Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love disaster.
Last week I got to a point one day where I was just done writing. Nothing seemed to be working and I was ready to go on vacation again. So I quit for the day and booted up the xbox and ended up browsing Netflix. Where I saw that all the seasons of Prison Break were on instant play. Now, when it was on, I’d never watched this show. I like some of the actors in it, however, and had heard good things about the first season at least, so I figured I’d just watch an episode or two. Then I figured the premise would run dry, so I’d just watch the first season. But I wanted to find out what happened ultimately, so I went to the fourth season and watched the last few episodes of that, too.
Then I got to the end of season 1 and really wanted to see what happened next, even though I know that in the end they are just going to kill off my favorite character. I know what happens. But I’m still watching. Each episode I try to tell myself that will be the last one. But it is like crack. Just one more hit. Then I need one more. And one more. I sit in front of the show looking for a place to stop watching, a reason to quit.
How is this relevant to writing? Because I’m learning a ton about pacing watching this show. I want to write books people can’t put down (who doesn’t?). This show, which I’m not even sure I like that much, won’t let me put it down. Each episode there are clear goals followed by disaster after disaster. Nothing goes exactly right, even when the characters are getting what they want. That’s good. I mean, I know the end, I know that as a viewer I hate the choices they make at the very end, and I STILL get sucked in by the episode by episode issues. Scene by scene they won’t let me stop watching. Partially because the characters are pretty awesomely done, partially because the pacing never lets up. There just isn’t a good quitting place.
It’s been a good learning experience. I’m currently working on what I hope is a thriller, and pacing is a big issue for me. I have issues with putting the torch to the characters at every turn, because writing characters into disaster after disaster just seems mean and it can be really hard to figure out a way to get them out of one situation while keeping the pressure on. But watching Prison Break, I’m learning how to do that. I think I understand the try/fail cycle now better than I ever have before, because it is so baldly laid out with no coating in that show. The very structure of that show is try/fail. And it works.
So I have a new trick to try in my fiction. I’ve already started practicing it in the current story I was stuck on. Instead of having her leave the cabin and nearly get away from the bad guy, she’s going to get stuck in the one place she really shouldn’t be, so that when he returns she’s already cornered. So far that scene is now working way way better than I had originally envisioned it. I’m enjoying the process again. So thanks, Prison Break. And damn that show. I will stop watching. Soon. Really. Just one more episode. Or not.