To compare these two storytelling styles, I like to contrast Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland movie with an excellent anime, Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
In Alice, the solution was stated so early that - in my mind - it removed all suspense, mystery and dramatic tension.
The moment the characters claim that Alice must use the Vorpal Blade to slay the Jabberwocky, it's obvious that that's what's going to happen. I don't even think it's worth putting a spoiler tag on it; it's just that cut and dried.
They didn't even bother trying to hide it, put a twist on it, or include additional requirements to get a happy ending. Solution stated, solution implemented, and that's it.
As you may be starting to notice, it didn't exactly blow my socks off.
What could they have done differently, to make it more interesting?
To illustrate how a writer can make the plot more surprising and interesting, while not being so cagey or sparse with the details that the audience gets bored or feels like you're deliberately holding out on them, I'll turn to the example of Madoka Magica.
Who is this mystery magical girl, what is she fighting, and what is the strange, alien creature that seems to know so much about the situation?
Will Madoka accept its offer and change the city's fate by becoming a magical girl, and what will happen if she does?
Before these questions can be answered, Madoka wakes up, and believes it was all nothing more than a strange dream... but a few scenes later, that same magical girl shows up in her classroom as a transfer student, and the creature can be seen spying on her while she's at school.
Nothing about this reveals the solution to the plot, the reason why magical girls and the witches they battle against exist, or why the transfer student seems so intent upon watching Madoka and giving her cryptic warnings.
It does, however:
- Give us a premise that's immediately interesting.
- Raise questions without obviously and needlessly holding back details.
- Offer an immediate threat - the witches - without telling us about the big-picture plot and resolution.
- Give the protagonists an immediate goal - learning about witches and magical girls, and countering witch attacks on their loved ones.
- Offer the characters a dilemma: will they accept the contract and become magical girls, resigning themselves to a life of battle, danger and loneliness in exchange for one granted wish?
As you can probably see, there's a very good reason why I consider this anime to be a great model for how to start a story.
How could all this have applied to the other tale I mentioned?
If Alice in Wonderland had had Alice fall down the rabbit hole, but then left her to wonder why Underland was in such a bad state, and required her to figure it out and seek a solution as she went, it might have been much more intriguing and memorable.
As it was, I couldn't help but feel like it was just going through the motions.
What's your opinion on predictable plot outcomes, and on the stories I used as examples?
Do you prefer it when the solution is a mystery for the characters to solve, or when the solution is obvious but difficult to implement?
Did the explanation I gave of Madoka's approach help you to make the start of your stories more intriguing, while maintaining a degree of mystery?
I look forward to your comments.