Friday, May 14, 2010

Storytelling Done Really Well

I know this may make me hokey and kill loads of my credibility, but if you want to see storytelling done well, go watch The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural.

Both schlocky, I know.  I full admit that the effects are usually lame, the actors and actresses aren't particularly all that great (with some really notable exceptions), and they're on the CW.  However, both showcase two amazing storytelling techniques.  ****PROBABLY SPOILERY****

THE VAMPIRE DIARIES:  I read a couple of posts last week or the week before about kitchen sink storytelling.  Where the writer throws everything they've got into a story just to up the stakes.  While I agree that not all stories need aliens and vampires and unicorns AND angry island spirits, there's something to be said for throwing everything at a story.  And this is what makes TVD so compelling.  They burn through stories in one episode that would take other shows an entire season to work through.  And they do it believably.  This whole season I kept waiting for the lull, waiting for them to toss in a filler episode, to take a breather.  But they never did.  The writers of the show wrote like they weren't going to have a season two.  I was watching the finale last night, and at one point I looked at the time and couldn't believe that only 27 minutes had passed because SO darn much had happened.  Do I worry that, having thrown so much into season one, they'll have nothing left for season two?  Sure.  But that's the risk you take.  One of my favorite scenes from the movie GATTICA is when Ethan Hawke and his brother are swimming in the ocean, and his superior brother asks Ethan how he always manages to beat him.  Ethan replies that he never saved anything for the way back.  I think that's what makes for successful storytelling.  Don't save anything for the way back.

SUPERNATURAL:  Now here's an example of a complete story arc.  Eric Kripke always said he had a 5 year plan for the show.  And last night we saw the final piece of that plan.  It brought together everything we knew about the characters and the mythology and concluded it.  Sure, there'll be a sixth season, but this arc is complete.  What makes this so amazing is that you take a show like Buffy.  The world ended every season.  And every season Buffy fixed it.  Now, I LOVE Buffy.  For me, the vampires and apocalypse took a backseat to the characters.  But with Supernatural, you began in season one with a simple show about two brothers fighting monsters and looking for their father.  By the end of season five, they're tackling questions of theology and metaphysics and trying to find a way out of the middle of the war between heaven and hell.  And what did the apocalypse come down to?  A car and some Def Leopard.  They were saved by the memories shared in a car.  It might seem cheesy, but the relationship between the brothers was the REAL story that Kripke was telling.  He may have spun yarns about demons and angels and every manner of creature you can imagine, but at the core of his story were two brothers.  Over five seasons, he built that story one brick at a time, so that by last night's finale, everything made sense.  That's what makes a successful story arc.

In a way, I wish SUPERNATURAL had ended last night.  Because, as far as I'm concerned, that story is told.  

So, make fun of me for watching the shows, but those writers know what they're doing.  They know where they're going and they never hold anything back.  There's a lot to be learned from that.


  1. I skipped the Vampire Diaries part, because I'm going to watch it this summer. I completely agree with the Supernatural part though. Man, that was good. Sam and Dean aren't even the same characters that they started out as. They've changed. It's completely believable.

  2. Okay, so did you absolutely just want to DIE out of sheer bliss after watching the season finale of VD? I know I did!!!

  3. We LOVED Supernatural when we watched it. I think we saw the first 2 seasons and then we had our son so no time. I'll have to get them on DVDs and have a marathon or something.


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