The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Breaking Bad: Everything I Learned About Writing I Learned From Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad: Walt Waits on a Dirt Road
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad

1.  Details matter. Walter White is a meth cooker, and wears a rubber apron, to complement his underwear, as he doesn't want to go home smelling like meth. Boxers would have been a possibility, but tighy-whities are a detail that adds to the character...and the quirkiness of this show.

2. Show, don't tell. The writers could have told the audience, in just a few bits of dialogue, how desperate one of the characters became by the end of the 4th (and most recent) season. However, at the very end of the season's final episode, a shot of a pot of lillies of the valley showed the desperation. That one shot packed a powerful whallop.

3.  Get into your characters.  If a writer does not really know their characters, neither will the readers...and the readers won't care about the characters, either. One of the characters, played by Giancarlo Esposito, is the iciest creature I've ever seen walk on two legs. The audience sees his callousness,  his calculating-coldness, and his brutal unpredictability. However, the audience also sees his kindhearted side and they see--via flashbacks--what is driving his black heart.

4. Leave 'em wanting more. Keep 'em guessing.   Every episode left me on the edge of a cliff. I would wonder, Where is this headed, because I can't see any way out of this corner. And sure enough, there would be a solution, a way out. And I am desperate for more. The final (fifth) season starts up this summer (or so they say). I cannot wait...If your readers know exactly where your story is going--every twist and turn is telegraphed 30 pages before they happen, what is the point in reading it? 

Sons of Anarchy and (now) Breaking Bad are my guilty pleasures, but since I've frothed at the mouth to everyone I've encountered about Breaking Bad, I guess I'm not feeling too guilty about watching it.

How about you?  What have you learned about writing via movies or television shows?