Thursday, April 14, 2011
L is for LOST and Linus. Benjamin Linus.
So, as some of you may know, I was a big fan of LOST. A HUGE fan. Of the show, but mostly of the brilliant, god-like genius that is Michael Emerson and his portrayal of the...how to describe?...well, Benjamin Linus. If I could write half as well as Michael Emerson can act...anyway, I'm excited to take L day to geek out about something and someone I haven't been able to geek out about in a while. There are absolutely lessons writers can learn from both LOST as a whole and specifically the character of Benjamin Linus.
Mystery, cliffhangers, and twists. This is what LOST did brilliantly. Every episode ended with you (ok, me) shouting at the TV screen wondering how in heavens name you were going to wait till the next week. If it was a book, it would be the kind you would read until three in the morning even though you had an eight AM final the next day.
Creating (even requiring) a loyal, dedicated fanbase. One of the big complaints about the show was that if you started halfway through you would be totally, to be punny, lost. It required its audience to be dedicated and loyal for the full pay-off, and it also required a certain level of intelligence. More then the average television show, at least, which admittedly isn't requiring much. Of course we writers want to be inviting to as many different kinds of readers as possible, but whats more realistic is carving out a niche of loyal groupies who will understand you and support your every book. Having as big a niche as LOST would not, of course, be a bad thing.
Consequences of meandering focus. The biggest complaint I heard about LOST, particularly from watchers, was that around season 3 it lost (so punny today) focus and started drifting, getting bizarre in a not-so-good way, loose strings and red herrings everywhere. I agree, though I feel they picked it back up in the last two seasons. Anyway, the point here is that find what you do and do. Make sure every story you write has a clear focus, even if its offbeat and never been done. Try not to let yourself or the story get distracted.
Ending an epic. So, besides 'The Sopranos' I'm not sure any show has had as controversial an ending as LOST. Many felt like there were WAY too many unsettled story lines, and that it was somewhat of a cop-out. Personally, I really liked what they did with the end of the show. I feel like if they had gone technical and traditional and tried to tie everything up neatly it would have been clunky and somewhat unsatisfying. The show was larger then life and required a larger then life ending, which I think they gave. As someone who liked the ending, the lesson here I think is that transcendent, perhaps ambiguous endings help give the story an expansive, numinous feel that will stay with the reader for a long time.
Every character needs complexity, including (especially) the villain. This is where Ben Linus comes in. I feel like both Michael Emerson and the writers handled the character brilliantly. They added layer upon layer, so we never quite knew where he stood or how we felt about him (Ok, I knew how I felt about him, but I'm weird). Perhaps not every character can be this ambiguous and disconcerting, but the villain certainly can. I enjoy stories much more when they are not straight black and white, because life is like that most of the time. At least people are. Snape, Javert and Gregory House are all characters that have this kind of complexity, never quite good, never quite bad, always entirely fascinating. Every character has good and bad in them, and emphasizing this in stories make them round and leaves us feeling like we know them even better then we know some of our own family.
Anyway, looks like I went on too long again after all, but I hope you'll forgive me. You guys are just so fun and rewarding to talk to :) And besides, its LOST. Even if you didn't watch the show I hope these are valuable lessons. I'd like to leave you with a video, of course, of probably my favorite scene of the entire show, in any season:
If you're me, you're shouting I'LL HAVE YOU, BEN, I WILL, I WILL!!