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I already know how it ends
October 2, 2011 10:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm really good at predicting the end of most movies and books. I easily see foreshadowing, symbolism, and archetypes. How can I parlay this skill into a creative job?

This question is going to sound ramble-y. I've been trying for years to formulate this into a good AskMe question. Seriously, I've thought about this a bunch. But I can't find the perfect words to describe this skill. So here goes:

I'm pretty darn good at predicting any story's twists and turns. Surprise endings almost never surprise me. There are only so many stories to be told and only so many ways to tell a story. My friends think this is uncanny and annoying. I try not to ruin movies for them, but if they have seen the movie and I haven't, I have a tendency to solve the mystery or predict the story arc very early. If a book or movie is really obtuse and overhanded in its storytelling, I have no patience for it.

I love good storytelling, even if I know where a story is going. And I'm always charmed by stories that surprise me, although that's rare.

I'm also good at retelling stories with a lot of detail. I love it when a friend is patient/charmed by my quirk/or interested enough to allow me to tell them (from beginning to end) all about the book I just read.

I am an okay writer, but NOT of fiction. I've tried off and on my entire life to write fiction and I've never ever written one damn thing I'm proud of.

The only other creative skill I possess is photography.

So. Is this a real skill? Can you do this, too? Can I use it to make money?
posted by dchrssyr to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
What about film criticism? Your love of stories and ability to analyze narrative fit perfectly.
posted by awesomebrad at 10:58 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know about jobs, but writers would definitely love to have you around to make their stories more unpredictable and creative. I'd give you a sample of my story and ask you where it's going, and if you're write, I'd tweak it and try again - if you predict correctly again, I tweak it again, so on until you can't predict my story at all.

I don't know what a position like that is called, but it'd be something like a fiction proofreader/editor.
posted by Senza Volto at 10:58 PM on October 2, 2011


Is this a real skill?

It might be, but it might also be confirmation bias. If you're curious about making your abilities profitable, you should first do some research on yourself. Keep a careful list of every prediction you make about a film or novel. Write them down. Go so far as to pause the movie to write them down, so you can't fudge the outcome at the end. Then write down if you were right or not. Maybe ask your friends to do the same, so you at least have some data to judge your skills by.

Can you do this, too?

One of my friends does this. Sometimes he's right. But, bless him, he's not as often right as he thinks he is.
posted by meese at 11:12 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Understanding archetypes and the structure of stories is actually quite useful for PR/advertising types. You already know how to tap into and subvert narratives, and that's how you create interesting copy that appeals to a specific audience.
posted by OrangeDrink at 11:15 PM on October 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


Movies and TV telegraph their plotlines with an astonishing regularity. Watch enough and your mind learns to separate and identify elements that act as cues. I also thought I was really astute at picking these up, but it more seems like it's like noticing that it's raining.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 11:18 PM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Watch enough and your mind learns to separate and identify elements that act as cues.

Become a writer and you'll REALLY notice them.

No idea if that means noticing them means you should really be a writer though.
posted by Artw at 11:21 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe this could be leveraged into some kind of fortune telling skill?
posted by XMLicious at 11:33 PM on October 2, 2011


As OrangeDrink notes, this would probably be a decent skill to have if you wanted to be in advertising. Do you want to be in advertising?
Aside from this, I'm running short on ideas of what would be the use of knowing that Bruce Willis was dead that whole time. Don't get me wrong: It's not that it's not impressive. I just can't figure out a way to turn it into a career.
posted by Gilbert at 12:20 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I bet you'd be good at market research and marketing (in addition to advertising/PR). You probably have a good eye for societal trends. I am sort of the same way with predicting story/movie endings (though probably not as good as you) and I find that I also have a good eye for new trends, fads, and fashions as well. Maybe it's a skills related to seeing arcs of a story or "the bigger picture"?
posted by bearette at 12:58 AM on October 3, 2011


You definitely have a skill, but there's a hitch. At some level, these things are supposed to be legible in advance. If a surprise ending was never intimated in any way, we'd all feel cheated. In a book called S/Z, the literary critic Roland Barthes goes roughly sentence by sentence / paragraph by paragraph through a novella by Balzac, included as an appendix, that has a twist to it, and he identifies every bit of the text that contributes to what he calls the hermeneutic and proairetic codes--the parts of the story that raise questions and the parts that anticipate a resolution. You're better than your friends at identifying that stuff, but it's a bit like playing a video game better than your friends: it's a skill, for sure, but a skill with something that was designed to be hard but doable.

I think that's nonetheless a skill worth practicing, but I'm afraid it gets worse. :)

I suspect the lack of pride you feel in your fiction writing may be exacerbated by your skill with reading. To continue the gaming analogy, most video games give players positive feedback (levels, stuff, occasional wins against appropriate opponents, etc.) as they acquire their skills. They encourage you to get better. Reading does too, because it more or less adapts to your skill level: you just get more and more out of it. Writing is more similar to developing a game, not playing one. Generally speaking, if you have any critical eye at all, any work you do will give you almost nothing but negative feedback for thousands of hours, and it's worse if you really do have a critical eye. So you may have quit too soon precisely because you're an astute reader.

The fact that you've tried repeatedly, though, suggests to me you'd like to succeed at writing fiction, so I'd encourage you to keep going. It will take a long, long time before your skill as a writer matches your skill as a reader, but it sounds like that's what you really want.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:36 AM on October 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


I agree that advertising/PR is where this is most likely to bring you money.

(Spoiler Alert). And I can do it too, to a limited extent. My friend who tried for months to get me to watch Moulin Rouge may never get over me saying "hah, he's miserable and alone because he loves her but she died of consumption, and also she's a prostitute which makes him feel conflicted about their relationship" during the prologue. I was sworn to silence about the plot of films after that one.
posted by SMPA at 3:22 AM on October 3, 2011


A lot of management consulting jobs rely on a skill much like this. You're presented with a problem and a few clues as to what's wrong with the business/department that you're consulting to, and asked to find a solution. Generally, the solution is something that's already in plain sight, it's just that those who are in the middle of it don't see it.

Being able to predict what will happen means that you have two skills (to me): 1. You're able to put together various pieces of information that are deliberately obscured in order to fit a puzzle together, and 2. You can "skim" the information in a movie or book for the important stuff. Both of those are skills that aren't terribly common, and come in handy when you're looking at a big stack of company 10-Ks, strategy documents, and assessment reports.

This doesn't mean that you'd be any good at, or even want to do management consulting. However, it's a skill that comes in handy, and I would imagine it also comes in handy with other professions where you're given a generalized problem and asked to diagnose the reason and find a solution.
posted by xingcat at 4:59 AM on October 3, 2011


Seems like you ought to try your hand at writing.
posted by gjc at 5:46 AM on October 3, 2011


You should be a Comic Book Guy.
posted by michaelh at 6:14 AM on October 3, 2011


It's not that uncanny.

Frankly, 99.999999999% of the time you're supposed to see the end coming, otherwise it won't make any sense. Prince Charming rescues Snow White with a kiss and they live happilyeverafter. Bonnie and Clyde go down in a hail of bullets. Eliza Bennett and Mister Darcy manage to work through their personality flaws and find happiness together. Max's relationship with Annie Hall doesn't work out in the long run. For a work of fiction to make sense, the ending has to be satisfactory. Which means it has to be within the realm of the viewer's imagination and not totally out of left field.

There is no job called "professional ending guesser", unfortunately. If this sort of thing interests you, maybe look into careers as exciting as... teaching English? Especially if you have the very real talent of explaining to others how to recognize the archetypes.
posted by Sara C. at 7:02 AM on October 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


In the same vein as Sara C.: Ever considered going for a PhD in English Literature or Comparative Literature? Your ability to analyze plot mechanics hints at a possible broader talent for analyzing common themes and devices across texts as well, which could make you a pretty good lit professor.

Of course, this would only work out for you if you like teaching college students and also like the idea of being a poor grad student for a while.
posted by BlueJae at 8:39 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Monsieur Caution: The fact that you've tried repeatedly, though, suggests to me you'd like to succeed at writing fiction, so I'd encourage you to keep going. It will take a long, long time before your skill as a writer matches your skill as a reader, but it sounds like that's what you really want.

Just to expand on that, watch Ira Glass (of This American Life) talk about taste vs quality.
posted by Magnakai at 9:04 AM on October 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've often thought of advertising as an interesting career. So how does a 30-something career social worker with a BA in World Religion get into advertising?

Regarding writing fiction: It's not just that I've never written anything to be proud of, I've never even finished writing any fiction. I truly believe that I suck at it.

I think I'd like doing film or book reviews. If I were to start a blog, how would I get it noticed so that I can pick up freelance work?

And I do realize that the endings of television and movies are telegraphed. And I don't think my skill is uncanny or mystical in anyway. It's just that none of my friends seem to see the telegraphing the way I do. Often there are obvious clues that other viewers just seem to miss entirely. How? Is is willful?
posted by dchrssyr at 10:27 AM on October 3, 2011


I should mention that I was really, really good at this when it came to mediocre movies and novels, and much much worse at it when I started paying attention to more interesting narratives. Just because I furiously predicted every agonizing moment of Sliding Doors to my SO didn't mean I could reliably tell you every turn Girl with the Curious Hair.

You're probably not watching things you like very much, or you would be emotionally invested enough that you wouldn't notice that you can tell where the story was going.
posted by OrangeDrink at 10:57 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The real difference is most likely that you're self-aware enough to notice that you're seeing the patterns. Setting aside genuine twist endings like people who saw The Sixth Sense opening weekend, virtually all modern media-savvy people pick up these cues. A lot of people just aren't that interested in thinking about how narrative works and never really contemplate how they know whether an ending is satisfying or not; it just works, somehow.

If you're interested in this sort of thing, I agree, comparative lit might be for you. I don't know that you should quit your career to do that (unless you're unhappy at work) but it might make for some fun reading.
posted by Sara C. at 11:05 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


You could probably be a script reader and write coverage.

But its not easy to get into, doesn't pay well and isn't fun.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 12:22 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also the playing field is already extremely crowded with wannabe screenwriters and producers who want to do that as a stepping stone to something else. If you aren't interested in any of that, you're going to have a hard time breaking in - and the embarrassingly low wages and lack of opportunity for advancement are anti-incentives, anyway.

On the other hand, if you have lots of money and know lots of entertainment industry types, you could try your hand at producing. A core aspect of the development side is being able to read a script or hear a pitch and immediately know whether it works or not and how it needs to be nurtured into the best finished product it can be.
posted by Sara C. at 1:00 PM on October 3, 2011


Often there are obvious clues that other viewers just seem to miss entirely. How? Is is willful?

Somewhat willful. They probably do notice these clues, but don't follow the line of reasoning that would lead to knowing what the end of the movie is in advance. I get the feeling you might be thinking of your friends as being lazy for not spotting the ending like you do. It's more the case that people want the ending to have an element of surprise, and that they want to immerse themselves in the story (it's part suspension of disbelief) and enjoy the storytelling aspects of it.

I think you simply enjoy figuring out what the ending is in advance more than most people. Different people enjoy different aspects of entertainment, try asking your friends what they liked best about the movie.
posted by yohko at 1:13 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can do this too, I think I've been surprised by maybe one or two movie endings ever. Same in real life, I'm rarely to never surprised by things people do or how stuff plays out.

I'm an applied scientist, I get paid to see patterns in things. If I wasn't a scientist I'd probably be an investigator of some sort, which is the same thing really.
posted by fshgrl at 2:13 PM on October 3, 2011


Some Something Awful Goons were talking about making a new TV Tropes, free of the entrenched creepiness of the old TV Tropes. You could do that. Or just try and get a job at the real TV Tropes.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:56 PM on October 3, 2011


And I do realize that the endings of television and movies are telegraphed. And I don't think my skill is uncanny or mystical in anyway. It's just that none of my friends seem to see the telegraphing the way I do. Often there are obvious clues that other viewers just seem to miss entirely. How? Is is willful?

Maybe they're pretending not to notice, or hoping that the narrative will swerve. from TV Tropes will ruin your life: Enjoyment comes from a balance of Recognition and Surprise — we enjoy things that we can relate to and have seen before, but we also like to be surprised. Total recognition is cliché; total surprise is alienating. Through comparing different works of fiction, browsing TV Tropes will merge surprise almost entirely with recognition and you will begin analyzing everything and taking a totally new (and possibly better) enjoyment from media - or reality.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:58 PM on October 3, 2011


Professional Storyteller? I mean, your title,

plus: I love good storytelling, even if I know where a story is going.
plus: I'm also good at retelling stories with a lot of detail.

to me just screams Professional Storyteller. Especially given:
I love it when a friend is patient/charmed by my quirk/or interested enough to allow me to tell them (from beginning to end) all about {the book I just read.}
Anyway, Professional Storyteller is a real skill/job -- you can even get a degree in it. Which means that in addition to performances as an income source, there is also a cottage industry in teaching other people how to be better storytellers , (and so on and so forth).

I know someone who was a professional storyteller for a few years, and it "fit her to a 'T'". From what I can gather, this is most like being a musician or a crafts fair artist -- you're probably self-employed; you probably have to travel; it is possible to make a decent living at it, but it's far more common for it to be a (small) supplemental income.

ps/on preveiw: Ok, I was worried I was completely off-base because I wasn't in line with most of the answers &/or or your framing of the question, so I glanced at a couple of your earlier questions, and... Yeah, it might fit you to a T as well. 'Couple points of encouragement:
(1) Storytelling is a bit like teaching a formal class, so you have some experience there, and you know you're pretty good at it.
(2) It might be a way for you to improve your fiction writing skills -- instead of having to invent the fiction out of whole cloth, you take the basic story outline and embellish it here and there. (If that technique was good enough for Homer & Shakespeare, it can't be all that disreputable..)

posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 11:36 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


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