Falling Skies writing lesson: Kill ’em off

 

bouncy ball with Falling Skies on it
flickr credit: BenSparks

Falling Skies continues to prove it’s a show where you don’t know who to trust, who to believe, who to rely on. The characters have no-win choices to face. It’s unbearable.

I can’t wait for each episode.

But I find it also has lessons for me as a writer. After all, this visceral response is what I want to create in my readers. So I try to watch each episode with some part of my brain paying attention to how they rivet me to the screen and leave me begging for more.

Falling Skies is an unusual show in many ways, in my opinion. One of those ways is that it provides a rare moment  in storytelling — TV, movies, novels, nearly all modern stories. In this story, any character is available for death. At the start of an ep, I truly don’t know if a character is going to die or not.

There are rules that most modern TV shows, movies, and books adhere to. One of them is that we know — we can be certain — the main characters are not going to die. A popular show isn’t going to kill off the popular, main character because he or she brings in the bucks — I mean, the audience. Because of this, there’s a certain loss of suspense. I know when I watch, well, any action movie out there right now, that the main hero is not going to die. I may not know how he or she will get out of the mess he or she gets into, but a solution will be found (or pulled out of a director’s ass). No main character deaths allowed.

SPOILER ALERT

Falling Skies doesn’t seem to decide how to tell their story by what makes the most money. A couple of weeks ago, they killed off Jimmy, a very likable kid — and a kid! These writers are not afraid to piss people off to tell the story they want to tell. So, two episodes ago, as Weaver lay in a hospital bed, infected by some alien bug of some kind, I really couldn’t say if he would make it. Yes, he’s one of the main characters in the show. Yes, the show would be different without him. But perhaps the writers want to force the main character, Tom Mason, to take on the lead in a whole new way, push the character to new limits. Tom Mason would have to take the Second Mass to Charleston somehow, with his lack of military training and only what Weaver and his history classes had taught him.

Probable? I don’t know. Possible? Yes. Because in Falling Skies, everyone’s potential skitter fodder. Anyone can die at any time. They proved it again this week. Killed off yet another character (damn it!) as well as a red shirt “beserker” we hadn’t seen before. Truthfully, I just kept waiting to see who we were going to lose next.

Now that’s suspense.

I’m convinced that there are some storytelling truths within this show for writers. Lessons like how to constantly keep your readers on the edge of their seats. Like asking yourself what are some of the worst things that can happen now — then doing all of them at once. The latest lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t be  too afraid to annoy people to tell your story. If you’ve got to kill off that character, start the slash and burning. Bring on the killin’. Follow the story to the end it asks for.

I’m sure coming episodes will provide more lessons for me and my writing. I’ll try to pay attention in between Mech attacks. If I don’t have heart failure first, I’ll try to write about here.

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2 Comments

  1. Chuckster

    What makes this show so engaging to me is, it’s not so much a story about alien invasion, but a story about characters reacting to an alien invasion. I can come up with gobs of holes in the story, but it doesn’t matter because I care about the characters. I think that’s a lesson to writers. If readers care about your characters, they will stick with a story even if the plot line is imperfect.

  2. monica4567

    You make a great point, Chuckster. I wouldn’t care one wit who got killed off this week if I didn’t care about the characters. With these characters, we feel with them and agonize with them over their decisions. And great point about the imperfect plot. I agree, and it’s encouraging for my own, imperfect writing.

    The show is definitely about more than alien invasion. In focusing on the humans’ reactions to the invasion, I think the show begins to deal with basic human issues, like fatherhood. Take Tom Mason, resisting the decision he knows he’ll face: to send his son away for the safety of the Second Mass. He knows Ben is drawing more danger to them, but as a father, he cannot accept that sending him away is the only answer. The scene where Ben said goodbye ripped me up.
    That’s what I want as I writer: readers and fans who go through the entire gamut of emotions, have their heart attack, and come crawling back for more. 😉 I write sci-fi (sort of), so I thought this was a good demonstration for me.
    Yeah, I’m going with that. It’s educational!
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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