Saturday, December 17, 2016

Writing Lessons from TV Shows: Stranger Things

After much prompting from my cousin who was born in the 80s, I finally got to watching Stranger Things. I binge-watched all eight episodes in a weekend and let me tell you it is the best show I've seen this year. It's set in the 1980's and is about a young boy who mysteriously disappears in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, so his friends, family, and the town sheriff do everything they can to get him back. Meanwhile, there's a young girl named Eleven with telekinetic and telepathic powers and people are seeing walls move and lights flicker for no reason.

I was absolutely blown away by the intricacy of this show. It is incredibly well-written and very streamlined in its eight episodes. It also deals with an ensemble cast, which creates a whole different element. I just love the characters and their development. Anyway, I need to stop ranting and tell you why I believe this show is so well-written! We don't want to keep this curiosity door locked.

Warning: Spoilers.

1.) One Goal with Different Facets of the Goal - The main characters of this show all have one goal: find Will Byers. However, each point of view has a different element to contribute to this goal, making each individually important. Joyce Byers is the one who discovers that Will is somehow close to her, but not close to her. Hopper takes the initiative to pinpoint the involvement of the electric company. Mike, Dustin, and Lucas discover Eleven and about the dimensions. Jonathan and Nancy seek to defeat the demagorgon. 

This makes each point of view absolutely necessary for the main goal. Each are crucial for the climax of the show. Each character has their own skills to contribute and none of them feel unnecessary. If one of them was removed, the show wouldn't feel the same. 

How this can be applied to writing: When you have a large cast in your novel, take care that each character plays their own part and contributes in their own unique ways that they couldn't do without. If all of them have one goal, make sure each role is necessary and unique.

2.) Flashbacks So You Can Bond With A Character Who Isn't Present in Most of the Story - Will Byers is a central character of the story, but we only see him for a few minutes at the beginning of episode one. For some that may be enough to bond with his character, but for others they may not be convinced that this little boy is worth all of the trouble. The writers included several pointed flashbacks to help you bond with his character. Flashbacks are very popular in shows and I was a little nervous, they would do them in excess like other shows, but with Will they did just enough so you begin to care about Will Byers. 

How this can be applied to writing: When you have a character you don't see in real time in the story, especially one your audience must grow to care for, it's important that you bond the readers with this character as soon as possible. Flashbacks can be a great tool for that. 

3.) Using References to Other Media - Another one of my favorite parts of Stranger Things is the references to other geeky things. This not only made elements of the story easier to understand, but also made them relatable. Like how the boys dubbed the dimensional monster the demogorgon from Dungeons and Dragons or how they named certain things after the Lord of the Rings. As a fan of Lord of the Rings, I immediately bonded to the boys and their love for the books. I also found it hilarious when Dustin corrected Hopper when he called a Hobbit referenced a Lord of the Rings reference. 

How this can be applied to writing: References can be a fun thing to include in a story, but they usually have to be kept to stories set in our world. Still they can enhance your story if used properly. 

4.) Point of Views Merging - All of the point of views are pretty separate starting off. Each of the three groups (Mike/Eleven/Dustin/Lucas, Hopper/Joyce & Nancy/Jonathan) work on their own and don't want to include anyone else, but gradually each of the groups realizes it needs the other groups if they're going to succeed in their unified goal. At the end of the show, the point of views all merge for the exciting climax. It was so satisfying seeing them all gradually gravitating toward each other and building up to that point. I was happy to see the characters finally coming together after seeing them apart for so long. 

How this can be applied to writing: When you have an ensemble cast, bringing them together in the end will really satisfy your reader. If you pull it off right, your reader will want the different parties to meet.

5.) All of the Threads Coming Together - This show introduces so many elements that all seem pretty unrelated. I was so confused at the beginning of the show. I was like, "Okay, I have no idea what's going on, but this is really interesting, so I'm going to keep watching." There's Eleven, the scientists, the monster, the flickering lights, the creepy thing coming out of the walls ... So much stuff happening and I was wondering the whole time how it was going to all tie in and I expected some loose ends, but at the end all of the little puzzle pieces came together so masterfully I was blown away. I was thinking, "OH THAT'S SO COOL! IT MAKES TOTAL SENSE NOW!" This, to me anyway, is how the best mysteries should go.

How this can be applied to writing: When you write a mystery, creating a lot of puzzle pieces is a big step, but making sure they fit together well, is what's going to make your story satisfying. Keep in mind all of your elements and make sure each click together in a sensible and unique way. 

Conclusion - Stranger Things is a fantastic show. Season one was so phenomenal, I have no idea how it can be topped. If you haven't already go watch Stranger Things!

Have you seen Stranger Things? Have you noticed these writing aspects? What movies have you noticed have good writing? Let's geek out together!

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Writing Lessons from Movies: The Incredibles

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