Yesterday, we talked about the Shocking Swerve, specifically the overuse of it. At the end of the previous day's surely-boring discourse, I touched on the alternative to the "making it us as you go and pulling hotshot stunts to keep your readers guessing." That is the idea of tightly plotting out your arc and creating a template for your story to follow.
The TvTropes term for this is the Myth Arc.
The Myth Arc is nigh-impossible to pull off in superhero comics--so long as a new Spider-Man or Superman comic has to hit the stands every month, building to a definitive end where a price is paid and Nothing Is The Same Again is tricky when the next guy can reverse it all in one issue.
On Television, the Myth Arc is hard to pull off on television without compromises--always you will hear from people who say "what if someone comes in in the middle and doesn't know what's going on?" Usually, as a sop to this line of thinking, various "standalone" episodes will get sprinkled in to a season in such a way as to provide a good jumping on point for these potential new viewers. This is pretty much what Star Trek: Deep Space 9 did. It's certainly one way to do it.
The closest thing to a full-blown Myth Arc on TV in my time has been Babylon 5, even though it started with a number of standalone episodes, gradually the big arc took over larger and larger amounts of episodes until every episode during its 5 seasons was an arc season (until Season 5 got bungled and they needed to stretch to fill it, but I'll save that story for a big Babylon 5 write-up some day) It's another way to do it--it's not as accessible this way, but the people who like it and stick with it will feel rewarded enough to where they're Your Audience for Life (Or until you hit them with Legend of the Rangers and The Lost Tales and--nope, saving it for the B5 entry to come) It's what they used to call building a "cult audience."
What "cult audience" means in this day and age when every audience is so sectioned off is something for another entry.
Anyways, back to the Myth Arc. Reading the various commentary about BSG and those people who wish things were a little more planned out, the common rejoinder seems to be boiled down to "Well, what do you want? A tightly-planned out arc where nothing is really left to chance?"
This is a straw man argument of course-it's not like the Ten Commandments. Until it's on the air it's not written in stone--the arc can always be changed, or flexed or whatever, because life is change. If it's a TV show, actors come on and off the show, they may give notice and have to be written out, the show gets axed earlier than you thought, or sometimes you just have a better idea than before. These things have to be dealt with. Part of the process of writing Big Stuff is managing change.
This is Completely Wrong, and to refute it, I'm going to have to do something I'd hoped never to have to do here (as it is obnoxious and self-serving and I apologise in advance), and that's talk abut the things I write.
Because the two big projects I'm working on now both use Myth Arcs, but use them in different ways. Myth Arcs are long-term things, and occasionally some of the immediate excitement that seat-of-the-pants storytelling has is lost. What you have instead is a longer ramp-up for the bigger moments and hopefully the payoff will justify the buildup.
The trick is to make the trip not seem like a trip. Kind of like how parents would give you comics or activity books or play the radio or whatever they did to distract you on long car rides.
For the the projects I have going now, one is done in a very traditional Myth Arc kind of way--SEVEN SPHERES LEGEND (the newer version more than the original 1996 version) works in a pretty standard way--our characters start on the periphery of the main story, knowing very little and the reader follows along as they learn more and become more involved in the main plot.
It's slow work sometimes, and takes a bit of planning, but considering that I'm putting more forethought into it than I did when I wrote the original, it's no surprise. The cast is larger, I'm trying to open up the vistas I hinted at in the first version and generally inject a little bit more "epic" into it. We'll see how it goes--I'm still on the initial arc, but that's the plan.
GUNMETAL BLACK was something of a reaction to finishing the first version of SEVEN SPHERES LEGEND. At first it was less a Myth Arc than a concept. I had a character, I had a few associated characters, and a general idea of the things I wanted to do, but I didn't sit down and say "Right, I've got these things, let's play around with them and see what happened.
At first, it was more an attempt to tell stories in a different style and with a different voice, and somewhere along the way I found GUNMETAL BLACK'S Myth Arc. Upon finding it and beginning to work it all out, I wanted to continue to give it a different voice than the previous story, so I decided that this Myth Arc would work on a different model--rather than start at the outside of the story and work their way in, my characters would occasionally intersect with the Myth Arc, through various sub-arcs, and ultimately culminate in a situation wherein in the final novel, the Arc is satisfied and you know everything you need to know, but it hasn't been a let-me-hold-your-hand-and-walk-you-straight-through journey. It's been more elliptical. I didn't want it to seem like y'know, homework, this time.
As I'm still working on that one as well, time will tell how successful it all had been.
But hopefully from my two examples you can see how mutable and flexible the idea of planning out a Myth Arc is. It's not written in stone, until the final draft (an issue of a comic, a TV episode) hits the streets. The idea that it's some kind of Manichean choice that, once made, can never be gone back on, is ridiculous.