Jumping the Shark: Knowing When to Say ‘The End’

“I loved Grey’s Anatomy until I realised I hate it.”

A friend of mine and I were discussing our favourite television programmes recently when she came out with that little gem. Then we were off on a rant about how shows can start so well, be so compelling and then one evening as you settle into the couch you realise that you don’t even like your favourite programme anymore.

  • Grey’s Anatomy went from being a comedy/drama about a young woman struggling to both fulfill and reject her familial legacy to a mess of explosions, mass shootings, plane crashes, natural disasters and anything else that could hike up drama to obscure the lack of plot.
  • 24 went from the story of a day in the life of a counterintelligence agent pushing the boundaries to stop a terrorist attack to the same thing, over and over and over again.
  • The Inbetweeners went from the coming of age story of four boys at school to…oh, wait. That’s exactly what it was.

People often lament that US television shows go on for too long and fizzle out whereas UK programmes ‘leave the viewers wanting more.’ But do we actually want more? I think not.

We may feel we want more, because Tuesday nights just won’t be the same without the characters we have come to love. Because we crave more of the laughs or the tears or the shocks the writers have delivered. But what we really love is the story. And it’s important to know when a story is over.

In Grey’s Anatomy, the story is: will the aspiring surgeon succeed or will she fall prey to her inner demons? She’s succeeded. She’s a surgeon, she’s got the guy, they’ve built the house of their dreams, she’s triumphed over difficulties in getting pregnant, for goodness sakes, she even owns the hospital now. The answer is there. The story is over. A long time over.

24 was a great premise: one day, 24 hours and the problem that one character faces in that time. Except then they did it again and again, year after year with the same protagonist and the same problem. That’s not a story, there is no character development when the protagonist just repeats the same actions every season. Plus, it’s just ridiculous that one character would single-handedly need to resolve that many terrorist attacks, and all in exactly 24 hours.

And, now, we come to hailed success stories like The Inbetweeners and How I Met Your Mother. Why do these shows work? Because they have limited scope. There is a point when they end. The inbetweener boys finish school and Ted, presumably meets his kids’ mother.

All this to say that it is time for me to jump the shark. It has been a great year for me on No Dead White Men. I have enjoyed working with all the tutors, with our outgoing MFA director, Scott Bradfield, and my talented and dedicated cohort colleagues who took time out to write fantastic articles all year. They have written about varied topics from translation to procrastination, from teaching to reading and everything in between.

As we move on and a new cohort steps in, we think about beginning new scenes, new projects and bringing the old ones to a close. Because those endings are so very important and the ending is the hardest part to write because, in many ways, it defines the whole story.

So we’re going to end simply, with a thank you for reading and a hope that we haven’t gone on quite long enough to make you hate us.

Don’t forget to keep visiting No Dead White Men as it is taken over by the 2013/2014 MFA cohort and they tell their own, new story. I am sure they will be fantastic and have lots of interesting thoughts to share.

Thank you all for your loyal readership and support.

Your faithful 2012/2013 Editor,

Sinéad Keegan

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A Book Buying Excuse

Books Are My Bag

Because there’s nothing we love more than a good book. The smell of its new pages, freshly glued together. That unbroken spine. Those unbattered corners. Those unsullied margins.

Doesn’t it all make you want to go to your nearest independent bookstore, pull a lovely, new book off the shelves and bring it home with you?

Well, today is the perfect day to do just that. Today is the Big Bookshop Party. This party celebrates the launch of the Books Are My Bag campaign, which aims to support and save high street bookshops. Stores across the country will be celebrating today and are encouraging book lovers to get off of Amazon and get into their local store to buy a book.

There are lots of events going on, so find your local, participating bookshop and enjoy the day. You can even take part in a competition to win book tokens, books and get on a bookmark.

 

CANCELLED: Writer’s Cafe at the Rose Theatre 08 October 2013

We regret to inform you that the final Writer’s Cafe, scheduled for the 8th of October, has been cancelled. Do watch this space, though, for more events with writers and opportunities to share your work!

Learning to Quit Books

Sinéad Keegan is an Irish-born writer in the final year of her MFA at Kingston and currently writing her first novel. Her short stories and poetry and have been published in several magazines and she blogs at www.sineadkeegan.com. Twitter: @sineadkeegan. She is the editor of No Dead White Men and recently taught a course in blogging and social media for Kingston Writing School.

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In the true spirit of blogging, I am going to make a confession.

It will perhaps come as no surprise that I have always loved reading. I devoured all the assigned books when I was in school. I loved many of them, disliked some of them but read all of them. While my classmates bought Cliff’s Notes for Crime and Punishment, I wrapped myself in Dostoyevsky’s language. When they watched the film of Great Expectations, I sought out more of Dickens’s novels. I read anything and everything I put my hand to and never quit. Real readers don’t quit.

So, for many years now I have lived with the great shame of not having finished Gulliver’s Travels. I was sixteen when it was assigned to me and I hated it. I read Lilliput and just thought it was unbelievably dull. This, from a teenager who counted The Return of the Native among her favourite books.

Until just this year it was the only book I’d ever failed to finish. But I have a new outlook now. I was having a chat with science fiction novelist Christopher Priest this spring when he mentioned that he only reads books that he loves. When I explained my guilt-reading, he squashed the idea firmly. He said that there are a finite number of books that you can read in your lifetime so you had better be sure you enjoy the reading that you do.

Reading had previously seemed an infinite activity. So many books and all the days in the world to spend curled up with them. Suddenly, I was aware of my literary mortality. He had me calculate the number of books I could possibly read if I kept reading at my current pace and lived to eighty. He assured me you slow down as you age, so the number was optimistic. My best case scenario number is 3,000. At first glance, this seems enormous, but surely there are more than 3,000 great books that I would love.

I take Chris’s point. In fact, he’s absolutely right and I’ve quit two books since I had that conversation. But I still hear that nagging voice urging me to persevere. The conflict rages. One of the books I’m claiming to have quit is still sitting on the end table in my “to read” pile with a bookmark at page 212. I’m less than halfway through, but I still devoted hours to struggling through a book that I genuinely dislike. I should have quit at page 1. The problem is that it came highly recommended by a dear friend and excellent novelist. In over a decade, she has never steered me wrong on books, so I tell myself that I just need to give this book another thirty pages or another twenty or just one more chapter.

I tell myself that the recommendation is the problem, but that’s not true. The problem is the guilt. I don’t want to be a person who leaves books unfinished. A reading quitter. So I remind myself that I am only reading the glorious novel I am right now because I have put that other one aside.

Now, before everyone gets all up in arms about the value of reading what you don’t like, relax. I know exactly why I don’t like this book and I’ll try not to do those things in my writing. Proper, intellectual, writer-ly activity done. Now I’m moving on to great literature that I also love. I feel confident I’m learning more from that than I would from wading through another 300 pages of a story and writing that I hate.

So, I give unto you all the permission to read widely, read voraciously, read what you love, quit what you don’t like and to do it all guilt free. Count how many books you hopefully have left in your life and spend that number wisely!

Let us know in the comments section what your book number is and what’s at the top of your “must read” list!

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