On TV, sometimes it’s cast changes — the actor playing the character I most identified with or loved leaves, a new character I loathe joins the show and takes it over, sidelining the characters I liked. Sometimes the focus of a series changes — a supporting character gets a lot of buzz and starts taking over, sidelining the original main character, a previously non-romantic or just subplot romantic series goes full-on soap opera so that it’s all about who’s with whom, a more procedural series gets bogged down in story arcs, the overall tone gets darker.
The darkness thing is a huge issue in series. There are very few long-running series in books, TV, or movies that don’t get progressively darker as they go on. I think some of it comes down to the overall attitude that dark automatically=good, and writers who crave critical acclaim will go darker in an attempt to be taken seriously. There’s also the issue of raising stakes. When a series has been running for a long time, it’s hard for the characters to face bigger challenges without going a lot darker and more serious, especially if the characters have been allowed to grow and change and learn from their experiences. On TV, there’s the issue that actors tend to prefer playing dark. That gives them a lot more to work with. Many actors got into acting because they wanted to play with being someone different than themselves, and playing dark is a way to do that. Being a nice person doesn’t feel enough like acting. And there’s that credibility thing. You don’t win as many awards in dramas for playing good, hero-like characters. I’ve dropped a few series when my fun, quirky romps turned into slogs through misery. Or, if I’m still really invested and curious, I may skim to find out what happens or watch as background noise without paying too much attention.
Another issue I’m seeing a lot of lately is the attempt to go for the shock factor. Writers have become so terrified of spoilers that they start to consider it to be a spoiler if audiences figure something out on their own, so the writers try to throw in shocking twists that no one could have predicted, even if they’re discussing online and swapping theories with other fans. The problem is that it’s really, really hard to have a shocking twist that’s both shocking and that makes sense, so that after the shocking twist you can look back and see how it’s set up and how the seeds were there all along. Most of the time, in order to get shocking, the writers just pull random things out of thin air, making the characters act out of character with no explanation for why they were driven to do something that drastic. It’s a popular writing exercise to think of something your character would never do and find the motivation that might make them do it, but the trick there is to find that motivation, and that’s usually what’s lacking in these twists. Writers are writing to get Twitter reaction, not for story logic or to create something that’s satisfying viewing. I think a lot of my “um, no” giving upon series has had to do with this shocking twist trend.
I believe that’s what killed Grimm (along with trying to do story arcs and not doing them very well). They did some things that were, in fact, shocking, but they were so far from what had been established for these characters and so far from anything you’d expect any person to do that the audience reaction seems to have been a big “NOPE,” the ratings tanked, and the show got canceled. They’ve reverted to form in the last season and the episodes have been much better (though still stuck with the situations created by the shocking twists), but it’s too late to recover.
There was another one of those shocking twists recently, one that wasn’t that shocking just because those writers keep repeating themselves and it was obvious what the shocking twist was going to be from the moment that plot thread came up. For a moment, I thought they were going to shock us and not do it, but yeah, they did it, and all I could do was groan and roll my eyes.
So, my books may never really surprise anyone in a big way. I’m pleased if you manage to put together the clues and figure it out for yourself. I just hope I never make anyone hurl a book against a wall.