At the end of Episode Three of the Phil Phorce story, I made a rather large mistake. In the latter half of the episode, the group of main characters infiltrated a party to which they were not exactly invited in order to stop an abduction. They succeeded– or so they thought. In the next scene, they realized they had failed.
It didn’t work. In theory, it should have. In an outline, it would have looked perfect, even though I didn’t outline that episode. It should have worked. In fact, I just saw a television show episode in which the same thing happened, but it worked perfectly. (That’s why I’m writing this.) Everything seemed to succeed until the end, where a plot twist knocked everyone out of their seats, forcing them to wait for the next season of the show.
So why did theirs work and not mine?
Obviously, since it worked in my head before I wrote those scenes, it should have worked on paper. It didn’t, which means something went wrong somewhere in the writing of the scenes.
So what happened?
The main feedback I got on that ending was that it was an anticlimax. The story had been working toward this single end– stopping the abduction– but it wasn’t what the audience expected. It was too easy.
Therein lies my difficulty, I suppose. It was too easy. I thought, in order to give the right contrast, I needed to show a clear victory just before an epic failure. But a clear victory doesn’t mean an easy victory. In fact, with the skepticism that comes from being fooled time and time again, readers won’t accept an easy victory as what it appears. They know stuff. They aren’t idiots, even if the writers seem like gods in comparison with the wimpy mortals who must experience our stories. They might be powerless to change anything that happens, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t smart.
So, therefore, my problem lies in underestimating the audience. I assumed everyone would stand up and cheer at an easy victory, but that isn’t the way to fool them. That isn’t the way to make the right contrast.
If my problem was that the victory was too easy, then to make the right contrast I need to make the victory harder to come by. With all the things I say about plot twists and foiling the protagonist’s plans again and again, I should know this. The only way to make a victory seem authentic in fiction is to make it hard. After all, your level of success is determined by the difficulty of the journey. If Bill’s refrigerator is well-stocked, how tremendous is his victory when he finally slaps that piece of bread on the top of his sandwich? How rewarding is that sandwich when he finally sinks his teeth into it? It isn’t rewarding. Perhaps if he had fought enemies aplenty and journeyed far and wide to find the Mayonnaise Spreader of the Apocalypse, he would enjoy that sandwich like he earned it. If it’s easy to come by, it seems… easy.
If I wanted to do that contrast correctly, I should have done it like the TV show did it– lots of suspense, lots of self-sacrifice, lots of explosions. I should have made it harder, and therefore made the victory credible for the audience.
Well, better luck next time, I guess.