2 Storytelling Secrets I Stole From TV
I've Been Watching Stuff This Week
My wife was scrolling through NETFLIX last week and I caught a glimpse of updated cover art for LOST IN SPACE featuring an older looking Will Robinson. Color me surprised, I didn’t realize the 3rd season had finally dropped. So of course I had to watch it.
I’ve been mixing an episode into my evening repertoire when I’ve had time here and there. I’ve still got two episodes left and a 3-day weekend ahead of me so I might just finish it this weekend.
I’m not a Lost In Space fan. Not that I don’t like it, but I never watched the original series (in the 60’s?) and I remember the 90’s movie coming out. I’m pretty sure I watched it but I couldn’t tell you anything about it.
I think Joey Tribbiani was in it.
When they announced that NETFLIX was going to make a go of it I knew I wanted to give it the opportunity. I remember binging that first season and falling in love with what they were doing.
The first season did a great job of establishing the characters and the dynamic between them. The sense of adventure and danger were definitely there, and Will Robinson’s instincts to explore and be a curious kid really drew me into the whole thing.
The second season turned into a lot of action and big stakes. There was a lot more focus on the full cast of characters and members of the space station outside of just the Robinson family. And it certainly took full advantage of the NETFLIX budget and created captivating visuals.
The third season has really brought a lot of the focus back around to Will Robinson and his relationship to the robots. There is plenty of fun with the supporting cast and the show couldn’t exist without them. But there is a huge focus on will and his role in the universe in this season and it feels like the stakes are incredibly high for him and his partner in (anti) crime.
I’m really excited to see where it all goes.
This show has taught me a few lessons in storytelling, so I want to talk about all of that for a moment.
Genre Doesn’t Matter
This show does such a great job of undermining the very genre people would shove it into. Sure it is a sci-fi show with a lot of great sci-fi visuals, sci-fi jargon, and a sci-fi premise.
But all of that has nothing to do with anything.
At the heart of it all, this is a show about family (calm down Dominic Toretto). When the sci-fi gets way too hard and the stakes are all really high and they need to science their way out of something, it all comes down to family.
They drop the façade and bring it back to where it all started.
One family, looking for a new start, in a new place, without all the drama and skeletons of their past life. Science will get you out of a tough situation, but the people in your life and your connection to them will make a tough situation worth getting out of. Trust me on that one.
No I’m not talking about the FANTASTIC 4, but yes I am absolutely talking about the FANTASTIC 4.
I love sci-fi and science and technology and all of that mumbo jumbo goodness, but at the end of the day it takes grounded themes to keep your audience interested and engaged. “You can’t write if you can’t relate” as Beck would say.
So the lesson I found in LOST IN SPACE is that you have to remember what your story is about and go back to that well often enough.
Don’t Bury The Lead
One thing that I’ve really taken notice of in LOST IN SPACE is how hard the emotional beats hit, how often they surprise me with twists, and how obviously telegraphed it all is before we even get there.
Part of this is because of the lesson above, they always go back to the theme and drop all the frills to remind you about why you are here in the first place.
They also use misdirection in a very different way.
You know from the beginning of an episode that Will is going to have to do something absolutely insane that his family isn’t going to agree with. And that he is going to do said thing without telling them so that they freak out when it happens.
And then throughout the episode there are a million little choices and moments that each character has to make that are completely overshadowed by the bigger thing established at the beginning of the story. All of these things are in line with what you would expect from each character but they are parts of a whole that is hard to see when you are in those moments.
So when Will is playing decoy to a murder robot and it is revealed that he actually isn’t because of a decision Judy made last episode and an action that Maureen took 20 years ago and a piece of advice that John gave 2 seasons ago, you can’t help but be surprised and feel the impact of all of that at once.
So the lesson here is that you shouldn’t bury the lead.
It is all too common in modern media to tell and entire story built on a big fundamental idea and then reveal something that makes it uninteresting. You see it a lot in indie comics where you feel like you don’t understand what is going on, and then at the end of the first issue they reveal the big concept behind the series.
Then suddenly every issue after that never lives up to the feelings you got from that first issue. Half the time if feels like a whole different series after that.
Tell the audience what the big idea is upfront, and then get them invested in the little things so that you can surprise them later with a twist on that big idea.
Happy Father’s Day Weekend!
I could go on and talk about so many other things I’ve pulled out of this show. How the history of a franchise doesn’t matter, not everything is for everyone, or how well they pulled off building a cast that reflects modern society without feeling “woke”.
I’m a big believer that if you can pull one or two big lessons out of something and actually apply them in practice, then the time spent has more than paid for itself. And LOST IN SPACE has certainly paid for itself in my strong but humble opinion.
So I have a few more hours of work left today and then I’m off for a few days to hopefully watch the rest of season 3. And spend some time with the family.
I’ve uplaoded some more books to comics.supply so check there if you are looking for comic back issues. Use code FATHERSDAY at checkout to save 10% on your order through Monday evening!
New chapter of COSMIC CAMPFIRE on Monday morning. Until then…