Somehow I managed to never watch one episode of Breaking
Bad while it was on television. Friends and
family told me I had to watch it over the years, yet I didn’t. I was busy.
We had twins born in 2010. I was working on sweet little stories and didn’t
want a dark show to mess with my headspace. So I remained in the dark and
spoiler-free until two weeks ago, when I started the series on a Saturday
weeks later, I finished watching all sixty-two glorious episodes. What a ride.
probably end up sharing my love for BB on this blog, but I wanted to share ten
reasons why I think the show works so well. These were lessons and reminders to
me about the power of storytelling and what the show did so well.
1. CARE for your character
the first half hour of the first show, we are introduced to a lovable loser named
Walter White who is a good husband and father. His son has cerebral palsy. The
family is barely scraping by. Then the unthinkable happens: Walter discovers he
Make your character WANT something
discovering he has cancer, Walter White makes two decisions. First, he wants to
take care of his family and leave them with a sound financial future. Second, he
wants to take care of his cancer on his own terms.
Have your main character go on a PHYSICAL and an EMOTIONAL journey
physical journey in Breaking Bad is what
made it so irresistible and fascinating. Walter White decides to start making
meth in order to provide for his family. He’s a great chemist so he knows
exactly what to do. His motivation is good even though HE’S MAKING METH!
emotional journey is that Walter, who has been living his whole life by simply
going through the motions, finally decides to breakout of his fog and start
living on his terms. He wants to die the way he wants to. He wants to take control, so he does in the only way he knows
course, these decisions and journeys go from bad to worse, which is part of the
amazing journey Walter and his loved ones are on.
SHOCK and SURPRISE your viewers (readers)
won’t start spoiling things for those of you who haven’t watched the series or
are just starting to. But there’s enough shock and awe just in the opening few
episodes that gives you a taste of what’s to come. It’s great to start thinking
how’s he going to get out of this and
then suddenly think that didn’t just happen did it? That’s the beauty and the allure of Breaking
BREAK viewers (readers) HEARTS
you care about a character, you want good things for him and those he cares
for. You start to invest in him. Then he starts breaking your heart. Or maybe
the circumstances do it. Breaking Bad is
all about grief and secrets. It answers some scary questions: What would
you do to take care of your family if you knew you were going to die? What
depths would you be willing to go to?
Make room for LEVITY
think any good story has to have some levity. Breaking Bad is a show full of hilarious moments. The whole
premise has some humor—a chemistry teacher who suddenly starts making meth. But
when things take a turn for the worse (and they keep doing so time and time
again), there’s some brilliance in the writing. Even death can sometimes be
frighteningly funny. It keeps a dark show about a dark soul as light as it can
possibly be (therefore very watchable).
BUILD toward an EXCITING conclusion people can’t wait to see (and maybe at the
same time don’t want to see!)
of the reasons I suddenly became addicted to the show was that I couldn’t wait
to see how it ended. I had made it all these years being spoiler-free, but now
I was getting scared. If I started talking to somebody about the show, I’d
deliberately interrupt whatever they might want to tell me with a “I don’t want
to hear a single word!” warning. But I had to find out what happens. When do
the secrets and lies come out? What happens when they do? Who ends up living
and dying? And is there any sort of hope for these desperate, lost souls?
Have it RELATE to the reader/viewer
White and his family are very relatable when the series begins. They are an
ordinary family doing ordinary things. Until, of course, Walter starts cooking
and starts killing bad guys. Walter loses himself and his soul but his family
is still very much in the picture. It’s still easy to relate to these people.
And we still are sympathetic to Walter because of his cancer or to people like
Jesse Pinkman who just needs a hug instead of a hit of meth.
don’t know about the world of meth making and DEA and all that, but I know the
makers of Breaking Bad took pains to
make sure they got that world right. It’s very believable to me. I never once
asked myself if something like that could happen. The
ordinary-guy-in-an-extraordinary-world is the scenario they have set up. But
it’s not just that. The emotions behind these characters (displayed by an
amazing set of actors) are the things that made this show come to life in such
a vivid way.
Cloak a story about LIFE & DEATH into a familiar genre. People feel
COMFORTABLE in genres. People CARE about life and death.
longer time goes by, the less I care about this word called genre (not that
I’ve ever really cared about it anyway). It’s just a box that helps sells your
story. A story could be a “romance” or a “thriller” or a “sci-fi” story. It
doesn’t matter. That’s just the window dressing to get you into the shop.
matters are the characters in the story and whether people care about them.
What matters are the stakes. What matters are the issues of life and death.
I think I don’t make my stakes big enough. I don’t make my characters relatable
you have readers or viewers that care about a character and their journey,
they’re willing to go on whatever journey you have in whatever genre you’re
Bad was an amazing trip and it ended in a
brilliant way. It gave me lots of reminders about the craft of storytelling. It’s
going to be a story I revisit in the future. Now I just have to stop dreaming
about making meth.
Labels: Breaking Bad, on writing, Top ten lists