It Gets Better Later...

So you're reading a book, or playing a game, or watching a show, and while you're not exactly turned off, you find yourself kinda bored. Nothing about the work is bad, per say, but it just isn't grabbing you. It has some potential, but seems kinda tepid. And yet, everyone harps on about how great the work is, and when you tell them you're not that into it, they tell you, "Ah, man, you just gotta get to [insert chapter/episode here], and then it really takes off!"

True or not, there's a point at which some can only slog through so much mediocrity before they just drop the thing or start speed skimming to the supposedly good parts. Some find it worth the effort, while others find the experience ruined because by the time the good part happens, they just don't care anymore.

What your all's policy on "it gets good later"? How far in are you willing to read/play/watch something before it either impresses you or you give up? Do you suppose the fact that people sink time into a series influences their later enjoyment, (as in, maybe the "good parts" aren't that great, but they seem amazing compared to the previous boring parts)?

Really depends on the creator in question. Some people, I trust more than others. Some stories keep me longer than others.

Kubrick, as an example, often takes a while to build up to the 'action' part of the story, because he's busy setting the pieces up (I've got the same problem, myself). But, because I know who Kubrick is and how he works, I'm willing to *give* him that time, because I know it'll pay off. Same with, say, Pratchett... whose earlier books don't really have great hooks... but he's *Pratchett* and therefor, I know it's going to be amazing once it finds its footing.

As opposed to Shyamalan, who tends to start slow and get worse.

In any case, as a rule of thumb... as long as the story seems to know where it's going, I'll follow along for a while. It either becomes good when the creator gets their ducks in a row... or there were never any ducks, and so it's going to become trash once the creator runs out of good ideas. I'm sure "stays mediocre forever" exists, but I've yet to see an example.

I have the same policy for watching TV shows as I do for listening to podcasts: 2-3 episodes. If it doesn't really appeal to me in that time, I stop. I think I even gave it an extra 4th episode in the case of Daredevil because people kept telling me it was good, but that's kind of a case-by-case basis depending on if people seem to think it's worth the effort.

For Example: The Good Place. If the last episode of the season is spoiled on you, it makes everything before it much better. Otherwise, I can see getting bored with it part of the way through.

As a rule of thumb I don't wait for fiction to work itself out. Never. There's a million books out there and enough of them are great and awesome without question to fully justify not settling for mediocrity. If a book doesn't grab me after an hour or some fifty pages in case of foreign books it goes right to the bin. I think I sacked Final Fantasy XII for the most boring, slow intro ever, filled with way to much exposition and characters and jumps and blergh. Game is 120 hours long and they still waste my time.

In extreme cases I am willing to give it a shot, much like TanaNari, but that depends highly on my trust in the creator.

Sometimes I do slog through but then not to 'enjoy' the work in question but to dissect it. I wouldn't call waiting for the good part, though.

I am willing to cut out not-working parts, like when the first episode of a show isn't very good or when there's filler or someone tells you the plot amounts to nothing much. Like skipping the first season of Psych or Simpsons because the rest is better.

And it should be said that not-working doesn't mean slow or non-actiony. I am into slow moving atmospheric stuff. I like The Shining for example precisely for that reason. It's slowly, slowly building tension but that's working for it, not against. Because you always feel like the movie is going somewhere.

Howard Tayler, the creator of the webcomic Schlock Mercenary, has an ongoing argument with his long-running fans about whether or not prospective new readers should be sent to the beginning of his comic archives. Long-running fans tend to want to send them to the beginning, and he would rather have prospective new readers jump a few books before the beginning (he organizes his comic storylines into books). His reasons are very simple:

- The art at the beginning of the comic, when he was just starting out, is not great

- The storylines are a bit shallower, since he was just starting out and finding his stride

- He has website metrics that show when new readers start at the beginning of the archives, they're a lot more likely to drift off and never come back than they are if they start at one of the books he recommends people start at.

The response of his long term fans are "yeah but we love the whole thing and it's awesome" and it goes round and round and round.

But it's the webcomic version of "the story starts getting good at Chapter 25."

Howard has it set up so that it's very easy to send new readers to his starting point -- he even puts in links with "START HERE" on it that go to the starting point he prefers, rather than the beginning. I think you could do the same thing with webfiction if you were willing to shake things up a bit, like spin the first 24 chapters off into a "prequel" story and just have Chapter 25 be the start of the story. But you'd need to find a way to make the 25th chapter a genuine start, give the reader a way to catch up to the story.

I think telling readers "it starts getting good at Chapter 25 but you need to read chapters 1-24 in order to figure out what's going on" is probably expecting too much from most of them. I'm not sure I'd be willing to do it.

My experience with this is that the fans will always claim it gets good in the very next episode/chapter/book/whatever that you're on. If you read book one, it gets good in book two. If you finished episode five, it gets good in episode six. And then you watch episode six, aren't impressed, and it suddenly becomes "Oh, it gets good in episode seven!" Except it doesn't. It stays the same no matter how far into it your get, and eventually the fans will tell you the season that doesn't start until next year is where it gets good. The one exception to this that I've found was Over the Garden Wall on Cartoon Network. The first episode sucked, but it immediately got better in episode two.

For me, I might follow along for a while if I see the potential in what the story could become. How long I follow it depends on how interested I am in the core idea of the plot, or sometimes the characters. But ultimately my stance is that ALL of it should be good. Making readers/viewers wade through a bunch of mediocrity before it "gets good" is a bad move on the part of the writer/director. Sure I've got nothing against it improving as it goes, but for it to be outright bad when it first starts, and still expect people to read/watch it... that's just wrong. And I can't help but put part of the blame on the audience for letting producers get away with putting out shoddy entertainment until they decide to get their act together and put some real effort into it.

Personally, I almost always finish a book I'm reading, but I don't regard myself as reading the book unless I've made it past whatever the free sample is on Amazon or the first chapter or so. Previous to that, I'm likely to give it up without a lot of thought beyond, "This doesn't look interesting."

If I get past that, my experience is that if the book is written reasonably well, but the content isn't really my thing, it will eventually come together in a satisfying way. If the writing could be better, but I like the content, I'll probably enjoy it too. When the content is bad and the writing doesn't work for me, it probably didn't make it past my first look.

I'm a bit like Jim. I don't tend to start anything unless I'm pretty sure it's either in my wheelhouse, or it's written by someone I know, because once I start in I tend to go to completion. For better or worse... eventually... like, it took me 14 months to get through "Outlander". (The "Time Travel" genre really needs to be separated into "Stories with a bunch of time travel" and "Historical fiction involving a present day character". But then there's shows like Inu Yasha which dance along that line. Anyway.)

Granted, I don't intend to read the second book of the series, so I guess the point where I'd drop things would be at the end of an arc? As to the "great is really good by comparison", I feel like that would vary depending on individual author styles anyway... which is part of why I always hesitate on actually writing reviews. (Like SFDebris, where in "Star Trek" a low ranking DS9 episode would actually beat a higher ranking Voyager episode. I'm bad at determining a baseline.)

The earlier something grips me, the better.

There are a few things I've had trouble getting started in, books or comics or whatever that I've been putting off for *years* that I then loved, but there are also many where I wasn't able to make that hurdle to see whether it was worth it. But it's usually very early on, the first few pages or first two chapters or whatever.

For example, prologues that are vague and have characters that aren't the main characters. Superpowereds has a pretty terrible start, with two personality-bleached MiBs talking about vague things and it took me ages to get past it. Superpowereds also has the problem of collecting all the Protagomon, which slows down the start. Practical Guide to Evil, which I love, starts a bit eh with a prologue starring Prequel People and not Cat herself. I was going to mention Worm here as starting well, straight in-media-res to Taylor's first patrol, but I checked and it actually starts in Gladly's class so I was wrong about that (too much fanfic-reading). I believe that generally a story should present a kind of abstract or summary of itself in the first few paragraphs, to give a feel of what to expect at least for the first bits of it (with things coming later changing what that feel is), and in that Taylor wallowing in misery is of course perfect.

The first sentence is important in setting expectations, which is why every superhero pastiche needs to start with someone pointing a ray-gun at the protagonist's head.

The amount of time I'm willing to give a story to get good is directly proportionate to how much I love the back cover and how much I trust the author. I don't expect anyone to extend more credit than that to my own writing either, so I try to drop a pretty significant hook within the first chapter or two for that specific reason.

I admit some of my favorite works are ones where, to really know what you're getting into, you have to get past a few bad episodes or wait until the first 'wham' moment.

Now & Then, Here & There (N&TH&T) has an utterly unforgettable, almost annoying first episode. Overconfident, enthusiastic kid named Shu acts like a Shounen protagonist as he challenges the leader of the Kendo club. It becomes clear that his fearlessness and enthusiasm are his only apparent redeeming traits. He meets a girl that is watching the sunset from a dangerous vantage point (atop a smokestack) and goofs around (I really have to reaffirm how annoying he is), while she just sits there looking sad, and then soldiers from another world teleport in to kidnap her, accidentally picking up Shu in the process. The first time I watched it, I put it down with no plans to watch. Then I watched the first episode again and the entire way through, I couldn't remember if I'd seen it before, it was so generic and familiar at the same time. It wasn't overly well done artwise even for its time (I watched it as it came out in late 1999), but I ended up watching the second episode just to try and figure out if I'd seen it before and completely forgotten about it.

It has, since I finished watching it at the start of Jan 2000, sat in my top three series of all time. The first episode, for all of its problems, is absolutely essential for setting up Shu & the setting for what they are.

There are a number of shows like that. It may be based in what Dary mentioned in the gender swap thread - that I tend to like shows that betray convention. N&TH&T is one of those stories.

I tend to give a lot of leeway to a work, and will give most a few episodes - whether it's MLP (my readership was going on about it for a year straight, I caved and watched a bit to see what it was about - it was fine) or horror or romance, movie or comic.

I can agree with that, I end up enjoying a work a lot if the characters I don't care for end up changing my mind as the story continues and they warm up to me. Particularly if they seem cliche or boring at first then, quickly break the archetype or end up being really entertaining. There was a Magic the Gathering book that did that really well. I didn't even like the character featured as the main to start with, so I dunno why I bothered buying the book, but it was honestly the best of the MtG books I've read. Which isn't many, and MtG books are kind of disposable fantasy books anyway, but still.

Otherwise, I dunno the exact limit, but there's a point where I'll turn one more page/click one more link, and the tedium hasn't ended, and I just get hit with a wave of exasperation as my eyes go down the page. From there, unless I know for certain that more interesting stuff is happening later, I won't keep going.

Worm, honestly, was like that for me, the characters didn't grab me, and I will die happy if I never, EVER again have to read about teenagers in High School. I only kept going because I already knew some of what was coming, and I was very glad to see the High School setting dropped, and the characters/world develop quite further. So I'm definitely glad I kept going, and I understand the necessity of going through that part first to set up what came later, but admittedly, if I didn't have spoilers, I would have dropped it early.

I will say I've noticed a strange habit of mine that's developed over the past few years. These days, I tend to start reading something, and it's very hard for me to get hooked with most works. So, I put down a lot of things early, or skim through it and decide I'm not really into it. Then, though, if there's a certain something to it, the work sort of stews in my head, and sort of grows on me. Then a few weeks or months later, I'll come back to it with a much more open view and usually end up enjoying it, or at least finding it fascinating. It seems weird, but maybe its because I'm so jaded these days. :P

At the very least, it has to be promising. I'm willing to give series the benefit of the doubt. Usually, I'm more pleasantly surprised than not.

The rule is: make it a good beginning.

The advanced rule is, as usual: break the rules if you are skillful enough.

Also, for those wondering what one of Wildbow's top three anime is like... it's a slow, brutal and horrifying deconstruction of adventurous transmigration-into-another-world stories. Just thinking about it as I try to figure out what to even write here is making me feel ill.