I have decided to begin by referring to my favourite collection of books, which like a lot of other people is the Harry Potter series. I would say I am a huge fan without being a so-called superfan – in other words those who would go to the extraordinary lengths of habitually dressing up as their favourite characters or becoming awestruck to the point of nearly passing out when they run into Rupert Grint or Tom Felton at Comic-Con.
Even for the people who are not as enchanted with the series, one would be hard pressed to deny that J.K. Rowling is one of literature’s great storytellers, and one who understands how to fill her readers with an unrelenting sense of intrigue, so much so that every word of the seven Harry Potter novels has been disected and scrutinised via online forums and the like.
Such forensic examination has led to some inconsistencies being exposed as to what are in truth minor details within the books, and Rowling herself has admitted that maths in particular is not her strong point, particularly with regards to the rather cloudy subject of how many students attend Hogwarts, for example.
But all in all, she does a great job of preventing the reader from being in any doubt about the outcome of, or reason behind any of the major plot points. This is at its best in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where the complexity is there right from the start and all of what ensues is wrapped up with almost breathtaking excellence during a lengthy recital towards the end of the book.
Of course, in any book let alone a world-famous and much-loved series such as this, any loose end must be resolved in a satisfactory manner. If not, the audience would feel pretty short-changed at having their enjoyment – and arguably intelligence – undermined by a badly reasoned explanation of an important part of the plot.
This is a fairly common mistake for more inexperienced writers, who can sometimes be guilty of not thinking things through in sufficient depth, while others can find themselves creating too many loose ends that the audience are left fighting a battle to keep up with the author and may end up getting a little lost amid all the strands.
The latter has been an increasingly common trait for TV dramas over recent years and although the format of an ongoing storyline can build tension and spark debate among audiences, the decision to take an idea in this direction requires everything to be tied up appropriately, which takes consummate writing ability.
But sometimes there is the odd occasion where one talking point is sacrificed for the central plotline. The example that stands out in my mind is conscious decision that was taken by George Lucas as he penned the script for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, which was meant to provide a reason for why the planet Kamino had been removed from the Jedi archives in the previous movie, Attack of the Clones.
He did this in order to devote more time to telling the story of Anakin Skywalker’s defection to the dark side, which on the one hand is fair enough, but on the other it was a mystery that was never going to go unnoticed by fans of the franchise. Maybe sometimes items have to be cut for the good of the story, but a faithful audience always wants to know more, and then they savour that new information.
For the record, that loose end was resolved to an extent when Kamino’s fate was explained in a book dedicated to Star Wars, but Lucas took a big risk with his omission and I’m not sure if it paid off. Tying up loose ends is never a straightforward task, but any top author or screenwriter should know that any new plot point they create – however minor – must be considered and well thought through, and be resolved in a way that doesn’t leave audiences shaking their heads. To help with this, it would be worth hiring a astute editor!