Thursday, February 16, 2012

Today's Writing Tip Brought To You by Hawaii Five-O

Last Monday on Hawaii Five-O, we started out with one of the team members washing blood off her hands and then asking a nurse for an update on the main character Steve McGarrett. She looks over to a gurney and I think the entire audience's heart stopped because well, the man is Steve McGarrett. If something happened to him, it must be pretty bad because he's a Navy freaking Seal who has a bit of Superman in him. So, you get the picture. The story is going to be good because it's starting out bad.

But then we do a time jump to eighteen hours earlier. Which would be okay, but the show didn't leave it there. We jumped back to the hospital, then back to the story, then forward to the hospital. I was seriously getting whiplash and was confused a lot of the time about the sequence of events. I couldn't understand why the writers were being so lazy. But, you see, book writers do that, too.

A lot of times writers are tempted to put a flashback at the first of their story because something really awesome happened and they use that technique to draw the readers in. Just like on Hawaii Five-O. But, the thing is, flashbacks and dreams are really hard to do well. It's too easily spotted as writerly laziness and readers feel like you've pulled a bait and switch on them when they realize that wasn't the true beginning to the story. Hawaii Five-O not only did this once, but many times, because they were using the technique to highlight all the exciting parts of the story and it ended up being more confusing than anything else.

A better technique is to use the "exciting event" you are trying to highlight in your flashback and make that the starting event of your story. Or, if it's too far in the past, drop little hints and pieces of it into the story, unrolling it as part of your character's makeup as well as to keep the reader guessing as to why your character is behaving this way and how he's grown or regressed since the event happened.

The key is to keep your readers with your characters---feeling what they feel as the story unfolds and letting them experience the events vicariously through your character's eyes. If you're constantly going back in time or using dreams to further your plot, then you're taking the easy way out and agents and editors will know. Use your imagination and your skills to keep your story present and real. Drop the hints, play the story out, and keep your characters relatable.

You won't be sorry. And you won't have people shaking their heads and saying, "What? I'm so confused . . ." (Hawaii Five-O writers I'm looking at you.)


Jon Spell said...

And then he comes out of the surgery with 2 smallish gauze bandages on his head. (After getting hit by a car.)

My favorite part of the episode was the Governor helping Chin out. So deadpan.

And Kono's party dress! Yowza, they should let her dress up more often!

Are you sad to see what's-her-name go?

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Yeah, that part with the governor was good. I wish he was on more often as more of an adversary with 5-0. I think that would be awesome with highlighting the gray areas of the cases, but maybe that's what Lori was supposed to do.

I am sad her character is gone because I think there was a lot of potential there and they made her leave in such a lame way. "I didn't do my job because I have feelings for you." Really? How demeaning for women. What were the writers thinking with that one? Ouch. I also thought having another female sort of balanced the team out a bit. Not that I don't like the core four, but I thought Lori could have been a nice addition.

What about you? What did you think?

Angie said...

I tend to dislike flashbacks immensely. I have seen a few times where they work. August Rush comes to mind. But in general, I try to avoid them (like the plague!).

Jon Spell said...

I never really liked her character all that much, but I agree with you that it was nice to have an additional female character on the team. I just wish she hadn't been so doe-eyed around Steve so much. (Hey, Yvonne Strahovski just finished up with Chuck. I bet she could kick some butt in Hawaii, too.) Beats having the 5 Subway Subs guy join the team officially. The one ep with him playing the bodyguard was pretty good, though.

Whenever a TV show starts out with something traumatic and chaotic going on, we both look at each other and roll our eyes and say "2 days earlier..." It's a way to forecast how badly a day is going to go and then show you how things got that way, but it seems a little overused these days.

I mean, Memento was a brain-twister, but I wouldn't want to watch another movie done the same way. (I wouldn't mind watching the chronological version of it, though.)

Charlie Moore said...

Most people who watch these types of adventure heavy shows aren't following the story line. They're saying check out that car chase or see how tough he/she is, etc. Most viewers are not novelists. Of course, I wouldn't make any of those mistakes in my manuscript.