October 6, 2013

Writing Lessons from Breaking Bad

As a writer I study everything I read and everything I watch. Not consciously. Well, sometimes consciously, but whether I'm aware of it or not, everything informs my own writing. When something's really stunning (like Gravity, which I saw today...review to come) I analyze the story arc and the characters. What makes it so good? When was I bored (I wasn't, during Gravity) and why? What turns me off? What makes me cry? What makes me laugh? When am I confused and is that good or bad?
Breaking Bad is a great vehicle for a writer to study. It's deservedly wildly successful, and there's a reason. It has all the essential elements; great writing, stellar acting, amazing direction, humor, the element of surprise...and the list goes on. And it does it all in spades.
To me it's a lesson in how to draw people in to a story they wouldn't ordinarily watch. I mean, who wants to learn more about drug dealers and guys who cook meth for a living? But you do, because the characters are unique and ordinary, interesting and vulnerable. And there's the dramatic element: want, obstacle, action, over and over again, keeping us riveted.
I came late to the game, I'm on season four (thanks, Netflix) and I'm a huge fan.
If you don't believe me, read the article below. It'll have you signing up for Netflix in a nanosecond.

Top 5 reasons BREAKING BAD was insanely good BY 

The usual reasons don’t cut it. BREAKING BAD wasn’t great because of brilliant cinematography, writing and acting, though Bryan Cranston deserves an Oscar or three instead of an Emmy. It wasn’t great because of the gritty subject matter. In fact, it was successful in spite of the topic of meth dealers, which made many people not even give the show a chance. Let’s dive deep, and dig hard, into what really made this show so different and so flipping good. 

 5) A complete story In the normal world, 99.9 percent of TV shows cling to life from week to week. The creators and actors are happy if the pilot gets funded and made, then nibble on a diet of fingernails to see if a network picks up the first season. Then they live in fear of not getting a second season. If they get a second season, they stay up all night worrying about some network executive moving their show to a night and time that guarantees doom, or keeping their show in the same slot only to have it slayed in the rating by some hot new thing from CBS or HBO. Successful shows have different problems. Lead actors who were nobodies can suddenly do no wrong and start demanding the GDP of Spain per episode, or bail from the silly little show that turned them into a star to make a go at movies. The ending of a series is often sudden. There’s no time to wrap up the series with a true finale. Even when a series has time for a planned ending, you often get something muddled and maudlin, like a retrospective. Or the writers do something artistic and ambiguous (SOPRANOS facepalm) or go all the way and pull a LOST, causing us to curse their names for eternity.
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