When I first started seriously writing, I gave up most television. I still watched CSI, but that was my “one exception.” If I didn’t give up tv, I’d never have written a book. Or seven.
But I love television. So as a treat to myself when I complete a major task, I purchase a complete season of a show I’d missed because of writing.
After The Hunt, I bought the first season of Deadwood. It’s rough and crude, much like the real Deadwood, South Dakota during the gold rush. But I was hooked. Why? Because of the characters. The writers and actors brought to life legends in history, and made up a few along the way. The villianous Al Swearingen is not all bad; the heroic Seth Bullock is not all good. Just like real people. Just like the characters writers try to create and readers most enjoy.
After finishing The Kill, I bought the first season of LOST. Now no spoilers! I’m 25% done, knocking out two episodes a night. I’m really bummed because I have to put it aside for a week to read the page proofs for the aforementioned book. But with eighteen more episodes to go, I plan to finish it before Christmas.
I picked LOST for two reasons. First, everyone said I’d love it and I thought the premise of the show was totally cool.
Second, Kerrelyn Sparks over at the 2BRead blog had a fantastic article called “Ten Things I’ve Learned From Lost”. I knew then I just had to buy it, and after six episodes I don’t regret it. The best things . . . no commercials and I don’t have to wait a week to find out what happens next!
The key to LOST is the key to Deadwood — characters. You can have the most kick-ass premise, or the most colorful time in history, but without real, three-dimensional characters with internal villains and failures and successes and dreams and nightmares, you can’t possibly have a great show.
LOST trumps Deadwood (not by much) when it comes to characters. Each person is unique, with a past that–while wiped away by the crash–is still part of what makes them who they are, the choices they make and those they don’t. Each character is on their own Hero’s Journey two-fold: the journey of their life that they are still continuing and the journey they began when they crashed.
LOST could have been cheesy, but it isn’t. It could have been simplistic, but it’s not. Instead, we have complex and interesting characters filled with depth that I’ve found sadly lacking in most television shows today.
Readers might not remember why they love a book, but they’ll remember the characters and how they felt when the hero was in jeopardy or when the heroine reached her goal. They want to know what happens because they care about the people in the book, individuals they have grown close to.
If you’re a writer and you’re struggling with a plot, forget it. The plot, I mean. Focus on the characters, they are the fuel for your engine. You’ll be amazed at the results.
And if that fails, watch television. You’ll never know when the big idea will hit.