What I Learned about Writing from Lost

I was kinda late to the Lost party. Eight years (from the premiere) to be exact. See, when Lost aired I was in college and had no time for TV. But after incessant nagging from my brother, the Mister and I finally started watching Lost last summer. And raced through it in a matter of months. In fact, I’ll always associate Lost with my first pregnancy (we even watched an episode during labor. Hah!).

Needless to say, I loved it.* Even months later, I still think about it, and last night I decided I need to re-watch the final episode because that last scene kills me. My brother (the literal genius I’ve mentioned many-a-time on here) wanted me to watch it because of its literary value. Yes, Lost is a very literary show. He wanted me to apply lessons from the show to my writing, and let me tell you: there are lessons! So what did I learn about writing from Lost?

1) The Important of Narrative Flow – obviously I know how important it is, but Lost showed me how changing it up can have a big impact on not just how the story is told, but how the story feels. Lost is told in present time, with flashbacks, flash-forwards, and flash-sideways (depending on the season). Not only does it make the show extremely engaging to watch, but it also fits with the mystery of the island. The way the writers play with time on the show is mirrored in everything, including the way they structure their story. So when you choose how your story’s narrative will flow, think about what will be fitting, as well as entertaining and engaging.

2) Also, About Narrative Flow – it can be a useful and interesting tool for character development. The flashes always center around one or two characters per episode. In the first season, that’s how we get to know who these people were before they came to the island. In subsequent seasons, the flash-forwards and flash-sideways serve as further characterization. Obviously, they also further the plot (which makes them extremely economical narrative devices), but they really shine (especially in the beginning) in the characterization department.

3) The Power of Recurring Elements – again, another thing I know but seeing it executed so well makes me want to implement it in my work. There are all kinds of recurring elements and themes in Lost. It’s part of its brilliance. From literary titles (many of the characters are seen reading several times throughout the series), to literary allusions (Dante’s Purgatorio and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, to name two), to character’s names (John Locke, for example)–there are all kinds of nuggets sprinkled throughout the story. And each one, when you notice it, makes you think: why was that placed here and what parallels can be drawn? The result is a deeper involvement on the audience’s part. You are constantly analyzing everything you watch not only on the surface, but on the layers beneath. This is so much more than watching a sitcom–your mind is actively engaged.

4) Finally, Resolution overs Answers – Lost opens a lot of questions, many of which aren’t answered. Now, I’ve always been okay with that. In fact, I like it when not all of the questions are answered in a story. That’s more like real life, and less like deus ex machina. The grassy knoll? Marilyn Monroe? Area 51? How about in your own life? I’m sure you can think of many questions that you’ll never know the answers to. So, while it bugs some people that we’ll never know why exactly Ben Linus got cancer while Rose was cured, it doesn’t bug me. But last night while reading through Wiki pages (yes, I’m a nerd), I read a quote from a review on the season finale that sums up why questions don’t need to be answered: “The important thing … is not answers. It’s resolution. And ‘Lost’ provided that in spades.” Resolution is far more important than answers. If we feel that the characters and story lines are resolved … well, if some answers are missing, it’s not that big of deal. Because as humans we crave resolution. And that’s why Lost works so well.

What about you? Are you a Lost fan? Or, did the show burn you? Have you learned anything about writing from it or another TV show?


*I fully believe I was able to love the show more than most who watched it as it aired because I watched it so quickly. There are some filler episodes, and watching them real-time would’ve been very frustrating. But when you watch two or three a night? Not such a big deal.


Hey, a Post!

“A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight… it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, ‘Simba!’”

– Annie Dillard

A friend posted this on Facebook today and I couldn’t help but think, “Ain’t that the truth!” I’ve got a wild, feral thing sitting in Scrivener right now. I’m completely terrified of it, but determined to battle it back into submission. Well, cooperation, at least.

What about you? Does this ring true?

What I Learned about Writing from Florence Welch

I had originally planned to do a generic “What My Week Was Like” list-type post for this week. I shipped my manuscript off to a beta reader (aka my genius brother) for some fresh-eyed help, and rather than jumping over to RED SKY and getting all mixed up, I decided to take the week off from writing. So I did lots of stuff around the house and was pretty scarce ’round the blogosphere. And it was awesome! I’m excited to get my novel back from my brother and attack those last 20k words. Sometimes a break really is all you need.

HOWEVER, Florence and the Machine performed two shows here in Denver this week–Wednesday and Thursday nights. I was originally going to be gone for both shows, but those plans fell through and on Wednesday night I realized, “I can see FloMA tomorrow night!” So I scoured Craig’s List, scored some tickets yesterday morning, and last night basked in the glory of Florence Welch’s voice.

Rather than go off about how amazing she is to see live (and she is … utterly and completely. If you have the opportunity, do yourself a favor and go!), I thought I’d share some things I learned from her  that apply to writing. Yes! Even while watching a concert, during a writing hiatus, I was thinking about writing. ^_^

1. Throw Your Whole Body Into It–Florence is truly an artist and performer. She danced, and threw her arms in the air, and jumped off the stage and ran among the audience. In other words, for her, performing is a full-body, all-or-nothing experience. Writing should be like that. You shouldn’t ever withhold any part of yourself back from your manuscript. When I get really into writing (the way I should always be), my facial expressions start to mimic the emotions of the scene. I smile, laugh, sigh. My husband likes to tease me and say, in a Soup Nazi voice, “No smiling for you!” One time, after writing an attack scene, I literally had to close the word document and take steps to calm myself. You can tell when an author has put this kind of effort into their work.

2. Don’t Be Afraid–Florence has no fear on stage. She’s not worried about fitting any norm for a musician. She’s not worried as being perceived any way. She’s absolutely, unapologetically herself on stage. She’s artsy and quirky and expressive, but the result is she’s incredibly amazing. So whoever you are–be that person in your writing. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re moody, be moody. Own it! Be confident! Everyone’s got their personal flavor–what’s yours?

3. EMOTIONS–One reason I absolutely adore Florence and the Machine’s music is the vast depth and amount of emotion in each and every song. I can imagine that every aspect of the process is exhausting for her–writing the lyrics, the music, recording, and performing. I love live music because the emotion is always much stronger, but with FloMa’s is tangible. Why? Because there’s already so much emotion in the recorded versions. With that kind of foundation, you can imagine what the live version is like.

4. Believe In Your Work–It’s clear that Florence believes in her music. In the words and the notes, their meaning, their existence. You should feel the same way about your stories and characters. And if you don’t find yourself feeling that way … why not? Perhaps you need to connect more deeply with the work, and perhaps it’s not a project worth pursuing.

So there you have it. Four lessons on writing I learned from Florence Welch. Can you imagine what it would be like to open your mouth and have her voice come out? Also, her back-up singers? Good for them, because I’d be way too intimidated to sing with her.

Happy Friday!

What I Learned about Writing from (the perhaps mythical version of) Christopher Walken

I once heard a story that Christopher Walken never rejects a role he’s offered, no matter how bad. The story related that Christopher Walken believes you can learn from every role, even the bad ones.

I tried to corroborate this story this morning and only found a small mention in this article, that says, “Walken accepts any job offer that isn’t ‘too awful,’ per a humble work ethic fueled not by love of fame, glory or money … but by fear of his own capacity to ‘sit around and eat spaghetti.'” Which proves two things: 1) What my mother always said, about believing half of what you see and none of what you hear is probably correct (but can I believe it?) and 2) Spaghetti is the most terrifying pasta. (It’s very tentacle-like.)

BUT! Let’s pretend my story is true (it’s like fiction!). The idea that even bad roles offer opportunity for growth has merit. I suggest that writers could learn from “bad” stories. For instance, I (inadvertently) took a hiatus from creative writing during college (except a brief stint my sophomore year, when I took Creative Writing 101 (or something like that) and wrote a few chapters of what is now my thesis). I was still writing, just papers. Lots of them. Mostly in Italian (my minor). After I graduated, I wanted to write again, but couldn’t make it stick. I even bought a prompt book and read the delightful Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I felt inspired, but no story ideas came.

Finally, 9 months later, I told my sister about a dream I’d had the night before, filled with Greeks and wars and all that romantic stuff. She said I should write it. So I did. And let me tell you what: IT’S TERRIBLE. But I’m so glad I wrote it. Why? Because Almost 3 years later, I’m nearly done with my MFA and I’ve got one full draft of a book and another partial under my belt. I consider myself a writer, whereas before it was only an interest of mine. That story literally changed the course of my life.

Sometimes you just need to write. It doesn’t matter what it is. Write a character sketch. Describe your kitchen at its very messiest. Turn Christopher Walken into a superhero and have him save the Queen of England from an invasion of spaghetti-like aliens. If it’s terrible, laugh at it and be grateful you were able to get something down today. Because that’s what really matters. All words you write are important, even the ones you ultimately delete.