Over the past month, I’ve blogged about one of my now-favorite TV series, the FX channel’s Justified. My husband and I started watching the series as part of our binge-watching approach to television because it had been recommended to us by a few different people whose TV and movie viewing tastes are similar to ours. I started rewatching episodes to deconstruct and analyze the writing because, from the very beginning, the approach to story writing resonated with me. Then I started discussing the writing elements with my husband who, though not a writer, is a good sport and enjoys talking story with me…to a point. Once I’d passed that point (identified by the way his eyes glazed over), I knew it was time to bring the discussion here and share it with other writers.
But I also knew my writer brain wasn’t just connecting with the story for the pure enjoyment of it. It was figuring out how I could use the story lessons in my own work. This week, I read over those last three posts, each of which focused on a writing lesson the series had reinforced for me, and considered how I’m using those lessons to improve my own WIP.
Lesson One: Open Strong
This is not new or earth-shattering advice. It’s not something that I or most writers I know willfully eschew. But it is something that’s so easy to inadvertently fall short of achieving. Continue reading
For the past two weeks, we’ve discussed elements of the TV series Justified, based on the Elmore Leonard short story Fire in the Hole. First, we looked at the inciting incident and how it introduced us to the story world and our protagonist. Last week, we looked at the ways the writers created hero empathy. This week, we’re looking at my absolute favorite element of the show: the relationship between the protagonist (Raylan Givens) and his nemesis (Boyd Crowder).
First, it’s important to establish the difference between an antagonist and a nemesis. An antagonist is an opponent. Throughout the series, Givens has a number of these, with one main antagonist per season. But a nemesis is an archenemy, a source of conflict throughout the entire story arc, in this case, the six seasons of Justified. And for our purposes, it’s also important to note that the nemesis character, as Michael Hague would describe it, embodies the hero’s inner journey. Continue reading
Last week, I told you about Justified, the TV series I’ve been binge-watching and loving, focusing on the way the writers used the opening scene to establish character and propel the plot forward with the first few minutes of screen time. This week, I’m focusing on another important aspect of the first chapter, or in the case of a TV show, the first episode: making the audience like and root for the hero from the beginning of the story.
That’s not to say you can’t write protagonists who are anti-heroes like the serial killer/ title character in Dexter, or unreliable narrators like pretty much every POV character in Lost. But if you’re going to ask an audience to follow a TV show for a season (or longer) or readers to stay with a book until the words The End, you’re going to have to get them invested in your lead character(s). One of the best ways to do that is to make them like, care about, root for, and even love the main character like an old friend. But sometimes, as writers who live with and fall in love with our characters long before committing their stories to the page, we forget to share that love with our readers. If you find yourself in this position, as I did recently (more about that in a few weeks), you might want to take some advice from Michael Hague, story consultant and creator of the Story Mastery workshops. Continue reading
Humans are (for the most part) social creatures. We live, work, and interact among other people every day. To be believable, primary characters in our novels should live in worlds with other people, as well. Hence our need to build worlds for them that include secondary characters.
But filling out our stories with secondary characters isn’t as simple as randomly dropping in the wacky best friend or meddling mother or curmudgeonly boss. Secondary characters aren’t window dressing to make the primary characters’ lives look well-rounded.
Like every other aspect of a book, they should serve the story. We should be able to answer the question, why is this character here? In addition to looking pretty, or ugly, or menacing, each secondary character should do something: enhance the plot, underscore the theme, complicate the protagonist’s life, all of the above – something that wouldn’t happen if that character were taken out of the story. So what happens if you’ve created a convenient friend or foe or foil for your protagonist, but other than convenience, that character accomplishes nothing in your story? Continue reading