Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Three Twists and a Finale

I have been in quarantine for months, both because I am at risk and because I have been ill (but no proof it is COVID). Luckily, we are "retired," so there is nowhere we have to be other than doctor appointments (telehealth now), and the pharmacy.

I have to give props to all of the books, movies, and streaming stories for keeping me sane. I read the entire Poldark saga books. Reread all of Anna Huber's The Anatomist's Wife series. Several Carol Goodman books. Cinda Chima Williams fantasy Seven Realms and Shattered Realms series, Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell series, and the Ash Princess series by Laura Sebastian just to name a few. TV series are too many to list.

 As I wrote about in Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, most stories follow a comforting, expected flow. There are variations on the theme but they go something like this:

A problem presents, characters are forced to do something about it. Things go wrong, creating new challenges which lead them to adapt to new circumstances before they overcome the problem. Or, they make headway, a new snag complicates the situation or changes their understanding of the situation, things get much, much worse before they reach the climax when the outcome is decided. Good guys typically win. Good guys can be people of questionable moral character as long as their cause is just.

In the right hands with originality and ingenuity, this arc is highly satisfying. I've been irked by stories that are disjointed, or poorly intercut between past versus present strands, or strands so confusing I quit watching/reading. The worst sin is characters I don't care about. I get ticked off about the time I wasted. Life is too short for bad fiction.

The most recent delicious find is a black comedy titled Dead to Me. During the first season, each episode ended with an information reveal that completed shifted my understanding of what happened with the inciting event. The main character was a bit of a bitch quite frankly and that hurts Season 2 to some degree which tried to follow the same formula with less success.

The basic premise is the main character Jen Harding, played by Christina Applegate, loses her husband in a hit and run accident. She makes friends with Judy Hale, played by Linda Cardellini. As the episodes progress, the plot thickens. There are no gun fights, battles, car chases, gruesome special effects, etc. It is purely character and situation. In the wrong hands, it would have failed.

So, in this example, there are 9 twists and a finale. It wasn't too much. It was just enough. Too many convoluted twists can confuse your audience. In this series, it was peeling back the layers to reveal the truth.

To use this method it is critical to have a basic skeleton to work with. You have to know what happened, when, where, how, and why then selectively deliver the information reveals in the most effective manner. I highly recommend watching the show once for fun and a second time to take notes. Then apply the technique to make your story a page turner. Every episode made me gasp and think, "What the heck? I have to see what happens next." There was not one episode that made it easy for me to turn it off.

For more information on how to make page turners, check out the free information on my website and blog.

Keep reading:

Layering Conflict

Levels of Antagonism

Pick Your Battles

Gold Medal Writing

Hollywood and Screenwriting

It's About Conflict

Lessons in Story Structure in Unlikely Places

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Much love, Diana. Dealing with chronic illness is a daunting prospect at the best of times, let alone right now.

    I love Dead to Me. Other than our Friday night family TV and pizza session, I have not watched any other TV show since October last year because I've simply not had the time with finalising my latest book. But I made an exception for Dead to Me Season 2 last week, having watched and loved Season 1 last year. There was no way I was holding off on that one!

  2. You are a great example to the rest of us, Diana, because you keep plodding ahead despite major health issues that have plagued you for years. Yet, you are here on BRP with us, still posting, still commenting, still staying the course. Thank you for that.

    Thank you, too, for introducing me to Dead to Me (no idea how to italicize this). If it's available on Roku, I will check it out.

    1. Type an i (for italics) inside pointy brackets <> at the start of the title and /i inside <> at the end of the title. So, < i >Dead to Me< /i > but without the spaces either side of the i and /i

    2. Thanks Elle, I don't know html code so that is useful!

  3. Of course it's on Netflix, which we don't have. Sounds great though. I've watched less TV and read more during this quarantine. It has been totally enjoyable. Glad you're putting your time to good use and learning something in addition.

  4. It is hard to turn of the critic/analysis when reading and watching but really great stories do.

  5. I sure hope you feel better as the days go on, Diana. It's a crazy time, and feeling worse than usual doesn't help.

    I also love Dead to Me and just noticed the other day there are new episodes. Might be how I spend this weekend instead of watching a movie and Nascar (with popcorn). I love twisty stories.

  6. Looks like many of us here on BRP are fans of Dead to Me. I think season one was stellar, not sure about season two. Will have to watch the last few episodes to decide for sure. There are moments - goo moments - but some of the surprises are a little too much for me.


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