Hey, guys! I’ve been recently watching a lot of the TV show Lost (currently in one season with my family and another on my own–can be a tad disorienting, but very fun). While I fully plan to write a blog post (or posts) about my thoughts on the show (and especially its characters), I thought that I’d whip up a quick list this evening about Lost + writing well. The show has been a help to me as I’ve finally started chipping away at Flicker again. I hope these tips can help you as well!
SPOILERS AHEAD. (And, trust me, if you haven’t seen the show yet, you don’t want spoilers.)
I. CHARACTER BACKSTORIES ARE IMPORTANT
I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of writer who will outline their plot pretty well, but not do much pre-writing character development work. I don’t fill out those character questionnaires and I often don’t figure out their backstory beyond some bare bone basics. Since watching Lost, I’ve realized that not having a solid character backstory can often be a mistake.
Lost is famous for its flashbacks (as well as flash-forwards and flash-sideways) and those flashbacks are GREAT at explaining why the characters act, think, and even speak the way they do. I’m not saying that every single detail of your characters’ pasts should be brought up in your story. But it’s important that you, the author, know those details because they can really help bring your characters to life. After all, everyone in the real world has a past, one that informs their present choices, which in turn changes their future.
II. DON’T REVEAL EVERYTHING AT ONCE
Pretty obvious, I know. But I also know that there’s a very strong temptation (for me) to show my readers everything about my characters’ personality at once. Otherwise, how are they going to know what my character is like? I want to explain relationships, character traits, the story world, and so much more all in a series of info dumps. But where’s the fun (or art) in that?
Obviously, Lost does not reveal its secrets quickly–there are six seasons, after all! Though it can be difficult to subtly weave character development and worldbuilding into a storyline, the pay off is so much sweeter than if you simply tell the readers everything from the get go. And it makes things fun for them to discover as well!
III. LET YOUR CHARACTERS BE WRONG
Have you ever read a book or watched a movie/TV show where the main character was pretty much always right about everything? It can be pretty annoying, and also unrealistic–nobody is right all the time. But I think that writers (myself included) often want their main character to accurately and quickly read a situation or another character. Things are simpler that way. But when your MC is wrong, that’s where things get interesting. Someone he thought was a friend turned out to be a traitor. Someone he thought was an enemy turned out to be an ally.
In season 2 of Lost, John Locke comes to the conclusion that pushing the button in the hatch is pointless. That nothing will happen if the clock runs down and the button doesn’t get pushed. But in the season finale, we learn that he was wrong. That the button was real and that Desmond (almost) sacrificed his life fixing Locke’s mistake. It’s a bold move by the writers (especially since Locke has been so smart and faith-filled up to this point), and one that pushes the story in interesting directions.
IV. MIX AND MATCH CHARACTERS
This depends a bit on how big your story’s cast is (obviously, Lost has a zillion characters), but if you’re looking to find out more about your characters and move the story along, you might want to try putting two characters together who don’t really get a chance to hang out much. (Or who just haven’t really spent a lot of time together in the course of the story.)
This could be simply a fun character building exercise that doesn’t make it into the novel (such as having your characters trapped in an elevator for a few hours, however improbable that might be). Or you could find that putting two characters in the same scene sparks a new plot thread or gives you inspiration in other ways. Some examples of unlikely pairings from Lost include Hurley and Sawyer going after the tree frog or Sun and Juliet heading into the jungle to find the ultrasound machine. Putting characters together in a new pairing and/or a new setting can ‘freshen up’ the story.
V. DIALOGUE IS NOT FOR TELLING
Okay, yes, sometimes it is. You’ve got to have at least some telling in your dialogue or else your hands are going to be pretty well tied. But I’ve come to see the importance in having characters withhold information, stretch the truth, talk around issues, and generally do everything but say exactly what they’re thinking. Again, subtlety! And intriguing the readers! Lost does this soooo much. It’s great. And then of course there’s the times where Jack will yell at you and demand answers until you break down and give them. *eye roll* But…I don’t recommend using that technique more than once a book. 😉
Have you seen Lost? Did you like it? (I know it can be controversial. Also, no spoilers past season three please!) Let’s discuss it in the comments!
P.S. If you found these tips helpful and you’re looking to improve your novel’s writing, I have a freelance editing business! I’d love to give you a free sample edit and see what you’re writing. ❤