I think one of the best ways to learn in life is by watching what others do. Why waste your time inventing something that’s already been done? To that end, this is how I viewed Lost. The show was very interesting, and a pioneer in many ways. From a storytelling standpoint, I learned many do’s and don’ts.
It’s easy to knock the show, especially in it’s final season, but there was a lot of good that came before it. I had the benefit of watching the show nearly completely through as I went through the first 5 seasons in about 2 weeks (it was summer break… don’t judge). Then it was a short wait until season 6 started in the spring.
The show constantly enticed the viewers to continue watching by introducing new mysteries on a near weekly basis. This is both good and bad. Resolution is just as important. Many of the things introduced in the first season weren’t answer until years later, or never at all. Lost was incredibly popular when it started, but lead to many abandoning the show out of frustration. I can easily see why.
This how I think it should work. Lost is essential 6 acts (seasons). Within the first we introduce say 10 mysteries. Some right away, others over time. The first enigma could be something really left field, or small that builds, but isn’t answered until the very end of the show. This usually works well. By the end of the first act though, about 8 of the initial 10 need to be answered. Viewers/readers need that satisfaction or else they feel like they’ve wasted their time. Now, that doesn’t mean the answers can’t introduce new puzzles, compounding the original, but at least the initial question was answered. The remaining question is something that could be the climax of the act/season; a problem at the forefront for our protagonists to confront, carrying over into the next part (season cliff hanger). Mysteries can build within a story, but if we’re still asking the same questions 4, 5, 6 seasons in, that could easily annoy instead of entertain. I could write pages about this concept alone, and probably will in the future.
One thing Lost did incredibly well was an excellent bait and switch in season 4. People are stubborn, and usually don’t know what is good. We put labels on things to help categorize, not for quick snapshot judgements. Lost is very much a sci-fi show. Sadly, calling it so puts a bad taste in people’s mouths. Transformers (while it has many, many problems), is a sci-fi movie, but it’s never called that openly, and people saw it in droves. Season 4 of Lost finally showed it’s cards by introducing time travel. If you have no intrest in Lost, I implore you to at least watch “The Constant.” It is easily one of the best episodes of TV, ever. By not coming out of the gate with these concepts, they tricked people who would normally avoid sci-fi or genre shows into broadening their horizons. How horrible.
I can’t have a post about Lost without talking about the ending. The writers freely admitted they didn’t know where the story was heading, and in the end, it showed. I believe in holding nothing back when writing. Sure, somethings don’t fit so we put them aside, but if it works, add it. The inclusion would only make your story better. Unless it’s only a half baked concept. I’ve talked before about how the ending should have it’s ground work laid out in the opening; but Lost fails at this. Many plot threads were left open simply because they didn’t have the answers themselves. Much like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, not every question needs an answer, but at least 80% of your 200+ mysteries do.
Always know where you’re going. Your ending doesn’t have to be perfect, you’ll never please everyone; but it needs to be the right ending for the story. There have been plenty of endings I didn’t like; on further reflection I’ve come to find I was more upset that the story ended or forlorn because the finale was melancholy, not because it was poorly constructed.
Has a story left you completely hanging? Was it Lost? Learn any lessons from it? Comment or tweet!