Fllng n th blnks

Episode 13: Determination

I think that I have a new metric for evaluating a series. It’s not a practical one by any stretch, but there may be a lesson or two in it, and I would encourage everyone to apply that metric at least once in their viewing…careers.

Go through the dialog of each episode of a series, line by line.

At least twice.

Actually, the more the better.

If you come out of it still liking the whole thing, that show is a good match for you. I’m not claiming that it will have earned a special place in your heart, but there has got to be something keeping you watching.

I didn’t say that it was a good metric, and there are host of obvious reasons as to why it’s pretty bad. It’s time consuming, for one, but that can be mitigated somewhat by obtaining a script, although a bit of a technical or logistical hurdle in itself. Doing so may also simply ruin your enjoyment of an otherwise decent series.

true tears is one such decent series. Stepping back, it was fairly conventional right down to any lessons that might be derived, but the alchemy job that P.A. Works did was anything but.

So did applying this metric ruin my enjoyment of true tears? Nope, and therein lies perhaps a better metric, something that a lot of people know in the back of their heads but maybe haven’t articulated. I only got to thinking about it myself after staring at blocks of dialog. Doing so enabled me to take some thoroughly unscientific observations which resulted in the following thoroughly unscientific self-diagnosis.

Basically, I got through true tears, interest intact, because of line count. There are bad outliers where the line count spikes up, but a reasonable ballpark figure is about 270 lines of dialog for an episode. Is that low? It certainly feels comfortable. Like others, I have noticed the stretches where nothing gets said, and those stretches weren’t booked for fight scenes where nothing ought to be said (lame trash talk included).

Episode 12: Festival water colour

So low line count is good, high line count is bad? Am I not pushing this metric because I’m lazy and the less things to read, the better? No, and maybe. Line count is just an observation; weigh it in consideration with other factors, one of those being that the mind can sometimes be very active on relatively little input.

This comes from out of left field and several years back, but do you remember I Love Bees? There was a story, but it was not told by the game [1]. It wasn’t even shown, going beyond show don’t tell, a fact that would have continued to be lost on me were it not for BoingBoing, and this crystallizing quote in particular:

…[I]nstead of telling a story, we would present the evidence of that story, and let the players tell it to themselves.

I think the players did a darn good job. But it goes to show that there is a more powerful technique than show don’t tell, and perhaps one that we are innately comfortable with, because our survival as a species may be underpinned by it.

A simple approximation for cognition is that of a model builder. We might not always be building the best models, but we are always building them. The hope is that at some point, that model is close enough to a hidden truth [2] that one can make accurate predictions with it. Or maybe just tell the story behind the pieces of evidence scattered on the floor.

Dialog is often the uncorrupted truth. It is damning evidence, lecture material. Dialog makes model building redundant, and from that standpoint, dialog is lazy. So a reduction in line count tends to imply that the story has been shifted around to less accessible areas.

One thing about lots of dialog, though, is that it can be easy to tell if there is nothing substantial. The process of discovery requires a bit more effort, even if only to come up empty-handed.

Filling in the blanks, even intentionally placed ones, keeps us in the game. And to the credit of P.A. Works and true tears, the game is afoot.


[1] It may go down in history as one of the greatest podcasts that wasn’t, a series of puzzles that quickly evolved into a weekly radio drama that had its initial distribution over hundreds of pay phones across the United States. As described by one of the game’s designers, it was also an incredible logistical effort on both the part of the creators and the audience.

[2] Yes, I called a hidden (Markov) model a truth. No, I don’t really know what that means, either.