Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Shallow Depth

Y'know, I say that I don't like talking about stories I haven't written, but I have to bring this up, because it's relevant. This week I was doing a lot of work on some Duke Forever "Two-Thirds" story stuff. I won't say what, it's spoilery, but that's kind of the point. It's stuff for Volume Two, the next one, and it's ages away, but I'm working on it now because there's a lot of research and world building that I have to do in order for the story to be what I want it to be, so that it's an in-depth, interesting world for my characters to play around in.
So, lately, I have been getting really fucking annoyed with a few stories which seem really deep, but in actual fact aren't. The Word of the Day is: 'FAÇADE'

Façade /fə'sahd/ n. 1. Architecture A face or front, or the main face, of a building. 2. An appearance, especially a misleading one: Behind his façade of generosity he hides a cruel nature. Also, facade.

Of late, my girlfriend's been fascinated with a game series known as "Five Nights at Freddy's". There are two games so far, there will almost certainly be a third, but she found it really scary and has had this morbid fascination with it for a while now; trying to understand it and make sense of it.
This is just because she's not written or experienced much in the ways of the horror genre before and she wants to explore that more, so I also had a little look into it, to see what all the fuss is about (and hopefully, quiet some of her fears). When I looked into the two games, I thought the gameplay was lame and the scares were cheap. But when I looked at the story, I was quite fascinated. There seemed to be this whole, in-depth tale of past tragedy, corruption, curses, death & secrets. So, I looked into it as well as some of the fan theories. I was trying to figure out what the story was, and hopefully make sense of it all in my mind - I had to make sense of it.
But after doing a lot of research, do you know what I found? Nothing.

It was all too vague, and deliberately so. Everything was calculated solely to give vague implications towards a coherent story with just enough disjointed threads to make it impossible to put together, to keep people guessing while never giving a firm grasp of the answer. That's when I realized, it was all fake.
I do think that the game creator wants a creepy story, and that he's trying hard to gel it all in his head. But there isn't one - not at time of writing anyway - he's making it all up as he goes along, and only giving vague hints because if he did have a story, then it would be a thing that exists, stagnant and unchanging, and it wouldn't be as scary. That isn't a bad thing necessarily, it's ingenious to manage something like that; but it's not what I wanted. It's not a story.
Just like the gameplay and the scares, in 5N@F the story, too, is just a cheap ploy.

Of course, maybe there is a story and I'm just not trying hard enough to see it - but even if that's the case, this isn't the first story to do this!

LOST, famously, has one of the most convoluted plots in existence. Because of all the twists and turns, it was hard to figure out where, what and why the island is. Now, I've not seen the show and this is just a guess, but it's a guess as to the ending and it's pretty accurate, so if you're watching it currently, skip to the next paragraph - SPOILERS ahoy - as I know, even despite my lack of watching the show, that this is another case of "everyone died, they're in purgatory". I haven't seen the show, but I know that's the case. Do you know why? Because everything that happened is just too weird. You can't have the twists, the turns, the monsters, the secrets and the gambits in the real world, the dreamlike aspects and the miracles leaves only one logical conclusion - they're in an illogical place.

Just like with Five Nights, they were just using cheap tricks, throwing in more mysteries and obscure clues and weirdness until it was impossible for it to be anything but what it was. It wasn't a 'deep' story, it was just using tricks to pretend there was more to it when there wasn't. They made it up as they went along, and ended up with a convoluted mess that even fans of the show say lead to a lot of unanswered questions.

Or, the absolute worst of the worst Adventure Time. I really don't like this stupid show. Everything is random, it's trying to be surreal and it's trying to be funny. And sure, I get that; it's not my thing, but I get that and in a perfect world it would exist over in some other place away from me where fans could enjoy it and I'm not bothered by it.
But see, I was suckered in. I wanted to watch the show because I heard about this whole secret "behind the Land of Ooo" mystery. It's not even a spoiler to say that the Land of Ooo is supposed to be some kind of Earth-like analogue, which changed after an apocalypse. That sounded really cool and I wanted to know more about that, so I watched quite a bit of the show, to see it and enjoy this cool, deeper story about the apocalypse.
However, like with the other two examples, it was all just lies. The apocalypse thing is nothing more or less than "war, death, everyone dies." There's no mystery behind it, and worst of all, the show isn't about it at all. The show would rather make fart jokes. There are one or two episodes that deal with the apocalypse, but they don't make the story any better. because it's still just surface details. Nothing deeper, nothing solid that I can really enjoy because it doesn't explain why or how they created the world, or what it means.

The part that frustrates me the most is that, in all of these examples, they put in effort. These creators care a lot about their works, and they made the show they wanted to make and everyone involved put in effort to craft these shallow examples of depth. But, still, all that effort was wasted, because you can't fake depth; not really. The reason I like layered, multi-faceted stories with history and background details and a functional world is because I want to explore them, I want to know more. So if the depth is faked then, well, like Wile E. Coyote running at the painted tunnel, I run smack-bang, face-first into the lie when I try to dig deeper.

So, in the end, I guess what I want to say with this blog post is, if you're trying to create your own story and your own world, you really have to put in the proper, hard yards to make a multi-faceted, in-depth, intriguing world and story.
Of course, some of this does work. I mean, LOST, despite it's flaws, does have a lot of depth of character and Adventure Time serves the needs of its audience; and there's a good chance these people weren't trying to make something meaningful, maybe they weren't trying to create meticulously constructed worlds and stories. But I don't appreciate their efforts towards implying depth, when there is none. It just feels like a smack in the face. So if your story is shallow, don't pretend it isn't. A shallow story isn't a bad story. But a story that lies to its audience is much harder to redeem.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, think deep, readers; and think big.


  1. I'm glad that I'm not the only person boggled by Adventure Time and its focus on the bizarre rather than on storytelling.

    The big problem with a storyline is that it can become too complex when the author knows the answer, and has the wrong medium by which to convey the complexity. Harry Potter worked better as a book series than a film series, because JKR had the freedom to incorporate little details that keen readers could pick up later. Maybe FNAF needs a novelization that fills all the holes, someone to answer the player's questions.

    1. Indeed. One of the complaints about movie adaptations of books, like Twilight and Divergent, is that you're no longer hearing the inner monologue of the characters, so while they're captivating in the books with their running internal commentary, that introversion in the movies comes off as blandness.
      In essence, it forces them to seem shallow.


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