The “Whimper End” in SCP Articles
OPINION/ANALYSIS — The One Writing Mistake Even the Best SCP Writers Don’t Know They’re Making
Writer Maureen Cleave, a music critic who closely covered The Beatles during their time, once asked John Lennon why he didn’t ever write songs with more than one-syllable-lyrics. It had taken a mortified Lennon five studio albums before the habit came to his attention.
Reading all of the new SCP articles posted to the SCP Wiki each week affords me some unusual insights into articles and their commonalities; things that like John Lennon’s early monosyllabic tendencies, the authors themselves somehow have a blind spot for. Small crevasses in performance arts that show up again and again for some unexplained reason. Such cultural morsels of mimicry seem to be strictly monkey see, monkey do and can slip through the critical cracks for years, largely unquestioned and unexamined.
I’ve noticed one bad habit that appears incredibly often on the SCP Wiki that no one has put a name to, and that those who performing it are seemingly unaware of. This habit is most like a nervous tic; someone picking their nails, say, or picking your nose in front of your kid who emulates every little thing you do. It is pointless yet frequent enough to suggest the authors who are using it haven’t thought hard enough about how it is not actually doing much there; it is largely subconscious and doesn’t rise to the level of focused awareness — this always a bad sign when writing, or doing any art intentionally.
In the month of June so far, there are 10 instances of it (11 if you count one that was changed after this tic was pointed out to the author). That’s about one in every five articles. On two occasions, it occurred in back-to-back posts. And most interestingly of all, there is no specificity when it came to author longevity or skill; even the premiere and exemplar author Tanhony commonly has this writing tic, and is perhaps the worst offender, or at least, the most reliable since I’ve picked up on it.
Before I spell this out, let me first capture instances of it and maybe have you recognize it yourself. Do you recognize any similarities in these screencaps?
An inordinate number of SCP Wiki articles end on what are non-statements. Most of these point to the future tense and speak of either past documentation being rewritten — such as containment procedures being re-imagined, or the object being reclassified into a different class — or of impending actions of the Foundation , such as testing or a statement. The most generic of this tic might be “Research/observation is ongoing.”
The purpose of this compositional device is obvious enough; it is an emotional and structural inclusion meant to round out the situation with a slight forecast on what the Foundation is going to do about the action and plot development we just witnessed. It punctuates a sense of change and continued action. Something like “the Foundation has yet to make a statement” nods to the reader’s expectation that something needs to be done in response to this, and also adds some gravity in that rehauls of procedure or behavior are in order.
We’ll call this device “the whimper end” — a whimper as it is opposed to a bang. This whimper needlessly softens and dampens endings, taking what would be a triumphant staccato-like finale and drawing it out into a hovering, quivering flatulence. It is somewhere between intentional send-off — like the trope of a character walking off into the sunset — and unintentionally having every song from a band end the same way.
Nine out of ten times the whimper end can be removed and the article improves. Let’s take another look at our examples and see what they would look like with the whimper taken out:
Notice that in each case, the ending is punchier and makes a stronger impact. Without the whimper, endings are more definitive, with more power, with more statement. This is because these whimper endings can be removed and nothing of value or meaning is lost, indicating that they aren’t doing much there to begin with. It’s easy to see why on further examination; these non-statements do not convey any real information.
We do not need to be told than an anomaly which escaped containment is being looked for, that the Foundation is continuing to investigate something they do not understand about an anomaly, or that something expected is underway. There is no backdrop or assumption in-universe that such statements are responding to. It’s like calling someone to tell them you have nothing to say.
If this seems dramatic, keep in mind that these above are only from the current month, which is not over yet. This isn’t a huge deal obviously, but it is common enough to be firmly placed alongside such canonical unexamined compositional no-no’s as “You start every sentence with ‘SCP-####’”, or “hey shouldn’t the Foundation be using metrics?”.
Until, that is, once it is recognized. Then, it can never be unseen.