Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ten Things I've Learned from LOST

I admit it, I am thoroughly hooked on the TV show LOST. For me as a viewer, it’s a great thrill ride. But as a writer, it’s like being immersed in a living how-to manual. I’ve never seen a show that displays Point of View or Inner Conflict as brilliantly as LOST.

What I’ve learned as a writer:
1. Good plot plus good characterization equals GREAT success.
The plot is fascinating. It’s a mental jigsaw puzzle that keeps us glued to the television every week, hoping to glean a few more tiny pieces to the puzzle. A great plot is addictive to our brains. We must have more! On the other hand, good characterization is what appeals to our heart. It makes the characters so real, we can feel their pain, sorrow, fear, and joy. When you manage to combine the two—great plot and great characterization, you’ll have a sure winner!

2. Even with a large cast of characters, each one can be real and three-dimensional. This goes way beyond a well-developed hero and heroine who are backed up by a set of cardboard, interchangeable secondary characters. Without the strength of those supporting roles, the whole story can collapse. Each character in LOST is unique and fully developed. They each have strengths and weaknesses. They can be used as symbols—for instance, Jack is the Man of Science while Locke is the Man of Faith. They can be used as opposites—Jack is a Boy Scout compared to Sawyer as the ultimate Bad Boy. Irony within a character is effective. Charlie is a sweet angel, cursed with a hellish weakness for drugs. Michael had lost his rights as a father only to regain them right before the plane crash. And now, once again, he’s lost his son. Sawyer and Kate have both done terrible things in the past and are in serious need of redemption. Who will Kate choose—the heroic good guy Jack who symbolizes what she’s always wanted to be, or Sawyer who can understand her like no one else. Even Shannon, the Survivor Barbie, is showing an interesting growth arc. She started out completely self-absorbed and manipulative, but she’s lost her brother and now, she’s taking good care of Walt’s dog.

3. Inner conflict is most powerful when the writer shows how trouble from the past relates to the current trouble. LOST does a fantastic job on this every week! Here’s a good example—after suffering through everyone’s reaction to his winning the lottery, Hurley is frantically worried about how everyone will react to him being in charge of all the food in the hatch. Frantic enough that he considers blowing it all up.

4. It’s very cool to show a theme in a parallel fashion—either in backstory and current story, or through different characters. Last night, Locke hit the theme on the head when he said he was no longer lost when he stopped looking. In backstory, we see that Jin was searching for his future and Sun was searching for a husband. When they stopped looking, they found each other. In the current story, Sun found her lost wedding ring when she stopped looking. At the end of the show, the men convinced Michael to stop looking for Walt. We can only hope that by not looking for Walt, they will find him!

5. Point of View is a powerful tool! It’s a great way to manipulate what the reader/viewer knows or doesn’t know. In the season premiere, we were in Jack’s POV as he went into the hatch. We were as lost as he was. When Desmond shot off his gun, we yawned and thought ‘So what?’ The next week, we saw the same scene through Kate’s POV as she crawled through the ventilator shaft. When the gun shot off, the bullet barely missed her and I jumped in my seat! But Jack was still standing there like it was no big deal. Because he didn’t know Kate was there! For any beginning writer who’s having trouble with the concept of POV or inner conflict, I would recommend watching LOST. Not only will you be wonderfully entertained, but you will learn so much!!

Tomorrow, the last five things I’ve learned…

Kerrelyn Sparks
How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire


Alfie said...

Do we haaave to wait until tomorrow? (whine, whine) No fair.

P.S. I've never watched Lost. Guess I'll have to now.

JoAnn Ross said...

Alfie -- Here. I brought some cheese and crackers. We can whine (and wait) together.

You must, must watch LOST!!! But Tivo (or record) the current espisodes until you catch up from last season's episode one (available, Allison tells me, on DVD) because it's so incredibly layered.

Allison Brennan said...

Great post Kerrelyn!!!! Right on the money. Especially about POV ... and characters ... and plot ... now if I can figure out how to apply all of this to my next book. :/

Jeanne Barrack said...

I absolutely love Lost. The intertwining of the characters' pasts and presents and the impact on the present story line keeps me glued to the set. You can't turn your head away on this show. You can miss some critically important nuances.

Geri Buckley Borcz said...

I've never watched Lost - I always seem to have other commitments on the night the show airs - but I've got to see it now, Kerry.

Sharon Schulze said...

Love the list, Kerry!

Lost is seriously addictive; I started watching it in summer reruns, and was hooked from the get-go. The characterizations are masterfully done, and the interwoven plot is simply amazing.

I highly recommend the DVD set of Season One. It's great for rewinding to check out crucial bits of info.

I discover something new every time I watch (or watch again :-)).

Jaye said...

I've never watched Lost, but this was an excellent post/examination on excellent writing.