Today we are lucky to have the one and only Thea Harrison, author of the paranormal romance series The Elder Races, here once again. Her third book in the series, Serpent’s Kiss, released on October 4th. If you haven’t read it yet, go pick it up!
Take it away Thea
What do zombies have to do with good stories?
Curious about what people might like to read in a guest blog posting, I asked around on Twitter for ideas. One person (*waves* Hi @SullivanMcPig!) replied, jokingly, “Zombies!” Another person (@SpazP!) suggested I write something about my favorite television series. A third (@Tina_Moss) asked about writing process and style.
These three ideas met in my mind, and lo and behold, this blog post was born!
Last season I was curious about AMC’s television show THE WALKING DEAD, so I DVRed it—and I, like so many other people, became completely hooked. Those five, brief episodes became the highlight of my television watching while they were on. I looked forward to each episode, and I bit my nails through every single one of them. I was thrilled to discover that AMC invested in a second season, and I can’t wait for it to begin. (It starts in October.)
Now, zombies may not be your thing, and I get that. They aren’t exactly my thing either. I mean, I don’t avoid them but I also don’t go out looking for zombie stories. So I asked myself this morning—why did I fall so completely for this show? The show made me anxious. At times it made me downright uncomfortable. It was graphic and violent, and those two things don’t exactly sell me on a story.
So what was it about that show? The following are a few things that occurred to me:
- The writing was tight, and the dialogue sharp and focused. I think these two things can make a fan out of almost anybody who is willing to try something new and different, no matter what your story is about.
- The problems were global, but the story was intensely personal. When I watched the show, I grew to really care about the characters. They were sympathetic, heroic, scared, vulnerable, and they had flaws that kept them from becoming too superhuman and out of touch.
- The tension stayed high. Maybe you’re a fan of nonstop action. I’m not. I think if you have a story that hurtles forward without taking time to let characters pause, interact, and reflect, your story will be the poorer for it. Some Hollywood directors do this, and I find the characters in their movies to be flat stereotypes and lose interest. Recently I DNFed a book by a writer I have enjoyed before, because I got tired of how relentless the action was in her book.
But slowing the action down occasionally doesn’t mean you have to lose tension. In THE WALKING DEAD, the characters struggled with each other and how to come to terms with the terrible world they found themselves in. A wife had slept with another man because she thought her husband was dead. Turns out, he wasn’t dead. And the man she had found solace with was her husband’s best friend. This ties back to point #2. The characters are people, and they struggle ethically, personally, while they also struggle to stay alive.
- Not everybody lives. I’m not talking about the global problem, because most of humanity has died by the time the story starts. I’m talking about the group itself. This makes sense to me. If you have real dangers that your characters face, then it is realistic to portray that not everybody will live all of the time. In the series, a woman loses her sister, and the film makers didn’t flinch from showing any of it. I’m not talking about the graphic nature of the sister’s death, because that was actually one of the least graphic points in the show. I’m talking about the surviving sister’s pain and her difficulty in letting go, and how brave she was when she finally did. That entire section of the show made me teary. This kind of tragedy makes their triumphs stronger, and the moments they are able to find for love even sweeter.
Having written all of that, I should throw out some cautions. THE WALKING DEAD is still a horror series, and it is graphic. You may still not be interested in watching it, and I definitely do not recommend it for children.
But I do believe that the characteristics that made the first mini-series such a raging success are the techniques of good storytelling that can be applied to any kind of writing, in any genre. They are also techniques that I try to bring into my own Elder Races series. Whether or not I have been successful will be up to the readers to decide. I do know that I’ve been extremely grateful to have been given the chance to try!
What are some television shows that you like? What storytelling techniques do you think they use well?