Today, I'll offer insight on how TV shows can help you develop your story's beginning.
In the beginning...
We all know how important a story's beginning is. Because a story has a beginning, middle, and an ending, some writers start their story at the very beginning, meaning, they use their first chapter to set us up with who the main characters are, where they live, and what they do. Toward the end of that first chapter, we might get a hint of conflict. Many times, especially in early drafts, we don't. When you consider the reader of said first chapter, that would be a problem.
William Rabkin, in his book, Writing the Pilot, states that "what you're doing in the pilot is establishing the characters, situations and, most important, conflicts that are going to drive your next hundred stories. You've got to introduce all these elements to your audience and do it in a way that feels natural" (p. 67). He mentions two types of pilots: the premise pilot that "directly sets up the franchise by showing the series of events that puts the characters and conflicts in motion" (p. 66) and the regular episode pilot that is an episode that "could conceivably be aired at any point in the season" (p. 66).
Rabkin uses the show Lost as an example of a premise pilot as he states that this episode MUST go first in that it sets up characters and the major conflict - the plane crash. "Nothing that happens in the series could conceivably come before that episode" (p. 66). He uses the hit show Mad Men as an example of a regular episode pilot in that it "picks up with Don Draper in the middle of what will obviously be a typical kind of crisis for him - in this case, the need to come up with a new ad campaign for Lucky Strikes cigarettes now that Reader's Digest has declared tobacco to be a carcinogen" (p. 66).
How can these ideas of premise pilot and regular episode pilot help you in developing a stronger beginning for your novel?
From the two types of pilots, we get two good points:
- We need to put the characters and conflicts in motion. We need to set up our world, the important people in that world, and the conflict(s) that will drive the story forward [premise pilot].
- We need to not be bound by starting our story at the beginning [regular episode pilot]. As Rabkin states on the regular episode pilot, this particularly pilot could technically be shown at any point in the season. This is good in a way because it allows you to break away from the notion that you must always start at the beginning. What if in examining the trajectory of your story, you realize that in starting at story-zero (the very start to which your story can begin), you will take your reader to nearly the middle of your book before any type of conflict arises? This realization would call for a major edit because most readers will not trudge through half a book for pretty visuals and dialogue and action that contain no bite or substance.
In revising/editing your story, it's a great idea to print out your first chapter, go find a quiet place to read, and plow through the chapter, checking to make sure that you've done some developing of time, place, characters, and a conflict or two. While doing that, also make sure that you examine whether your story's starting point is an effective one, conducive to getting readers to the conflict early so that they want to know what happens next, and next, and... well, you get the picture.
In part two, I'll talk about how we can use TV shows to help us develop strong endings to our scenes and chapters.
Do you think about TV shows/writing when you're developing your novels? Do other forms of media help you to write your books?
Rabkin, W. (2011). Writing the pilot. Pasadena, CA: Moon & Sun & Whiskey, Inc.
|Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.|