Sunday, March 3, 2013

Learning from the Best

The more I learn about the craft of writing, the more I appreciate finely crafted stories in print and on the big and little screen. I especially like to study the pilots of television shows. Thankfully, reruns (and Netflix) make this possible.

For three seasons, I was a devoted follower of White Collar. The pilot episode is, in my opinion, a masterwork of weaving backstory with character introductions and plot.

Neal is a skilled forger plotting to escape from federal prison. The FBI agent who arrested him offers him a deal: work with him (on a short leash) to catch other white collar criminals or languish until he is an old man in prison. Neal is desperate. The woman he loves is in danger. She's also hiding the valuables from his last heist. He has to choose between the FBI agent offering him conditional freedom, saving his loot, and saving his love. He chooses her and escapes.

The television series I've become hooked on recently is The Big Bang Theory. The 2007 comedy pilot introduces four fully-developed characters, nerdy young scientists. Sheldon is a socially-stunted, egocentric physics genius. Leonard is short, insecure, awkward and smart, but not as smart as his roommate, Sheldon. Raj is an Indian-born astrophysicist who can't speak to women. His best friend Howard is a Jewish space engineer who tries every worst come-on line imaginable as he tries non-stop to get laid.

A pretty, but dumb aspiring actress from Nebraska moves into the apartment across the hall. Penny is a magnet for self-centered macho men and has just ended her relationship with a particularly obnoxious one. Leonard falls instantly in love with her. Howard immediately comes onto her. Raj tries, but is tongue-tied unless he's had a few drinks. Sheldon just wants to eat dinner. To impress Penny, the boys offer to get her television back from her ex-boyfriend, and find out he is six feet four with two-hundred pounds of muscle.

Well- conceived characters. A perfect opener.


  1. I don't know either of the shows you mention, but I rarely analyse TV shows, or movies either.
    What I find quite interesting about TV series is that the writers quite often write the episodes 'on the hoof'. Aaron Sorkin was renowned for doing that with 'The West Wing' and, in one sense, broke all the rules in the book, but it was still a superb series!

  2. Aaron Sorkin is a definitely a genius.

  3. I agree - apart from creating various anomalies with the back stories of the characters at times! When I, and others, were wrting TWW fanfiction, it drove us crazy trying to reconcile some of the 'facts' he gave about their lives prior to the start of the series.

  4. I like using movies and tv shows to help me with showing characters' emotions. They have great visual cues.

  5. Agree, Jen - the visuals and sometimes phrases or sentences are beter than the plot sometimes!

  6. We love "The Big Bang Theory". It's so clever and cute.

    When I brought a mss into my group for critique, one comment was my hero reminded her of Sheldon. Now, my guy was smart and a high school science teacher, but not quite what I was going for in my I need to do a more immediate physical description! But, pretty funny!

  7. It's funny how people can associate popular television characters with other characters. The social collective, so to speak.
    Carl Jung wrote extensively about a collective unconscious. Humans from all parts of the world have long share a language of the unconscious through dream symbology.

  8. Very true. Sometimes I feel like those characters in movies/tv series can portray so well what happen in real life.