Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Lesson Learned from "Lost" Special Features

Don't worry ... no spoilers here!

My husband and I watched Seasons 1-4 of "Lost" in just about a month. Santa brought us Season 1, which we popped into the DVD player Christmas night, and we wrapped up the finale of Season 4 last week. That's 83 episodes, or approximately 58.5 hours of nail-biting, mind-bending TV, in less than 30 days. Impressive, no? (OK, maybe depressing is a better word for it.)

Anyway, in an attempt to avoid "Lost" withdrawal--because we have no intention of watching Season 5 as it airs because we seriously cannot bear the thought of following it week to week--we've started digging into our DVD special features. Among them are episodes with commentary, where you can watch a past show and listen to some of the producers and actors give their take on what is happening, how certain scenes were constructed, why they made various production decisions, etc.

Fascinating stuff. And all the more so because, as someone who has immersed herself in the show quite thoroughly, I have to admit I didn't notice much of it the first time around. The incredible lighting when Mr. Echo is telling Locke his story. The skillful recreation of a cold London Christmas morning on a set built in Hawaii. The old, disrepaired look of the pipes in the hatch, created using styrofoam and paint.

Oh, I saw all of that. But I didn't appreciate it.

That's because I was too caught up in the story. This is life and death, people (and it might even go beyond life and death). As a viewer, I'm there on that island with the characters, letting them take me whichever crazy direction the story happens to go. I'm not analyzing every little prop and camera angle.

And this is where we want to go with our writing. We take great pains in choosing each word, developing each character and constructing each scene. But the reader doesn't need to notice that. The reader just needs to be pulled into the story. In fact, if the reader does start noticing word choice, character development and scene construction, we might be in trouble.

I've had several writing teachers say you have to "kill your darlings," meaning when we've written something we feel is so clever, so brilliant, so ... noticeable, we need to strike it. It does not serve our story to have our readers taken out of it to notice how smart we are.

Of course, if our books someday get made into movies or TV shows and we have the opportunity to provide commentary on the DVD version, well, then we can let everyone know how exactly much thought and effort goes into this whole writing thing. Can't hurt to dream, can it?


Christina Farley said...

I was thinking along those same lines as you. I'm a Lost lover :) and I find the writers of the show to be very creative as they seem to think out of the box.

Yeah, I'm trying to learn to kill off or make my MC lose their precious things. Not easy!

Hamilton and Lauren said...

I could never write something like Lost. I don't think the writers even know what's going to happen. But it's addicting anyway!

(By the way, this is laurenem6, but I'll probably be posting as this account sometimes.)

Jan Mader said...

I was blog walking (as a semi-new blogger) and ran across your site. I see that you write children's books.

I'm a children's author and would love to have you come visit. I post creative writing exercises for teachers, parents, and writers. Please stop by!

Anita said...

Good point...the reader shouldn't know the amount of work that went into should just be seemless.

LindaBudz said...

Christina, Lauren, Jan and Anita,

Thanks for stopping by. According to the interviews, the writers know how it's going to end, but they make a lot of changes to things as they go along. The actors have no idea what's going to happen, even from week to week. So, for example, the actor who plays Ben has no more idea than any of us as to whether he is ultimately a good guy or a bad guy. Must make it challenging to play the role! But maybe that's why he's so convincing!

I think in writing, that is something the best thing that can happen ... when your character becomes someone more (or less, or just different) than you had originally intended. It makes things more organic and means something REAL is happening with the character. I love that.

Danette Haworth said...

Great post! I watched a Steven Spielberg documentary and I was amazed to discover one of the most suspenseful elements happened by accident.

You've probably already heard this story, but the mechanical shark (which they named "Bruce") wasn't working properly. They were losing all kinds of production time and after so many days (weeks?), they came up with ways to imply the shark's presence without seeing him.

SS said this was one of the best things that could have happened for the movie because it built suspense in a way he hadn't planned.

LindaBudz said...

Cool! I had not heard that story. But that movie scares the bejesus outta me!