Friday, October 2, 2009

What I've learned from the writers of Grey's Anatomy (and Tim Gunn): Make it Work

So it's not exactly a secret: conflict in a story is important. As in, try to write a book without it, and you'll be just about the only person to ever read it. Except maybe you're mom.

My problem is that I don't care much for abusing my characters. A sadist, I am not. But I'm working on it.

When I need inspiration, I turn to Grey's Anatomy. If you don't watch it, you probably still know of it. It's always in the news, with someone running their jaws off about something or another. Those guys can't shut up, usually to their detriment. And who has to deal with the fallout from all of this chick-fight blunder? The writers, that's who.

Example 1: One regular drops the f-bomb (the six-letter one) on another regular. Someone says to the writers, "So ... yeah ... I know you had this whole neat-o storyline worked out and everything, but ... we're going to need to axe this guy. Mmm 'kay? Great. p.s. I'm thinking spin-off. Are you thinking spin-off? Bloody brilliant, I tell ya." Writers go wallow in a bottle of wine for a few hours, and then they follow the infamous words of Tim Gunn and "make it work."

Example 2: Season 4, writer's strike. "Yeah, so you whiny little bitches bailed on us and now we need you to fix it. Gotta cut episodes. Condense storylines. Got it? Good. Oh, and try not to rush things, but go ahead and end where you'd planned when you had an extra 5'ish episodes to get there with. Great." Kinda self-induced misery, so Writers make it work.

Example 3: "Great idea ... let's go gay! And let's go bi as well! Man, this is gonna be so much fun." Writers make it work. And then: "Yeah ... so it just ain't workin'. I know this is kind of last minute, but ... could you write out the blond gay one? And do it in the next episode, if you can. K? Thanks. And while you're at it, let's nix that whole bi storyline, too. Not sure what genius thought of that, but it's wayyyy too gay, don't ya think?" Writers contemplate killing the messenger. Go to anger management classes instead. Then decide to go ahead and make it work.

Example 4: "It's crossover time! P.S. I know you just rewrote those totally gay storylines, but 2 of our leads may not be coming back next season. Think you can work with that? It might mean you have to come in on Saturday .... Greattt..." Writers take deep breaths. Do yoga. Meditate. Apply skills learned in anger management classes. Make. It. Work.

(note: There are more roadblocks coming up this season, but in the off-chance that the fat mouths over at Grey's haven't spilled the beans to the entire word, I won't spoil it for you.)

Why the hell am I rambling on about Grey's Anatomy, you're wondering? What is my freakin' point?

To which I answer: my point is that when you've got your neat, tidy little MS, with your happy go-lucky characters who have come out on top of the world smelling just a little too peachy, step back and think, "What can I do to make it harder for them? How can I create more conflict? What if I took this guy out, and moved this arc around, and hooked her up with him instead of that other guy ... And oh my effin' g, what if it was her mom in that explosion instead of some random bus driver?!?"

If the kiddos over at Grey's Anatomy can roll with the punches and still produce heartfelt stuff, so can we. So let's roll up our sleeves, think outside the box, and kick our characters while they're down.

Let's make it work, people. Let's make. it. work.

5 comments:

MeganRebekah said...

While I haven't watched any Grey's since the first two seasons, I totally heart Tim Gunn and Project Runway!
And I think we can learn a lot from TV. The show House constantly impresses me with its wit and storylines!

Lisa and Laura said...

AH...conflict. There's always plenty to be had over at Seattle Grace.

Little Ms J said...

I would totally make my lead character battle a drug addiction and Cuban drug lord only to become an FBI informant with a nice ass, but it is a memoir and someone might check into it.

They'd know I lied about the butt situation and then where would I be?

My favorite critique was one in which someone said, "But, why would she do that in this situation? It doesn't make sense. She should be scared not relieved."

Um, well... if I rewrite it your way it would be a LIE, so there's that.

Tere Kirkland said...

Hey, girl, where y'at?

Just wondering if you've come down with one of the plagues that's been spreading across the country. You're probably just busy.
No worries.

Conflict is good. Sometimes I forget that, and need a reminder. Can't be too nice to the mc, ya know. Thanks!

jessjordan said...

Megan: I absolutely love House. I thought the first 2 episodes this season were pretty damn amazing.

LiLa: Lots of elevator, sex, and conflict does a storyline make :)

LMJ: Wait a second ... your MC ISN'T about a drugged out chick with a nice booty who offs bad guys? Damn! It's close though, right? Right?

Tere: Not sick, just ... overexerted. Work got crazy, and I fell off the face of the earth. Thanks for checking in!