How “Somehow” Kills Your Story

I mentioned I watch a lot of TV, right? I totally do. I hear a lot of big time writers say, “That’s one of the things you have to give up to find time to write.”

Maybe? I don’t know. I found value in watching it, and I watch about 8 shows a week, because it’s always making me think about storytelling.

I watched the premiere of Supergirl last week, and I am in love. I hope it stays this good, and that’s saying something considering the writers committed one of my pet peeves, and it’s a pet peeve on a massive scale.

This isn’t a spoiler, so no worries: Supergirl explains that her ship got sucked into this dead space vortex for 20-something years, and “somehow” it got spit back out finally. That was her exact word: “Somehow.”

Aw, man, writers . . . you let us down with that one. Unless they’re playing a long game where the actually process by which she was ejected from the vortex is revealed, that’s just lazy storytelling.

Granted, this is all my opinion and other viewers may not care about, or even notice, “somehow.” But it’s my day to blog here, so I get to be right. The problem with “somehow” is that it’s deeply unsatisfying. “Somehow” is writer code for: I really needed this to happen but since it won’t happen by any kind of logic I can think of, I’m going to just skip trying to explain it and summon the power of “somehow” to gloss over the details.

Boo, writers. BOO.

The reason this laziness is a problem is because it breaks the illusion. And that’s true even if the “somehow” is implied, not explicit. For example, you’re watching a TV show, the main character is in peril, cut to commercial, come back, character is not in peril anymore, and it’s explained with a character saying something like, “Good thing we escaped that peril!” with no hint as to how it happened and definitely no showing how it happened.

An even more subtle version of this is when characters have to undertake a massive logistical operation to save the world and we skip over the entire acquisitions process: we don’t know how they got things that a formerly ragtag or underfunded group of heroes couldn’t previously afford—they just got it because the writer needed it to happen that way. At least tell me some billionaire decided to fund this, or you stole money from drug dealers to make it happen. You can’t need an arsenal and suddenly have one when you’ve had no means for acquiring such things before. (I’m not motivated to come back and watch, but I feel like this was one of many things that nagged at me about Superman Returns, where right before they destroy New York they get all this stuff together to go take on that bad General guy [Zod? Is that a thing?] and I was like, where the crap did you suddenly get all this Zod-destroying equipment that no one even knew until a few days ago that anyone would ever need because Zod was not a concept, but now it’s all here and perfect the job . . . wha . . .?)

Every time something like that happens, your genius readers/watchers (I’ll go ahead and count myself as one of those since I’m a savant on this particular plot issue—I sniff it out a mile away and obsess over it, and YES, you should pity me and take away my remote control for my own well-being) will catch it, and it stops them cold in the story. If you’re lucky, it’s only for a little while. If you’re not, they close your book forever.

So the answer is that even if you don’t explain ALL the ins and outs—YOU as the WRITER have to KNOW the ins and outs and never cheat your reader with SOMEHOW. Give them between a sentence to a paragraph of how it worked out to get your character from Point A to Point B as proof that you, as the writer, still have total control over the world you built them and the events in it.
I’m super hoping that Supergirl will later give us some fantastic story about how her pod escaped the vortex and the “somehow” is already known and well-reasoned out and I can prepare to be like, “YES! I’m in the hands of expert storytellers!”

Somehow, they gotta make that happen.
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Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and champion shopper. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and romance novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three kids and a series of doomed houseplants. Melanie is a former English teacher who loves to laugh and make others laugh. In her down time (ha!), she writes romantic comedies for Covenant and maintains her humorous slice-of-life blog. Her sixth novel, Always Will, hits shelves in October. Melanie’s contemporary YA novels are represented by Alyssa Henkin.

4 thoughts on “How “Somehow” Kills Your Story

  1. Right?! It's only slightly better when your main character passes out during a pivotal moment so that “days later” they can wake up and someone else explains how they escaped peril.

    Like

  2. Right?! It's only slightly better when your main character passes out during a pivotal moment so that “days later” they can wake up and someone else explains how they escaped peril.

    Like

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