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Old May 19th 09, 16:06   #1
squish
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Does any tv series / book saga / movie saga achieve B5's plot structure?

I hope this doesn't sound pluggy, I'm honestly just trying to start an interesting discussion topic... but I'm an aspiring novelist and one of my most inspiring writers is JMS--in particular for his brilliant execution of the idea of an entire saga with a story arc rather than episode to episode or year to year or book to book--and I wanted to know what other people thought of how unique his style was compared to everything else and how it could be improved. B5 is the only TV series I can think of that ever even attempted a solid, structured, pre-planned, beginning-middle-end, overall story arc. Just about every other series ever written goes week to week or year to year (and that goes for most book sagas too!). Tons have some kind of vague plot structure duct-taping along haphazard story lines depending on where the writers decided the plot should head while sipping coffee over lunch break (cough, battlestar, cough), but I can't think of even one off the top of my head that said "THIS IS AN 5-YEAR 110-EPISODE STORY AND IT ENDS LIKE THIS AND IF YOU WANT MORE AFTER THAT TOO DAMN BAD BECAUSE IT'S ALL OVER NOW CUZ THAT'S WHAT 'PLOT' MEANS."

The tragedy of having to wrap up so much of the structured B5 plot a year early then doing "Life after B5" for the fifth year to me demonstrated how good the idea could have been if it was given full faith instead of only 4/5ths achieved (or less if you consider JMS could hae done much better if someone had supported the project from the beginning with a normal budget). I can't even think of another instance on TV in which such a concept was achieved to that extent. Even in sci-fi/fantasy novels this isn't done much... Here's a young prodigy who saves the galaxy, END. Oh wait, my book sold! Okay... now heee's... on a remote planet 537 years in the future! Okay, noowww they gotta build a time warp tardis and find some other stuff to do cuz there's nothin' goin' on anymore because I only prepared for one book and now you want four...

Pratchett wrote in the forward to the first Discworld book: "Since this is a reprint by popular demand--gosh--of the first book in a series that will, eventually, contain at least ten [(there are 36 now)], there's a very good chance that you already know what happens after this book, which is more than I did when I wrote it. / Discworld is not a coherent fantasy world. Its geography is fuzzy, its chronology is unreliable...." Imagine if Pratchett had planned for 36 books. I'm trying to do something like that, to apply an overall structure to prose (particular comedic prose like Discworld / Hitchhikers) in the way that JMS did to TV, and I'm wondering if anyone feels there are any comparable examples in any fiction or tv or movies or books anywhere out there that attempted or achieved something similar to the brilliant overall structure of B5....?

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Old May 19th 09, 16:39   #2
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Re: Does any tv series / book saga / movie saga achieve B5's plot structure?

It's animated, so it's easy to be dismissed, but Avatar The Last Airbender was written with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. There are events foreshadowed in season one, including one particularly subtly that I didn't even realize until I read someone online point it out complete with a screencap, that don't occur until season two and three. The characters were designed to have definitive growth arcs to occur over the course of the story -- which is why the show's creators/exec producers wanted an actual kid to do the voice of the main character so that as they produced the show over the several years it would take to make it, the actor would grow up and his increasingly older voice would audiably mirror the character's growth as a person (though not mirror growth in terms of age itself). And the story was designed to go on for no more than three seasons; there was a specific culminating event that the show ended with that all the episodes of the three seasons were heading toward. There were some more stand-alone-ish episodes, especially in season one as the show was introducing the world and characters, but even a lot of them introduced little pieces of the story world and characters here and there that could initially seem less significant than they ended up being once those characters and locations show up again later in the show.

I don't know if it was intentional or just coincidental, but there's a bit of dialogue in late season two that makes me wonder if there might have been any B5 fans involved with the show: "It’s time for you to look inward and begin asking yourself the big questions: Who are you* and what do you want*?"
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Old May 19th 09, 16:40   #3
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Re: Does any tv series / book saga / movie saga achieve B5's plot structure?

Plenty of book sagas are there, or are getting there. A good fantasy equivalent is the Song of Fire and Ice cycle by George RR Martin, and is talked about elsewhere here a fair bit.

Not sure of any TV series in the sci-fi / fantasy fields. Or elsewhere for that matter. Possibly the Wire.
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Old May 19th 09, 16:41   #4
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Re: Does any tv series / book saga / movie saga achieve B5's plot structure?

Quote:
Originally Posted by squish View Post
I hope this doesn't sound pluggy, I'm honestly just trying to start an interesting discussion topic... but I'm an aspiring novelist and one of my most inspiring writers is JMS--in particular for his brilliant execution of the idea of an entire saga with a story arc rather than episode to episode or year to year or book to book--and I wanted to know what other people thought of how unique his style was compared to everything else and how it could be improved. B5 is the only TV series I can think of that ever even attempted a solid, structured, pre-planned, beginning-middle-end, overall story arc. Just about every other series ever written goes week to week or year to year (and that goes for most book sagas too!). Tons have some kind of vague plot structure duct-taping along haphazard story lines depending on where the writers decided the plot should head while sipping coffee over lunch break (cough, battlestar, cough), but I can't think of even one off the top of my head that said "THIS IS AN 5-YEAR 110-EPISODE STORY AND IT ENDS LIKE THIS AND IF YOU WANT MORE AFTER THAT TOO DAMN BAD BECAUSE IT'S ALL OVER NOW CUZ THAT'S WHAT 'PLOT' MEANS."

The tragedy of having to wrap up so much of the structured B5 plot a year early then doing "Life after B5" for the fifth year to me demonstrated how good the idea could have been if it was given full faith instead of only 4/5ths achieved (or less if you consider JMS could hae done much better if someone had supported the project from the beginning with a normal budget). I can't even think of another instance on TV in which such a concept was achieved to that extent. Even in sci-fi/fantasy novels this isn't done much... Here's a young prodigy who saves the galaxy, END. Oh wait, my book sold! Okay... now heee's... on a remote planet 537 years in the future! Okay, noowww they gotta build a time warp tardis and find some other stuff to do cuz there's nothin' goin' on anymore because I only prepared for one book and now you want four...

Pratchett wrote in the forward to the first Discworld book: "Since this is a reprint by popular demand--gosh--of the first book in a series that will, eventually, contain at least ten [(there are 36 now)], there's a very good chance that you already know what happens after this book, which is more than I did when I wrote it. / Discworld is not a coherent fantasy world. Its geography is fuzzy, its chronology is unreliable...." Imagine if Pratchett had planned for 36 books. I'm trying to do something like that, to apply an overall structure to prose (particular comedic prose like Discworld / Hitchhikers) in the way that JMS did to TV, and I'm wondering if anyone feels there are any comparable examples in any fiction or tv or movies or books anywhere out there that attempted or achieved something similar to the brilliant overall structure of B5....?
TV, not so much. LOST, started out with a premise, and by second half of the first season, they had a vague idea where they were going, just not how long they were going to take to get there. They've done a pretty good job of recovering from their early lack of foresight though, and they have paid off very well some things that were set up early, though some things do show it wasn't completely thought out ahead of time.

Books, Harry Potter author JK Rowling has always maintained she knew exactly where she was going, and upon a second read, you can see that she did plan many things later in the series that she set up in Book 1.

Stephen R. Donaldson writes with a very good idea of where he's going, how he's getting there, and how long it will take, especially with Thomas Covenant series and the GAP Series. On Thomas Covenant he took a 20+ year break between the 2nd trilogy and the current quadrilogy, but, he always intended to write the final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, he just needed to get out of the world for a while.

Can't think of any movie series (that weren't based off of books), at the moment, but, I'm sure there's something out there
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Old May 19th 09, 18:42   #5
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Re: Does any tv series / book saga / movie saga achieve B5's plot structure?

The very nature of the TV and movie business makes it near-impossible to craft such a novel-like story, that's why B5 is such an exception.

Looks like the norm now is season-long arcs, because that's really the only amount of time you're ever guaranteed to actually stay on the air, either at all or at least with most of the actors and writers you'd need.

Sometimes when a show is really successful they'll be guaranteed something longer. Lost was granted two more season last year, so they plotted out the end of the series then, but even a show as complicated as Lost isn't plotted out in large scope from the beginning like B5.

Was the Dominion War and Sisko's big ending plotted from the beginning for DS9? That show might come close to what we're talking about here.
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Old May 19th 09, 19:00   #6
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Re: Does any tv series / book saga / movie saga achieve B5's plot structure?

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Originally Posted by GKarsEye View Post
The very nature of the TV and movie business makes it near-impossible to craft such a novel-like story, that's why B5 is such an exception.

Looks like the norm now is season-long arcs, because that's really the only amount of time you're ever guaranteed to actually stay on the air, either at all or at least with most of the actors and writers you'd need.

Sometimes when a show is really successful they'll be guaranteed something longer. Lost was granted two more season last year, so they plotted out the end of the series then, but even a show as complicated as Lost isn't plotted out in large scope from the beginning like B5.

Was the Dominion War and Sisko's big ending plotted from the beginning for DS9? That show might come close to what we're talking about here.
On LOST, it was actually during S3 that fans were becoming frustrated that it was being stretched, and S3 was where the deal was reached for an end date. So, after S3, a 3 season deal was made, but, as you mention multi-season deals are extremely rare (and Farscape S5 is an example that even those can't always be counted on), and certainly they are never greenlighted for multi-season from Day 1, many don't even amke it half a season.

DS9, I believe the Special Features on the DVD tell us the plotting was done 1-2 seasons in advance for the first half of the series and 2-3 seasons in advance towards the end, so, while changing gears, they did aim for a specific direction, but, still flying by the seat of their pants to a greater degree than B5.
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Old May 19th 09, 19:39   #7
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Re: Does any tv series / book saga / movie saga achieve B5's plot structure?

I actually there's too MUCH "arc" and plotting on TV now. Yes, on B5 it was awesome, but again, that's an exception. Now we get a bunch of series that are just... canceled. It's like the entertainment equivalent of blue balls.
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Old May 19th 09, 20:29   #8
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Re: Does any tv series / book saga / movie saga achieve B5's plot structure?

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I actually there's too MUCH "arc" and plotting on TV now. Yes, on B5 it was awesome, but again, that's an exception. Now we get a bunch of series that are just... canceled. It's like the entertainment equivalent of blue balls.
Yes, Arc'd sseries cancelled before their story is done, is extremely frustrating
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Old May 20th 09, 02:46   #9
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Re: Does any tv series / book saga / movie saga achieve B5's plot structure?

Twin Peaks definitely had a story arc, and things coming out later, that were foreshadowed much earlier. But, it only lasted two years, and was losing its edge well before it ended.
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Old May 20th 09, 03:32   #10
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Re: Does any tv series / book saga / movie saga achieve B5's plot structure?

But Twin Peaks wasn't planned out from the beginning, I'm pretty sure it was mostly made up as it went along. I even don't think they decided who murdered Laura Palmer in the beginning. I mean sure they knew it was "bob" but who he inhabited and the details were probably not decided.

I remember reading the Lynch didn't even want to reveal the murderer until the end of the series.
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