Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Worst Mistake You Can Make

Fiction begins with a crisis, from which future action grows. The worst mistake you can make is also the most common mistake writers make — failing to immediately plunge a sympathetic character into a crisis. Ordinarily, this will be the hero. In any case, the hero's crisis can't be solely somebody else's problem: it must affect, and be affected by, the main character.

But what about television dramas in which an ex-con goes straight and helps others with their problems?

Good question. That is episodic fiction. Think of the episodes as non-consequential chapters. In the first episode we learn why the hero solves other people's problems: for redemption. In the opening of each subsequent episode, we are reminded of this in flashback. So, the hero's need for redemption is his crisis. His ongoing struggle for it is the (open-ended) core conflict. He purposes to help somebody else in each episode as a step toward achieving his goal. Otherwise he would be a flat character, one viewers wouldn't get deeply involved with. The series wouldn't attract and hold a regular audience.

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