match that level of quality for me. It says a lot about a show when you have LOST and Breaking Bad stand toe to toe as, what I think, the best of Television ever.

Posted by churrific

It's all subjective man. It's as basic as that. I also loved Lost and had pretty much had the same feelings towards it as you did. But some people have ideas about where they want stories to go, and don't like it when it goes a different way. Similar situation popped up recently with the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones. For me good writing needs to be engaging and believable, and hopefully be devoid of massive plot holes. I think Lost satisfied most of those things fairly well. It was also emotionally engaging, and that is what makes good writing.

I quite agree wit this. If you're engaged with the characters and their development, it's good writing. The rest of the overarching plot is all subjective as to whether or not it's "good". It's really just a set of arbitrary circumstances put forth to see how these characters react. Going further, if you're willing to invest your time to continue watching the show, or even rewatch the show in the case of LOST, despite some glaringly obvious plotholes, you know it's good writing.

Posted by armaan8014

@liquidprince said:

It's all subjective man. It's as basic as that. I also loved Lost and had pretty much had the same feelings towards it as you did. But some people have ideas about where they want stories to go, and don't like it when it goes a different way. Similar situation popped up recently with the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones. For me good writing needs to be engaging and believable, and hopefully be devoid of massive plot holes. I think Lost satisfied most of those things fairly well. It was also emotionally engaging, and that is what makes good writing.

Yeah I guess it is subjective, but sometimes critics speak as if there's some definite standards which determine good/bad writing. But its good to know there are some people who had similar feelings towards the show, and that the characters and their stories satisfied them. Im about to start watching Game of Thrones now, let's see how I feel about that show without getting too biased :P

If anything, I disagree that every episode was terrific (the Pablo and whatever her name was episode was an abomination). But I'm with you in that most criticism of the show just goes over my head. I care too much about it to hate any particular aspect with the exception of a few episodes.

Oh, and the sad piano theme (I don't remember what it's called unfortunately) kills me every time I hear it.

Wow, that's almost exactly how I feel. The music would keep looping in my head after every episode as well.

The Nikki and Paulo episode (Expose`) actually has quite an interesting story behind it. I can't seem to find the link but it explained how "burying the characters alive" was symbolic of the fact that everybody disliked the characters. Pretty funny stuff.

@wrecks said:

Wow, love that pic you posted (so many memories :) )

Yeah its a worry actually that I might not be able to enjoy any show more than I enjoyed Lost. I've started with Battlestar Galactica and GoT, but without any big expectations. Let's hope I get pleasantly surprised :)

(BSG could do something for me as Mass Effect was to me in games as Lost was in TV shows.)

And wow how did you end up writing for that long? Are you planning a huge story or is it procrastination? What is it about?

Posted by Tarsier

the whole thing was promising to lead to something as great as what the leading was. and it never delivered. and in the not delivering it actually damaged the greatness that came before. as season 6 unfolded it felt more and more like a sick joke, or an insult.

like hee hee neener neener, we dont have to explain anything, why do YOU want to know? it was magic!! just deal with it!

it was as GRRM said a log of shite on the door step when you expected a good friend.

Posted by armaan8014

@extomar: Hmm the funny thing is that in Twin Peaks (no spoilers) that's exactly what David Lynch wanted to do. Use Laura Palmer's murder as a set up to explore the lives of the town's inhabitants. On the surface, it looked like a murder mystery whereas David Lynch didn't even care about the murder, only about the character. But the channel forced him to reveal the killer and move on with the show, and that is what unfortunately killed it. :/

@revan_nl: Yeah those seasons are pretty different from each other. But I guess what happened in my case was that I was too much in love with all the characters and so I didn't mind the changes in direction. But I do agree, the first season was magical. And Locke... oh Locke. He was my idol!

@joshthebear: Thanks :)

Since LOST ended I try to at least watch it every year. I'm pretty sure that I'll watch this series again sometime this year. As weird as it might sound, if it wasn't for LOST, I would have never seen Breaking Bad. Mainly because I was looking for a show to match that level of quality for me. It says a lot about a show when you have LOST and Breaking Bad stand toe to toe as, what I think, the best of Television ever.

Wow every year? I don't think I could manage that :D But how is Breaking Bad? As enjoyable as Lost in terms of characters, story and atmosphere/ music/ emotions? And is it episodic like, you know, X -files or something or does it have a strong cohesive and singular story like Lost?

Posted by joshwent

I, like most of you, loved LOST for the characters. And that's precisely why I lost interest.

It's hard to even blame the writing because the writer's strike happened which fucked them up, and the network wouldn't let them plan for a definite ending so they couldn't make it as tight as it should have been, but the show should have been at least 2 seasons shorter. The characters were always pretty simple 2-Dimensional tropes (jolly chubby guy who's secretly sad, mean guy who's secretly nice, normal guy who needs to be special) but they had tons of depth in their personality and histories that made them all endearing. (Except for Shannon. Fuck her.)

As the show went on, however, their interesting traits became dull parodies of themselves. When Sawyer would use a quirky new nickname for someone, I winced. When Ben Linus would allude at some secret (a.k.a. red herring) again and again, I sighed. And when Kate just couldn't commit to anything for the billionth time, or Jack was frustrated being a leader, I just stopped caring. And I honestly think the writers did too because the last season scrapped what came before and became a self-contained story.

Whether you liked it or not, it hardly had anything to do with what came before. They didn't have a plan all along, which is FINE. Battlestar had zero idea where it was gonna end up, and I love how that series concluded. But the writers of LOST became so mired in their own random weirdness with no way out that they chose to make an entirely new world to end their show in. Fundamentally disregarding all of the character growth and potentially fascinating mysteries they had set up for 5 years.

As I die hard fan who'd spent probably hundreds of hours on message boards, talking with friends until the sun came up, playing all the ARGs, and rewatching episodes 4 or 5 times to make sure I absorbed every detail, the show was just no longer for me.

I still stand beside the first 3 seasons ( and "The Variable" in season 5, a brilliant self-contained time-travel tale) as some of the best TV I've ever seen, but they lost their way, hard. They may not have known the answers to the mysteries they were writing, and in a way that's forgivable. But they also didn't know where the characters were going, so unfortunately they just went nowhere.