Tag Archive | lost

A Writer’s Worst Enemy … And Best Friend

I can tell you the exact moment when I knew I was serious about this writing thing.  Sure, I’ve been writing since I was ten and realize it was something I could do for fun outside of school.  And I kept writing all through my teens and well into my twenties for entertainment and as an escape.  I always had the vague idea that I wanted to be a Writer (with a capital W).  But the day that I knew I was serious was December 21st, 2007.  That was the day I turned off the TV.

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TV is a serious time-drain.  It’s just so daggone tempting!  We can spend hours sitting in front of it, letting it entertain us and suck away our creativity.  Many an hour that could be spent in writing is, instead, spent being a couch potato.  The modern world makes it so easy to watch TV too.  What’s the flashiest item offered for sale on Black Friday?  Giant TVs at massively discounted prices.  What does everyone talk about at work that involves the entire department?  TV shows.  (Specifically American Horror Story where I work, which absolutely creeps me out … and I haven’t seen a single episode!)  What is the velvet rope that keeps modern people bound in inaction?  TV.

It’s just so seductive!  And yet the moment I turned it off my productivity shot through the roof.  I finished the first draft of The Loyal Heart (all 250,000 original words!) within a month and a half of turning off the TV.  All those hours that had previously been spent with wide, glassy eyes staring at those flashing pictures on my boob tube went into creating.  Granted, I stopped watching when I did not to write, but because I absolutely hate political commercials and I knew that the only way to avoid them in 2008 was to turn them off.  That worked, by the way.  But more importantly, my journey to becoming a serious, published writer had begun!

Yep.  TV is a terrible waste of time.  It can mire you in inertia faster than you can say “Where’s the remote?”

TV is also one of the most potent sources of inspiration and the most brilliant resources for learning the craft of storytelling that has ever been invented.

I’ve learned so many things about story structure from watching TV.  Your average hour-long drama, even a good half-hour comedy, is a textbook perfect way to study structure.  Each segment between commercials is designed to convey a chunk of story with all the elements of introduction, rising action, reaction, climax, and denouement.  The very best TV shows also carry a plot through an entire season, complete with foreshadowing, carefully placed bits of information, and satisfactory tying together of diverse plot threads.  Good TV shows are the best writing tutorial you can get.

My all-time favorite TV shows are Lost, Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, Northern Exposure, Band of Brothers (technically a mini-series) and the Russell T. Davies seasons of the new Doctor WhoDownton Abbey, New Girl, and Modern Family might also end up in the all-time favorites.  We have yet to see if they will stand the test of time.  Yeah, I know, I have wildly diverse tastes.

Take Lost for an example.

Best and most descriptive poster for Lost ever!

Aside from the so-so third season (in which the writers arguably lost track of the plot as the network tried to decide exactly how many seasons to let the show run for), Lost is a terrific example of plot structure both within an episode, over the arc of a season, and through an entire series.  I would hate to give away any spoilers for this highly-suspenseful show, but as the viewer you start out knowing almost nothing about The Island or the people who have crashed on it.  By the end you’ve learned so much that it feels like a real place.  When you watch the series through for a second time you realize just how much the writers knew in advance and just how many clues they squeaked into each episode along the way.

(As an aside, watching Lost from a writer’s perspective, you can also figure out which plotlines they were forced to drop as external forces, like actor arrests, ruined their plans.  The ways in which they scrambled for new ideas to fulfill the original purpose of the characters they had to drop is a great exercise in revisions under pressure.)

The same kinds of comparisons can be made for plenty of other shows depending on what you like to watch.  Try watching an episode of your favorite show not for entertainment value but for story structure.  How are the characters introduced?  What sets up the situation for each episode?  What kinds of complications are thrown in the way of the characters achieving their goals?  How is back-story introduced?  When does the moment of most tension come?  (Hint: before the last commercial break)  How is the episode resolved?  What tidbits do you get as the credits are rolling?

Everything you see in a good TV show is going to teach you something that will improve your writing.  It’s going to teach it to you faster than reading a bunch of books.  BUT, watching TV is no substitute for reading.  And all TV is not created equal.  In fact, there’s a lot of completely useless junk on the air.  The key is to find the good stuff.  Fortunately, most of the time there’s a reason why things are critically acclaimed.

I can count the number of TV shows I watch these days on one hand, not including my thumb.  I watch shows online so that I can watch when I want to and avoid commercials.  For me that’s the best way to avoid the time-suck of useless TV and annoying commercials while still learning what I need to know for my writing.  It’s the best of both worlds.

So what TV shows have you learned from and what inspires you?  I mentioned Lost as one of my all-time favorites, and the Sci-Fi series I’m currently working on, Saving Grace, tips its hat to Lost’s storytelling style.  And I can’t help but see some of the style elements of Dr. Quinn when I work on my Montana Romance series.  But that’s just me.  Where on the small screen do you find your inspiration?


Bad Boys … No, the OTHER Bad Boys

It’s Fun Friday, so let’s have some fun, shall we?  And what’s more fun than men?

Some girls like bad boys.  You know, those sexy rebels who break all the rules and approach life with a devil-may-care attitude, possibly on a motorcycle, usually wearing leather.  For whatever reason, misbehavior really turns them on.

Me?  I like bad boys.  Sure I do.  But not that kind of bad boy.  The bad boys I like are more like evil geniuses.  Yes, I have a thing for the villain, for the misunderstood antagonist intent on world domination.  Or at least local domination.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about….

Lost.  One of my favorite TV shows ever.  Really great, gripping drama there, right?  And who is the classic bad boy in this equation?  Sawyer, of course.  Sawyer is the guy that all the girls fall for, particularly the good girls.  I have a wonderful, old-fashioned friend who just loves Sawyer.  So is Sawyer the bad boy I love and adore?  Nope.  Not even close.

As far as I’m concerned, Ben Linus is where it’s at.  Yes, Ben!  Creepy Ben, the sadistic mastermind behind so much of the drama on The Island.  But is he really all that sadistic?  Is he actually as evil as everyone makes him out to be?  Absolutely not!  And I will argue this one with you for days.

See, the thing about Ben that I love so much and the thing that draws me to him is that he is flawed.  At the same time, he is single-minded in his mission and dedicated to his definition of authority or a higher power, The Island.  Every crazy, messed-up thing he does, he does for The Island.  I love a man who has a clear mission and sticks to it for all he’s worth!  Nothing gets in his way, nothing stops him from doing what needs to be done.  Determination, drive, and dedication.  Imagine if that innate intensity was directed into a romance.  Aren’t we ladies saying all the time that we want a man who will fight for us and protect us and stand up for us in even the most high-stakes situations?

Okay, another example.  One that more people might be on board with.  Another of my current favorite obsession TV shows is Smash.  And who am I ridiculously in love with on this show?  The seedy, obsessive director, Derek Wills.  He’s controlling, manipulative, and heartless. … Or is he?

I’ve directed for the theater before.  I know what it takes to wrangle a production into shape.  I’ve only ever really spearheaded community theater productions.  Derek Wills is the prime force in bringing a Broadway musical to fruition.  Millions of dollars are hinging on his work along with the lives and careers of countless hopefuls.  You’d better believe that he’s going to be as cold and calculating as he has to be to see that happen and that he’ll use every tool in his arsenal to get the job done.  Is he evil?  Nope, he’s just in charge.  You can’t be a normal person and do that job.

Right.  So I can hear you balking and disagreeing with me.  I bet you think that I’m nuts to have the hots for such despicable characters.  Ah, but am I?  Ben Linus and Derek Wills may have been designed by their creators to produce a certain amount of repulsion, but guess what?  There are other characters out there who I bet you just love that aren’t all that different.

Take the character of John Thornton from the fantastic British mini-series North and South, for example.  He’s been touted as the new Mr. Darcy.  Women worldwide swoon over his brooding stares and tormented soul.  They might be forgetting that he is an iron-fisted factory owner who beats his employees, hires replacement workers when his go on strike, and who ultimately nearly loses everyone’s jobs for them through is inability to keep the factory going in hard times.  And he’s not particularly nice to the heroine as he attempts to run from his feelings.  But everyone loves him, including me, even though in any other story he would have been a villain.

Now, I will admit one thing in this exploration of what makes me love the really bad boys.  In all three of these examples it’s the skill of the actor playing the part that intrigues me the most.  I would probably think Ben Linus was creepy too if I met him alone in a dark alley, but Michael Emerson plays him with such panache that he gives me shivers in the good way.  Derek Wills is, frankly, an ass.  But Jack Davenport plays him with nuance and style, so I’m sold.  And Richard Armitage is the master of the dark, brooding hero, no matter how nasty he’s being.  It’s all in the packaging.  I’m attracted to talent.

At the same time, I like a hero who sticks out from the rest.  I write in a genre where all too often you see the same alpha male hunk playing the role of the hero every time.  It worked for me in high school, but now it’s just boring.  In reality people are flawed.  It’s how they deal with those flaws and what they accomplish with them that turns me on.  My character Michael West in Our Little Secrets is a good example of this.  He’s not your typical alpha male by definition and he’s got a dark past.  Even in the course of the novel he doesn’t make the best of choices.  But it’s his ultimate dedication to the heroine, his wife-of-convenience, that makes my heart go pitter-pat.

Ultimately I think villainy or heroism depends to a great extent on context.  It also depends on the judgments we pass on characters before they’ve been given a chance to defend themselves.  We do it all the time in our everyday lives.  We rush to conclusions and make assumptions about people’s motivations based on the things we want and the goals we want to achieve.  People think Ben was evil because he was in opposition to the folks from the plane.  But as I think the writers and producers pointed out through the course of the show, the plane folks were the intruders.  And in the end Hurley asked Ben if he wanted to come with them.  If that’s not a glowing endorsement then I don’t know what is!

Or maybe, by championing the angry and the misunderstood I’m really just trying to find acceptance and love for myself.  Crazy people need love too.

So what about you?  What bad boy or unlikely hero floats your boat?  Are you willing to admit it?