Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Going There" - A Lesson in Plotting from HOMELAND and THE AMERICANS

I've been struggling a bit with the manuscript lately. And I don't think it's just because life has been busy. I think, at the core, my problem is that I'm tackling something bigger--darker--than I ever have before and I am nervous. Is my story too dark? Are my scenes too melodramatic? What am I doing?

In an epic act of procrastination, I did some binge-watching. Okay, a lot of binge-watching. I watched the entire current season of HOMELAND on Showtime and every available episode of THE AMERICANS on FX. 

And I learned something.

I love big drama. Huge moral questions. Explosions. Dire twists with dark ethical consequences. Love and loss. In the words of our current Voldemort, I like my tv "huge." So, why not my book?

Inspired by the television moments that took my breath away, I decided to "go there" in my manuscript. That is to say... 
  • When in doubt, kill the beloved character. 
  • Make the good guys impossibly conflicted...
  • And the bad guys impossibly relatable. 
  • Let there be blood and sweat and tears. 
  • Let bad things happen to good people. 

Go so far that fat tears fall from your author eyes onto the keyboard as you write.

Now, I'm not going to lie. There are some moments from HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER that stretch even my tolerance for outlandish storylines and descend into a melodrama that somehow distances me from the characters. But the truth is that the world is full of scary people and bad decisions--and nobody can deny Shonda Rhimes' multi-million-dollar ability to pack a plot punch.

So, I let go of my misgivings about my crazy head, the twisted plot I had dreamed up  (and the need for constant subtlety), and I let myself write page after page of that lunatic psychological thriller.

And I got somewhere.

I suppose the conclusion here--my "advice" if I have any right to offer some--is to follow the lead of HOMELAND writers (who let Carrie trust the untrustworthy and love the doomed) and THE AMERICANS writers (who make us fall in love with two murderous Soviet spies). Think big. Think bold. Break hearts. And embrace what happens.