The TV Writer on TV Writing
by Larry Brody
Over my years running various TV series I’ve been amazed at how many professional writers don’t understand the basics of good storytelling. In a nutshell, the trick to working out your plot is to always remember that the scenes must flow from and to each other in a progression that takes into account three different elements of audience appeal. As in, the scene progression must be logical, surprising, and climactic.
What this means is that everything that happens must grow out of what happened before. On one level, given the personalities of the characters and the situation they are in, each plot point must be inevitable. And on another level, these inevitable twists and turns mut be such that the reader or viewer could never have predicted them.
Sound paradoxical? Crazy? Let’s take a true crime example. The kind of thing that happens all too often in real life.
Back in the ’90s, people who knew Susan Smith could never have predicted that she would kill her two children. This just wasn’t a possibility that would ever have come into their minds. But after the deed was done, interview after interview quoted townspeople as saying, “Yes, knowing Susan, I could see that’s where her feelings led her.” With this combination of logic and surprise, your audience feels excited and fulfilled by what you write. Without it, the audience feels cheated because you have either led them down a familiar old path, or you have shocked them for no reason inherent to your story.
Twists and turns alone do not a good story make, though. As writers, we have to create immediacy and intensity by building our plot so that each event is slightly more “important” (or frightening, or suspenseful, or romantic, depending on your genre) than the one that came before, until the ultimate intensity is reached with the climax. Maneuvering your characters into a corner where they must, in effect, do or die is after all, what makes that corner the climax.
In other words, even though it might go against your personal inclinations, you need to learn to guide your characters like an evil God, making Jobs out of them all. Do this and you’ll be a better writer. Do it well and you’ll have the audience eating out of your hand.
Larry Brody is the Big Boss here at TVWriter™. Learn more about his storied career.