Monday, September 9, 2013

Writing Under the Influence: The Vampire Diaries

I'm sure you knew this post was coming when I announced I'd be writing about things that influence me.

                                                  If you can see this:
                                And not be influenced - you're a bigger person than me.

But aside from the The Vampire Diaries having one of the most beautiful casts in the history of ever and casting director at The CW having my dream job, TVD has been really helpful to my writing process.

If you don't watch TVD, you're probably make bad choices, but just in case you've been living in a cave here's what it's about:
TVD is the story of two vampire brothers, Damon and Stefan Salvatore and Elena Gilbert, the girl they both love. It takes place in Mystic Falls, a town rich with history and tradition, oh, and werewolves and witches.   There's a great supporting cast, smart dialogue, and Elijah.

So here are the six most important things I've learned from watching the Salvatores and friends in all their shirtless glory.(Also - mild spoilers!)

1. Commit to your characters and their personalities.

This is something Julie Plec really has a grasp on. Once your character is established, they shouldn't be quick to change. And sometimes that means they make really bad decisions. And you know what, it's okay. The Salvatores are prime examples of this. Damon, the bad boy, has spent 150 years being selfish, drinking and eating his way through his non-dead existence. And then he meets Elena. He wants to be good, or at least good enough for her, but a flip isn't something his character would do. So he does dumb shit. And he hurts people and feelings and mostly his progress with the girl of his dreams.

But in holding to this character trait, something magical happens. We root for him to do the right thing because we see his intention. We see that he is trying. And then, when it comes to crunch time and he saves the day or sacrifices something for the greater good, we cheer all the more! I wish I could write a character like this. I truly do.

With Stefan, it's the opposite. He's the good guy, the brooder, the Angel without leather pants. He is so good that sometimes I want to ring his neck and yell at the TV, get over your self-righteous self! We know he's going to make the right choice. We know he's willing to be the martyr. We know he's going to be the one who needs saving.

But this good guy has a problem - blood. What a unique thing. A vamp who can't handle drinking blood. And wow, does he go bad! And completely unpredictable. The dynamic of these two characters, or maybe I'm just a sucker for a brother story, is what drives the show. Honestly, I think it work without Elena at this point.

And then there's Katherine, the first woman the brothers fought over. She turned them into vamps for their trouble. She's what I like to refer to as 'fun Elena'. She has no inhibitions, no shame and no regrets. I know I shouldn't root for her, but I can't help but love her. 

Lesson: Pick character traits and stick to them. Change is slow. So when it comes, the impact is tenfold.

2. Everyone loves a bro-mance.
In my last post I talked about much I love the friendship between Nick and Monroe. It's one of my favorite things about GRIMM. Here, there's the same kind of relationship. Damon and Alaric. It was hate at first sight, but they had a repartee. Thrown into a situation where they had to work together or be killed, they started an odd couple kind of riffing. The hate turned to dislike but with respect. And eventually, they became best friends. Even after they made the horrible decision to kill off Alaric, he comes back as a ghost to check on Damon. And I admit, I've shed more tears watching Damon miss Ric than I probably should have.

Lesson: Friendships are important in your stories. Never under estimate them.

3. If a story line doesn't work, don't be stubborn. End it and move on.

As in every show, sometimes the story goes in a direction and you're left with this face:

If you watch True Blood, you know what I mean. But a lot of times a show, or an author, is so set on a story line they drag it out and try to make it work, cut it to fit a square peg in a round hole. Guess what? It may go inside the hole, but that doesn't make it fit. TVD has had a few missteps along the way, but I've noticed something. While many shows are dragging out crappy plot lines, TVD doesn't. It wraps it up and starts something else. And as a writer, so should you. Even better - delete it and replot.

Lesson: The only one married to your crappy plot is you. You can fix it, change it, and make it delicious.

4. Bad boys can be heroes, too.

Raise your hand if you want Caroline to be with Klaus? That girl needs to get in her car, drive to NOLA and let Klaus show her, town.

But wait!

He's the big bad on the show. How can I be rooting for the bad boy to get the girl? How can I feel anything for him? He does mean things, he makes selfish choices, and oh look, he's an artist. And he knows Caroline isn't ready and he's willing to wait. And he's lonely and god, don't you just want to hug him?

And who doesn't melt every time he calls Caro 'love'? 

This is an important thing. Tom Hiddleston said, "Every villain is a hero in their own mind." I think that's a very important truth to remember when writing. And it works so well on this show. Every week I wait for Caroline and Klaus to finally get together and Damon and Elena to get it on.

Lesson: If your villain has a reason behind his madness and does the right thing, even if it's selfish, once in a while, people will love him. Also - emotional baggage helps his cause.

5. Pacing is everything.

The number one reason this show works is that it moves at break neck speed. I've never seen a show with such a fast clip. You don't have time to waste when you're watching this show. Sure, it has slow-burn will they, won't they moments as well as a season long arc. But when you get down to it, there are new plots, characters, and deaths around every corner. And somehow, in the middle of all that you still have time to get attached to the characters. (See lesson one) And when one of them dies or hurts, you hurt with them, the clock slows to a maddening tick, matching your broken heartbeat.

How do they achieve such a fast pace? Two things. They don't dwell. One character might be stuck in denial or in anger or ache, but the show moves on, just like life. Even in the supernatural world of Mystic Falls, that makes it relatable.
Secondly, they give you details along the way and sneak in backstory that makes sense with the current moment. They don't give you long explanations. It's your responsibility to pick up the clues along the way. And you know what, the show trusts the viewer enough to do just that. They give just the points of the past which are relative to the now. Stephen King says, “The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.”God, that's the truth.

Lesson: Trust your readers. They can keep up without you bashing them over the head. If you do that, you can write a story to keep their attention.

6. Personal growth is key, but be selective.

Evey character on the show has grown to a point. But two characters started out as please-die-in-a-fire and have morphed into oh-my-god-I-love-you. Tyler and Caroline. More Caroline than Tyler, but still. In season one I was ready for them to go. Caroline was whiny and shallow and just generally awful. And Tyler was a douchebag extraordinaire. But something happened, they were allowed to grow up. This doesn't happen often in stories, let alone a 'teen' TV show, but it did and it's a beautiful thing.

It works because they both retain their personalities, but grew in strength. Their positive traits are dominant now even though they still retain those annoying quirks to let us know who they are. It's an amazing thing Julie Plec has pulled off, but it works and it's a case study in how to grow a development arc.

But IT DOESN'T NEED TO BE EVERY CHARACTER. This is important, people. Take note!

For the opposite: See Bonnie. Ugh. Bonnie runs around being judgey and bitchy then comes in and reluctantly does a spell. And this is what she's been doing since day one. Flat characters? Not good.

Lesson: Character arcs are as important, if not more so, than the plot.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I just bought season four on DVD and must have a know, to write better.

What? It's research. I mean, when research looks like this, it's easy.


  1. Great post! I love this show for exactly the same reasons. Awesome cast, beautiful writing...Such an amazing show!

    1. Isn't it? I love it. I would watch it for the dialogue alone, but it's so much more! And obviously, Ian Somerhalder.

  2. Great post! I've never seen TVD before... but I'm actually considering it now! Just because it obviously has so much delicious eye candy, er, writing research potential. (Seriously, why did no one tell me of the eye candy?!)

    1. I can't believe no one told you either. Make sure to scold your friends.

  3. This post literally made my night. I love this show and its writing.

  4. I loves you. Hard. I had a BRILLIANT moment of inspiration when reading this post. And gosh, you found the most absolutely perfect GIFS, didn't you? :)

    1. YAY! Because that is exactly what these blogs are supposed to do!!!!
      And yes, GIF hunting was extra fun this week!

  5. Yes! This show is full of WIN!