The GeeksverseThe Foundations of Storytelling

The Foundations of Storytelling
Published on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 by

I’ve been watching and enjoying The Cape. It’s a good new show. But it’s not doing well in the ratings. This led me to wonder why shows that are just variations of the same thing become such success and new and different shows like The Cape do not.

How many shows out there follow the same formula and even the same idea? How many Law & Orders, NCIS, CSI and medical shows are there? And why are they so popular? Variations of the same theme.

All stories need a foundation. This is where the story comes from, the basics that create the world. In can be something as simple as “cops in the city solve crimes” to something even more complex.

Something that those formula shows have in common is a solid foundation. The foundation never changes. The various members of the “team” may change, but each week the story starts from the same point.

A show like The Cape has a shifting foundation. There’s a point where the story starts from and then continues from there, never stopping.

The major difference between a solid foundation and a shifting is that you know what you’re getting with the solid. With a shifting each season will be something different. The conflict in the Cape now, between him and Chess, can’t last into multiple season, it grows weaker with each episode and eventually must reach a resolution. When that resolution is reached, and a new one created, then the process starts over again.

Do people want to invest in a show that will have to change?

With something like Law & Order, a viewer knows what each season will be like. They know what to expect. They know that what they enjoy about the show won’t change.

In some cases that can be boring. But with strong writing it can work.

The shifting can lose viewers with too much change, when the conflict that drew them to the show in the first place is changed. But with strong writing that can still work, it just has less of a chance as no matter how good the writing is some people will inevitably leave.

When The Cape faces off against Chess and wins, some viewers won’t be back to see what happens next. The thing that drew them to the show won’t be there. Will they care as much about the next chapter?

It’s an interesting question.

There’s nothing wrong with either story but one allows for continuous stories to be told year after year. The other asks for an ending. I think that’s why Lost did well, it was still a shifting foundation (to an extent, as the basics of the show remained), but it was announced that there would be an end. People knew to expect change each season as they knew the show would progress to an inevitable conclusion. They knew they could invest in the show. They knew that it would change, but not enough that the core they enjoyed would be altered significantly. The core would still be there just added to.

Something like The Cape? The core has to change. Instinctively, I think people understand that. So why would they want to invest themselves in something that will end and they may not like what happens next?

Look at the longest running comics, the major status quo remains the same from day one. Superman, Batman, Captain America, Avengers, etc.. All have solid foundations.

Then look at something like the latest attempt at a Namor comic. What is the foundation? It opens with an arc directly tied into Curse of the Mutants. That’s a definate shifting foundation. What is the reason for the books existence? You can’t build an ongoing off one story arc. There needs to be a foundation that gives the book a reason to exist.

A shifting foundation can be a good story but for an ongoing to truly work it needs a more solid foundation beneath it.

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