Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Goldfinch vs Downton Abbey

I really enjoy the great BBC miniseries, such as Downton Abbey and Selfridge. I know many people accept that fact that they are really just extremely high-class soap operas, but I don't. I think they could do better.

A characteristic of the soap opera genre is a huge number of plot twists. That is a big part, I guess, of what keeps people hooked on daily dramas, for months and years on end. And while sprawling, multi-character stories such as Downton Abbey will always have lots of plotlines and subplots to work with, I think fewer would be better..The surprises cease to be surprising--while the audience may not be able to guess exactly what direction the twist takes, they can usually predict the twist well before it arrives.

Closely related to the high number of plot twists is the implausibility. There are so many, and they come so fast, that most of the time, there is not enough set-up done. "Hand of God"appears with annoying frequency, to sweep the story in the necessary direction. Very unfulfilling, to me.

I recently read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. In the exposition of the book, she spends more than 20 pages, painstakingly fleshing out the improbable, so that is it no longer implausible. She spends many more pages setting up that incident, and then connecting it seamlessly with the rest of the plot.

Now I'll agree that the genre of a traditional novel is much different than a multi-year miniseries. The former will be much more linear. My only point is that if the miniseries cut the plot twists by half, and spent more time refining those that remain, the result would be much more satisfying, in the long-term.

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