Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Unlikely Source of Inspiration

So, I've been sick for a long time. A really long time. I think a lot of it has to do with the amount of stress I'm under right now--both personal and work related. My life has seen some big changes the past few months and it was really only a matter of time until my health would begin to pay the price. That said, I thought I had kicked it--I think what was a sinus infection--and then it came back full force after my trip down to Knoxville. Let's just say I was in a great deal of pain this weekend from the worst earache I've ever had...and that's coming from a girl who once popped her eardrum while scuba diving. Okay, maybe it wasn't THAT bad, but it was bad.

At any rate, I didn't have a lot of get-up-and-go this weekend. What was meant to be a four day writing spree turned into four days of feeling like utter crap. I didn't want to get out of bed, let alone do anything productive. lol

So, I spent a good portion of this weekend watching the second season of The Vampire Diaries. I know...I know... but dang it, that show is GOOD. And I have to say, it is a Master Class in upping the stakes and how to create a no holds barred level of tension that has you saying "just one more episode" even when you're completely exhausted. I found myself simply amazed by what that show accomplishes week to week... (see where this is going? Translate week to week to: chapter to chapter..) I started thinking, how are they accomplishing what they're accomplishing? Well, here's a few things I noted...

1. They always leave each week with a mini-cliffhanger. Some twist that you didn't see coming and which is only revealed during the last couple of minutes of each episode. You're left with an URGENT NEED to know what happens next... and if you're behind like me, that means you can pop the next episode on and find out. That's exactly where you want to leave your readers: Needing To Know More. You can do this by leaving unanswered questions, cutting a chapter off mid-scene..lots of tension creating ways that will pull your readers forward. Be it to the next chapter or the next book...

2. No one.... and I do mean NO ONE... is off limits. The writers are just as likely to kill off a main character as they are some walk-on character who makes no more than a brief appearance in an episode. Once this precedent is set, you truly begin to believe that ANY character can be taken out. At any time.

3. Well-developed secondary characters. I love that this show doesn't solely rely on the main characters to keep the series going. They have some really well-defined secondaries that, in a lot of ways, I like even more than the principal players. They have great sub-plots going that feature them, making them more than just filler in the background. I mean, come on... who doesn't love Vampire Caroline? :)

4. It really illustrates the whole Donald Maass philosophy. Who can't your character live without? Take them away. Etc. Etc. Just when you think a situation can't get any worse... it does. Not only do the characters have big picture stakes in a certain situation, they also have personal ones. Nothing worse than choosing who should die when you're forced to choose between two people you love. Add to it the knowledge that the world will end if you don't choose... and Yeeeikes. Good stuff!

5. Characters that are well-defined, with both good and bad characteristics that make them BELIEVABLE. People that you either cheer on or hope and pray get their comeuppance. If you can't connect with the characters you're watching/reading, even if you can't stand them... you'll be rowing without a paddle. Seriously.

These points are really just skimming the surface, but they're definitely ping ponging around in my head right now, and I'm thinking about what I can do to ensure I have the same success that this show has. Even though I was sick, it was still a weekend well spent. :)

Anyone watch and love this show as much as I do? :)

Agree or disagree?


  1. Hi Jennifer, I'm so glad I found your blog. First off, I'm a new follower, so hi! :)
    Second, I know exactly how you feel, these past few days were supposed to be a writing marathon but I suffer from Insomnia and I'm a walking zombie right now. So my writing has suffered and third - Vampire Diaries rocks. I've actually borrowed some of their cliff-hanger ideas for my own MS. Not steeling their ideas, but keeping my chapters short and full of intrigue on that one particular idea and then ending on a completely different note. Seems to work, my critique partners are forever saying I leave them hanging for more. * My evil plan is working * :)
    Anyway, I can't wait to read more of your posts :) If you want to follow me my blog is:http://dreamwritepublish.blogspot.com.

  2. Argh. I'm so bad at the whole raise the stakes thing. I can't exactly kill the hero or heroine of a romance [g] but I've got to dig deeper for my ending/climax scene...