There is a time for everything . . . a time to plant and a time to uproot . . . a time to tear down and a time to build. Ecclesiastes 3:1-3
I watch a certain show on Tuesdays (or at least I did until the season finale) where everything is in an upheaval. This show dovetails with a series of popular superhero movies. That should be enough of a hint for you to guess which show I mean. If you’re still at sea, feel free to ask me in the comments which show I mean, especially if you don’t live in this country and might not know. But I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, since the show is current. Suffice it to say that a major upset has taken place and the characters are putting the pieces back together.
That makes for good TV, right? It’s like when we were kids. We liked to build huge block towers only to knock them down and see what happens in the aftermath. Or, we wanted other people to build huge block towers while we had the satisfaction of knocking them down. That’s conflict. Shock, destruction, and chaos add up to a great season finale. Who didn’t reel when **SPOILER (and you’ll have to scroll past the next two pictures)** Captain Jean-Luc Picard had been assimilated into the Borg and called himself Locutus in the third season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Yes, I’m reaching way back. And maybe you were in diapers when the show aired so that reference means nothing to you. But the Borg were the enemies of the Federation. Picard belonged to the Federation.
Picard as Locutus **END SPOILER**
Overturns occur quite often in books, especially in some trilogies featuring a relationship between a hero/heroine and a would-be love interest. In book 1, which I think of as The Chase, two individuals dance around each other for 90 percent of the book until finally they get a happily ever after (or HEA) of sorts. In book 2, The Separation, the HEA is overturned. In book 3, The Renewal, the plot builds toward the couple swooning over each other again.
As much as I like a good overturn with organizations crumbling and cities in chaos, my skeptical button lights up when an overturn is presented on the page or on the screen, especially if the destruction is widespread. I wonder, Can the writers/producers/trained cats reconstruct to a satisfying degree what they’ve destroyed? I’m not saying the reconstruction always has to be like Bruce Wayne’s vow to rebuild Wayne Manor “brick for brick”—exactly the way it was—at the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005; script by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer)—thus ensuring that the world is exactly the same. (Okay, yeah, that’s a spoiler too.) Nothing is ever quite the same after a major upheaval. Think of the shape of our world after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 or the aftermath of a disaster like a hurricane.
Authors like J. K. Rowling and TV series creators/writers like J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5), Michael Dante DiMartino (Avatar/Legend of Korra), and Bryan Konietzko (Avatar/Legend of Korra) know that a good plan for a series is paramount. Crafting a satisfying and credible season or a series, with all of the twists, overturns, and reconstruction leading up to its conclusion, takes time.
I’m reminded of the explosions that occur in movies. I recently watched the behind-the-scenes documentaries for Batman Begins for the sixth or seventh time, so the subject is fresh in my mind. Nolan and the effects team discussed how painstaking the planning was for the stunts, particularly the explosions. Once something is blown up, it stays blown up. You don’t get a second chance. But you need to plan for how an explosion will work and what it will change.
Overturns are like those explosions. Upheaval is a game changer. Consider the upheaval of The Avengers movie (2012; directed by Joss Whedon). Every Marvel movie after that has shown the aftermath of that event. So, how do you rebuild after that? What do you keep? What’s gone forever?
With that in mind, I’m issuing this plea to anyone who is in a destruction/reconstruction mode in their stories. I include myself in that plea, since I have a fair amount of destruction in my novel and am sometimes tempted to take the easy way out as I plan the sequel. Fellow authors, you wowed us with the destruction in your works. Now wow us with how you rebuild your world, or barring its destruction (i.e., Earth is blown up), how your surviving characters move on in a satisfying way. Please knock my socks off. I’ll be forever grateful.
Construction sign from kunonet.de. Patrick Stewart as Jean Luc Picard/Locutus from fanpop.com and arachnoid.com. Earth blowing up image from sodahead.com. Avengers image from wallpaperhd.co.