What I Learned about Writing from Lost
I was kinda late to the Lost party. Eight years (from the premiere) to be exact. See, when Lost aired I was in college and had no time for TV. But after incessant nagging from my brother, the Mister and I finally started watching Lost last summer. And raced through it in a matter of months. In fact, I’ll always associate Lost with my first pregnancy (we even watched an episode during labor. Hah!).
Needless to say, I loved it.* Even months later, I still think about it, and last night I decided I need to re-watch the final episode because that last scene kills me. My brother (the literal genius I’ve mentioned many-a-time on here) wanted me to watch it because of its literary value. Yes, Lost is a very literary show. He wanted me to apply lessons from the show to my writing, and let me tell you: there are lessons! So what did I learn about writing from Lost?
1) The Important of Narrative Flow – obviously I know how important it is, but Lost showed me how changing it up can have a big impact on not just how the story is told, but how the story feels. Lost is told in present time, with flashbacks, flash-forwards, and flash-sideways (depending on the season). Not only does it make the show extremely engaging to watch, but it also fits with the mystery of the island. The way the writers play with time on the show is mirrored in everything, including the way they structure their story. So when you choose how your story’s narrative will flow, think about what will be fitting, as well as entertaining and engaging.
2) Also, About Narrative Flow – it can be a useful and interesting tool for character development. The flashes always center around one or two characters per episode. In the first season, that’s how we get to know who these people were before they came to the island. In subsequent seasons, the flash-forwards and flash-sideways serve as further characterization. Obviously, they also further the plot (which makes them extremely economical narrative devices), but they really shine (especially in the beginning) in the characterization department.
3) The Power of Recurring Elements – again, another thing I know but seeing it executed so well makes me want to implement it in my work. There are all kinds of recurring elements and themes in Lost. It’s part of its brilliance. From literary titles (many of the characters are seen reading several times throughout the series), to literary allusions (Dante’s Purgatorio and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, to name two), to character’s names (John Locke, for example)–there are all kinds of nuggets sprinkled throughout the story. And each one, when you notice it, makes you think: why was that placed here and what parallels can be drawn? The result is a deeper involvement on the audience’s part. You are constantly analyzing everything you watch not only on the surface, but on the layers beneath. This is so much more than watching a sitcom–your mind is actively engaged.
4) Finally, Resolution overs Answers – Lost opens a lot of questions, many of which aren’t answered. Now, I’ve always been okay with that. In fact, I like it when not all of the questions are answered in a story. That’s more like real life, and less like deus ex machina. The grassy knoll? Marilyn Monroe? Area 51? How about in your own life? I’m sure you can think of many questions that you’ll never know the answers to. So, while it bugs some people that we’ll never know why exactly Ben Linus got cancer while Rose was cured, it doesn’t bug me. But last night while reading through Wiki pages (yes, I’m a nerd), I read a quote from a review on the season finale that sums up why questions don’t need to be answered: “The important thing … is not answers. It’s resolution. And ‘Lost’ provided that in spades.” Resolution is far more important than answers. If we feel that the characters and story lines are resolved … well, if some answers are missing, it’s not that big of deal. Because as humans we crave resolution. And that’s why Lost works so well.
What about you? Are you a Lost fan? Or, did the show burn you? Have you learned anything about writing from it or another TV show?
*I fully believe I was able to love the show more than most who watched it as it aired because I watched it so quickly. There are some filler episodes, and watching them real-time would’ve been very frustrating. But when you watch two or three a night? Not such a big deal.