Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Anus Tart: What We Can Learn From a Lackluster Reboot (Alissa Grosso)

The theme this month is starting over, which immediately made me think of Tobias Funke's vanity license plate. (I was actually mildly surprised that none of my other fellow YA Outside the Lines contributors had written an Anus Tart post.) For those of you who haven't watched Netflix's Arrested Development reboot the license plate is Tobias's attempt to get a license plate that spells out "A New Start" phonetically, but alas it is continuously misread as Anus Tart.

The misreading is appropriate for a reboot that seems to be a bit of a misread of the original three Arrested Development seasons, and falls short of capturing the magic of the sitcom. I'm not going to try to analyze all the reasons that these new episodes were disappointing, but I will say that a lot of it centers around the decision to have each episode focus on a different character (whether this was for budget or schedule reasons I'm not sure) and thus each episode ends up covering a lot of the same stuff as the previous one but from a different perspective, so that it almost feels like the whole reboot season could have been a single half hour episode or at least condensed into a few episodes. That's quite a change for a show famous for ending each show with an on-the-next-Arrested-Development segment where they squeezed in a few more jokes that were not actually in the next or any other episode of the show.

I've been thinking a lot about this lackluster reboot lately, because I am trying to write a sequel to one of my books. As it happens, I'm writing a sequel to an as-yet unpublished book so definitely my judgment is questionable. That said, I really liked this unpublished book, but the sequel just isn't doing it for me. I find myself wondering if I'm trying to write a sequel to a book that doesn't need a sequel. The storyline is not a traditional sort of series story so there's the risk that I'm forcing the issue by trying to extend the book into two or possibly more books. There's other problems too like a love story that isn't quite right and a plot that needs serious help.

Now, part of the reason that I'm so not-in-love with this sequel is that it is still a first draft, and first drafts are, as a rule, an ever-loving mess. For some reason this is something I need to remind myself of every time I write a new book. You would think with several books under my belt, I wouldn't need  reminding, but somehow I always forget the writing stage where I hate every single one of the thousands and thousands of words I've written and debate chucking the whole thing in the recycle bin and start from scratch or maybe take up some far less frustrating hobby. I'm at the stage where I'm trying to remind myself that the book I love so much that I wanted to write a sequel to it was also once a pile of dung that I had to rescue with rewriting and outlining and all that good stuff. So, this is all par for the course, and there's a very good chance that when I'm done with it, this sequel will actually be a decent book.

However, the thing about sequels or reboots is that they are never judged on their merits alone, they are also judged on whether or not they stick to the formula of their predecessor and capture the magic of the original. So, I come back again to that Arrested Development reboot. One thing they did get right is that they have all the original characters played by the original actors. There are a few new minor characters, too. My sequel too is pretty much the same characters, with a few new ones here and there. The challenge I'm running into is that in order to have a satisfying story the first book shows my main character growing and becoming a better person. I mean she hasn't exactly achieved sainthood by the conclusion of the book, but it makes it trickier to write a sequel. Does she fall back into her old ways? Should she be learning new lessons this time around? In some ways I envy the writers of a sitcom about a bunch of dysfunctional family members who were all pretty much selfish, awful people because the storylines are theoretically endless.

Where I don't envy the Arrested Development writers is with the pacing. A half hour network television show is 22 minutes of runtime so there's room for all the commercials. Since the reboot was done by Netflix, and does not need to adhere to strict network schedules or make room for commercials each episode is actually longer, though not all are the same length but they are closer to a half hour - most between 29 and 32 minutes. In terms of the pacing of a comedy show, that's a big difference, and I think it shows. Yes, it's extremely difficult to cram an entire story and all the jokes into 22 minutes, but it forces the creators to write clean and edit mercilessly. Think of it as the difference between a Facebook post and a Twitter post. Facebook posts are long-winded and rambling. Twitter's word count (yes, I know for some it recently doubled) forces users to get to the point. Writers tend to overwrite and include lots of details and explanations that do nothing to advance the plot. Great stories are born in editing.

All of which brings me back to my messy first draft of a sequel. I haven't yet reached the stage where I'm cutting the unnecessary bits out, but I think once I do I might find myself with a book that's a little bit closer to being good. In terms of pacing, though I'm struggling with something that might be dragging this sequel out just like the writers of Arrested Development were dragging out the storyline in the reboot. While my first book mostly takes place over a single long weekend, I have my sequel taking place over a full week. It's not a huge length of time, but I think the slightly more languorous pace might be slowing the story down too much. Does this mean I somehow need to cram the seven days of my novel into four? Yikes. It's a challenge, but if it's what I need to do to save it from ruin, I might just valiantly attempt it.

The Arrested Development rewrite came out in 2013, roughly seven years after the last of the original episodes had aired, though the show remained a cult favorite and a lot of viewers, myself included, didn't discover it until after it had went off the air. That said, seven years is a long time, and there's the possibility that some of the issues with the new episodes might be this big time gap. As my first book still hasn't been published, I'm not anticipating this sort of gap with my sequel though with the way my progress is going so far it could be that a small eternity might elapse before I complete the sequel.

A fifth season of Arrested Development is scheduled to air on Netflix in 2018. Will the show's writers and creators have learned from the tepid response to season 4 and address the concerns that fans had? Will it adhere closer to the original network series? Either way, I'll probably still watch it. Maybe by then I'll have completed my sequel, or scrapped it, or I'll have decided to wait to see how the first book is received before I try to resurrect the characters in a sequel.

So, if you take one thing from this blog post make sure it's that you have someone proofread your proposed vanity license plate before you buy it, lest your new start becomes an Anus Tart.


Alissa Grosso is the author of the books Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. None of them are sequels or reboots. Find out more about her and her books at alissagrosso.com.

6 comments:

  1. You made me laugh! And also convinced me never to write a sequel.

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  2. 1. I did think about Tobias's license plate in the context of this month's theme. But I don't post until the 27th, so no need for me to cover it!

    2. My husband and I loved the original AD but had heard negative things about Season 4, so we had low expectations. And maybe that helped our attitude toward it, because we really like Season 4. Even though it has overlapping stories, we learn something new in each episode, changing our perspective of everything that has gone before, and revealing how little things that seemed pointless in earlier episodes actually had meaning.

    3. That said, even though I liked AD Season 4, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a model for sequels. The puzzle-like structure is unusual, and I think AD has always depended heavily on the quirks of its characters even more than on plot--I care less about the forward motion of the story than just on getting to spend time in that weird world.

    4. One thing I've heard about sequels is that it's good to raise the stakes from what they were in book 1. If the conflict is even more significant, if the risk is greater and the price is higher, that may help keep it from seeming repetitive or draggy.

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  3. Now I'm curious about AD. Have never watched it...yet. *adds to list* The license plate is hilarious. Wishing you all the best with your sequel! :)

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  4. I've never seen the show and am now curious!

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  5. LOL! Huge AD fan here, and I totally agree with your review of the "sequel." Also, deja vu -- I'm attempting to write a follow up to a book that took place over a weekend, and the sequel occurs over a week. Wishing us both luck with our anus tart, er, I mean, a new start!

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  6. "Great stories are born in editing." This is EXACTLY where I am right now.

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