Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Predicting Plot Twists from Time Remaining

Recently, I have found television dramas, both episodic and serial, to be increasingly predictable and boring. This isn't because television writing has suddenly degenerated (though arguably it is of low quality), but rather, due to the constraints of the format. What I'm talking about is the time that an episode, or series, has to fit into.

Consider an episodic show. The story can only include a fixed number of twists before coming to a resolution. If we know the amount of time remaining before the end of the program, then this actually provides us with additional information about the plot. Clearly, the show cannot be over with half an hour remaining! In a mystery, if a suspect is revealed with 5 minutes left on the clock, he is most probably the true criminal, as compared to 20 minutes left, where there may be one or two twists to uncover.

For serials, the same rule applies, except that we judge the potential plot twists by the number of episodes remaining. Suppose the antagonist repents with 5 episodes left; clearly he will renegade on his decision soon! If instead it is the penultimate episode, then he will probably sacrifice himself for the greater good and die for some reason in the finale.

I find it easier to predict television than movies, because television timetabling tends to be regular, hence you almost always know how much time is left. Movies have variable runtimes that are difficult to gauge without prior checking, thus leaving more room for guesswork. Is this the final arc, or is there yet another twist remaining?