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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Can Restrictions Help Storytelling?


In this Breaking Bad cast interview with Conan O'Brien show creator Vince Gilligan mentions how great it was at the end of season 4 of Breaking Bad to know that they had 16 more episodes to finish out the show in season 5.

He said, and I'm paraphrasing:
"...we went to their writer's room and divided up the cork board up into 16 equal sections and figured out how much story do we have left...because you want it to end with the very last loose ends tied up, leave everything on the field..."
I listened to that and thought to myself, that sounds a lot like me deciding I was going to write a 60K word novel with 2,500 word chapters which meant 24 chapters. I divided a piece of paper in to 24 sections and fleshed out each chapter much like they fleshed out each episode. I still stand by my last blog post, but this just strengthens my resolve to get the bare bones of my story down, enough to guess at a length in word count and number of chapters, and then map out the book on a piece of paper filling in each chapter and making sure the right events take place in the right parts of the story. I found it really interesting and inspiring to think of the writers of Breaking Bad going into a room to write the last season of one of the best TV shows of all time. They knew they had 16 episodes, so they planned out each one. 
"...you want to parcel it out so you end with...the very last thing tied up...you don't want to finish up your story too soon...finish the last bit of plot that you hope to achieve...you want to time it out just right..."


I never thought about how precise these episodes have to be. They have to be a certain length to the second so they can fit in commercials and air in its exact time slot. Now one of the beautiful things about novels is that you can take more time with stories and dive deeper, and tell your story without most of the restrictions of television or film. That said, it seems to me the more behind the scenes I hear from creators of films and movies, the more it seems like when they have restrictions they're forced to think out of the box of how to make it work and come up with brilliance. Look at Star Wars.

Did you know the first Star Wars movie A New Hope was extremely difficult for them to make and a lot of people said it wouldn't go anywhere? Then look at Episode I The Phantom Menace. All the money in the world, technology enabling you to show anything imaginable on the screen including a completely computer generated lead character, and it pales in comparison to A New Hope with it's plastic models and robotics - 57% vs a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes if you follow those links. I'm not quite sure where I'm going with all this just yet but I wanted to share what's stewing around in my head about story and structure and restrictions. What are your thoughts about these things? Have you seen Breaking Bad? If not, why not? Here's my spoiler free review of the show I wrote after finishing it last month. Thanks for stopping by.

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