Supernatural and the Art of the Story Arc

Supernatural is currently my favorite TV show. I am partway through Season 10. The surprise is to me is that Supernatural has never let me down. Sustaining a long TV series with quality and interest is very analogous in my mind to a band producing a long string of excellent CDs. Both seem incredibly difficult to do. Writers–just like songwriters–hit a point where they are tempted to pander to their audience, or repeat their past successes, consciously or subconsciously yoking their creativity to a model that was once fresh and tenuous but has become a formula. For me, Supernatural is the Rush of TV. (I like every Rush CD from 1976 to 1997, the longest such run of any band I know.)

A lot could be said (or argued) about how such rare successes in longevity of writing quality are achieved. Supernatural seemed to figure out early on that bigger is not necessarily better. After the increasingly apocalyptic arc of seasons 1 through 5, Supernatural risked going back to a more episodic, smaller scale season 6. I actually enjoyed it more than 5 for precisely that reason. They took the risk that their world and their central characters were inherently interesting enough to work without pending global catastrophe. Impending catastrophe can become a cliche, a cheap trick. It reminds me of what I consider a cliche in many books and movies: the narrative tension of separating two lovers, only to reunite them seconds before the story wraps up. I love Lois McMaster Bujold for leaving her lovers Dag and Fawn together (gasp!) for long, long sections of her Sharing Knife series. Ordinary relationships can actually be interesting, without forced disaster looming over them. Supernatural placed similar trust in its characters–and in us.

The magic of Supernatural is a combination of diverse elements that seems to never get old: the endless road trip, the theme of family loyalty, the unexpected and humorous revelation that angels are more or less jerks, the philosophical struggle over whether a monster can be redeemed, the hilarious Supernatural fandom within the show itself that threatens to demolish the fourth wall. A perfect blend of elements that be rotated and recombined.

Being able to follow long series on Netflix in fast time (ten years of Supernatural in 11 months of late night watching) has been an unexpected gift to me as a writer. I hope I can do as well with my 540,000 word novel series as it moves (soon) past the 2,000 page mark.

One Comments

  • Buck August 5, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for this. highly interesting.

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