Screw the Characters

Posted on 05/24/2010


You know, I just finished watching the Lost series finale. I am sure there are tons of blogs out there about this show right now, and mine is just one more…but wait! It’s not.

Mine is more about the craft of storytelling than the actual show.

You see, we as writers are always told, “It’s about the characters.” or “It’s the characters you remember from your favorite stories.” We are told to start with an interesting character and build a story up around that person. Character first, everything else second.

Sure, sure. I can see a lot of your heads out there nodding up and down in agreeance with that statement. Bravo! You are a good writer!

But let’s not go all crazy just yet.  Just like yoga, peanut butter, cigarettes, and spandex, everything can be taken to an extreme that is just unhealthy and wrong.  (Cogitate on that last sentence for a bit, then come back.)

You see, in the series finale of Lost, they COMPLETELY focused on the damn characters. They just gave the plot and the rest of the story a wave of the hand and a general shrug. You see, Cuse and Lindelhof were both told “It’s all about the relationships and the characters.” Cuse and Lindelhof prolly nodded their extremely Hollywood heads and said, “Hell yes it is!”  So they wrote the finale around the characters and their relationships.

But wait.

There’s one seriously kick ass story going on here too. I mean, you can have the most kick ass character EVER! (Think something like re-writing the New Testament as a zombie story, with Jesus being the lead zombie killer…but wait! He’s Jesus, he can cure all the zombies with a snap of the fingers…never mind)  But if that character is just sitting on the swing, eating a box of Mike and Ike’s watching a bird fly over head for 2 hours or 300 pages, odd are, you’re not going to give a shit about him or her.

The neat thing about Lost was, we really did care about the characters. If we didn’t, we’d never have invested the time and the headache of trying to keep up with such a complicated television show.  But we did, and honestly, we reaped massive dividends from just that.  But once we did care about the characters, you’ve got us!  We care about them, and you don’t need to beat us about the head and shoulders with caring about them more and more. You see, once you have us emotionally invested, YOU CAN CARRY ON WITH THE DAMN STORY.

But they didn’t.  The focused on the characters to the detriment of one of the most interesting stories EVER on television. There will never be another show like Lost and for that, I’m grateful. It was a great ride.

So, the thing is, start with the characters, but don’t forget the plot too. Once we are invested into the characters—GET THE STORY ROLLIN!

You feel me?

I wrote this earlier as what I thought would have been a much more kickass end scene to Lost. I share it now for your edification:

A quick montage with all the characters and this haunting song:  (Fast forward to about 45 seconds into it    (If you’ve ever watched Lost, this song will probably bring tears to your eyes, just listening to it again.)

Play that song as you read.

Each character living his or her life, Claire, and Aaron, being visited on Aaron’s birthday by Kate.

Lapidus smiling at a new group of passengers boarding his plane.

Miles with a kid, swinging him around.

Desmond and Penny on their yacht, cuddling, watching the clouds.

Sawyer sitting on a porch somewhere, looking out into the sunset, obviously thinking about Juliette.

Jin and Sun’s child, putting flowers on their graves.

And then finally, we go to the beach.
On it are Jack and Hurley, sitting next to each other. Ben is standing behind them.  In the distance we see a sailboat.

Hurley looks over at Jack and says, “Well…here we go again, dude.”

Jack smiles, but there is something in his eyes. Something sad, but satisfied.

Fade to Black.

The End.

Posted in: Writing