Why Connecting the Dots is Dangerous
One aspect of writing is being able to fit all the pieces together. Whatever type of story you have, each section needs to flow into the next, to feel organic and real. But writers need be wary of connecting the dots too well.
The reason this causes a problem harkens back to the old adage, which I’ve mentioned before, that mankind has been retelling the same basic stories for years. While this might not be entirely true, there are certainly examples of familiar stories. A slasher film, for example, can often hit the same plot points in different films. Or a romantic comedy about certain types of people, or even a dramatic sports story. Because of the familiarity we have with these archetypes, we can often predict what is going to happen next.
So why is this bad? Because it makes the stories boring. While writers need a story to fit together, they need to find new ways to bring the pieces together, or the audience will be bored. We’ve all been to a theatre where someone starts yelling out plot points which turn out to be true. It also tends to pop up more in sequels- I happen to be a horror fan and have watched the first four installments of Friday the 13th. The first one does an excellent job setting up the formula of summer camp, sexy teens and stabbing, and the second continues and adds to the story. However, the third and fourth are not truly connected to the first two, and simply repeat the story without adding anything to it. This makes them fell dull and perfunctory, and rob them of any sense of tension and suspense. Even successes can be guilty of this- the first Eragon novel contains several points familiar to Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings fans, while one of my favorites, the Sword of Shannara, often reads like a condensed version of LOTR.
So what can be done to avoid this? One of my strongest endorsements to writers has always been to study the genre they want to write in, and learn how it works. However, understanding how it works also means you understand how it can be tinkered with. Writers need to find twists and little tweaks that can make a tired story seem different. For example, Silence of the Lambs is a classic serial killer drama, but its most memorable character is Hannibal Lector, another killer that manages to gain the reader’s respect, fear, and even a degree of sympathy. That makes the story stand out, because we find ourselves intrigued by Lector as well as the murder. Many of the great Twilight Zone episodes also do this, such as the classic “The Monsters are Due on Maple St.” where strange power outages cause the neighbors of a middle America street to turn on each other in paranoia. However, instead of an overly shameful or preachy ending, we see the outages are a test by aliens, who are testing how easy it will be to divide mankind and take over. This leaves us not only shamed by our collective distrust and paranoia, but also aware of how dangerous it can be. And that leaves a lot more impact then connecting dots to form a cat.