Thanks to my family (and my inquisitive daughter in particular), I am returning to that island of mystery via the wonderful world of Blu-Ray; back to Dharma, to the Others, and othe survivors of Oceanic flight 815; back to the forward, backward, and sideways flashes; back to time paradoxes and smoke monsters.
That’s right, I’m going back to the world of Lost.
But this time, I’m approaching it from a different perspective. When I watched the show the first time, it was as a television viewer, a fan wanting to see where Jack Shepard, John Locke, and the other people were taking us. Now, I’m watching the show as a writer, and while we’re only up to the end of the second season (“I crashed your plane, brotha!”), there are a couple of nuggets about writing that I’ve unearthed in the time spent back on the island that I’d like to share with you. Keep in mind, too, that even though my observations are drawn from television-based writing, the observations apply for the most part to novel and short story writing as well.
A GOOD NUGGET: One of the things that Lost does well is character development. Using both the “flash” sequences and the “here and now” cuts on the island, the characters are fleshed out, essentially “baiting” the audience, in particular through evoking sympathy with people who may not be what they seem (Remember the nice twist with Sawyer regarding his identity? 😉 ). The better the connection that a writer can establish with his/her audience through the character, the longer the audience will be engaged, even if the plot itself is weakened. More mature writers know that identification with characters is key to engaging the readers and drawing them into whatever the world may be, whether historical fiction, romance, fantasy, scifi, horror, etc.; so long as characters exist that are made flesh and blood through description and tone, the readers will be attracted.
When a writer can flesh out one central character, the story will be good. When a writer can flesh out multiple characters, the story will be great, and Lost does this on a large scale. Now, obviously this is a bit more difficult to do in a novel as opposed to a multi-season television series (unless you’re doing the epic novel series… like me 😀 ), in part because a television series is scripted by more than one writer, meaning that different perspectives can be brought to different characters-something more difficult for a single author to accomplish. Nevertheless it’s a worthwhile endeavor to undertake, and well worth the extra effort spent. A diverse array of fleshed-out characters broadens the scope of attraction for the audience: some prefer Hurley over Jack; some prefer Claire tover Kate, Eko over Charlie, etc. Like a restaurant with a larger range of choices on its menu, the story with a broader spectrum of well-written characters will whet the appetites of the masses.
A BAD NUGGET: Unfortunately, just as good lessons can be learned, so can bad ones. One of the errors made in Lost by the writers was the “spreading thin” of the plot at various times. Complexity in a plot is a good thing, and when added to the mix of well-developed characters it can make for some fantastic storytelling. But a temptation in writing-especially in writing science fiction and fantasy-is to overload a reader with too much, either in the form of infodumps (Michael Crichton was notorious for doing this), or in the form of plot elements that are never followed through.
While I’ve no intention of revealing any spoilers for Lost, I do have to say that at times the show was guilty of the second form of overload at times, where a plotline would either be started or hinted at, and then not fully developed. This can be a great frustration to many a reader/viewer, and to be honest it shows that the writer did not think through the process of developing the plot in advance. A plot has to make sense; it has to be coherent, and too many unanswered questions can turn into a distracting enough element for an audience to turn them off from the work. We might think that unanswered questions to the plot may give our work a more “mysterious” and “grey” element, but to do so at the expense of internal logic is a risky leap to take. What we may think is “clever” may come across to our audience as “sloppy,” so use unfinished and unanswered plot deviances with care.
Well, that’s it for now. I’ve rambled enough. Time for me to finish up the day and get psyched up to assemble with The Avengers! Joss Whedon is doing this one, so it’s going to be a good one 😀
See you in the Vein!