So the last episode of the season aired last week and I was taken aback when I saw the familiar red page flipping over, indicating the end of the show. “Surely there’s more,” I thought. “Did they make a mistake?” I sat through the ads for Viking Cruises, Ralph Lauren, and all “proud sponsors” but still, no more scenes, nada.
Where was the hook? Where was the upset? Where was the Big Question, hanging in the air, which would have me counting the days until the next season? Um, nowhere. Not like last season where the last thing we saw was Matthew flying out of his car and landing in a ditch, leaving us wondering if he was dead or alive. I literally GASPED.
So the lesson for the day? At the end of each chapter, leave at least a question, if not a full-out cliffhanger. Your readers will love you for it.
At the beginning of the new season, we find out that ‘O’Brian’ leaves in the dead of night, which requires a new lady’s maid to come in. Instead of bringing in a totally new character, the writers chose to bring in one from a previous season. In writing a novel or story, we have similar choices to make.
Sometimes our stories get crowded. We have parents and coaches and neighbors and friends and teachers and ministers, etc, and all serve a purpose. However, I’m sure we’ve all read stories where we find ourselves paging back to try to sort through who is who, and thus we are pulled out of the story. What we can do, and what the Downton folks did, is to combine two characters into one. Can your minister character also be the coach? The neighbor also the teacher? The new lady’s maid at Downton is also the snaky maid, Edna Braithwaite, who was previously dismissed for inappropriate behavior with Sybil’s new husband, Tom Branson. Not only does this eliminate another new character, it introduces immediate conflict, which is always a good thing:)
So, give your characters a good looking over and see if any two can be merged into one. I’d love to hear about it!
This season of Downton, I am trying to watch as a writer. (This is hard to do, as I keep getting swept away in the story/costumes/Grandmama’s dry wit!) However, when I was able to separate myself for a moment last night, I realized one (of many) clever things the writers did. They needed a way to get Mr. Doyle back in the house – and what better way but to give him a lowly footman’s job? First, however, they had to ‘get rid of’ a footman. Instead of killing him off (like a few other characters, ahem!), they had Jimmy hurt his wrist, making him unable to serve. Now, here comes the clever part. They made this scene do double duty. He didn’t just hurt his wrist – he did it while first making a fool of the other footman and then showing off by stupidly throwing the loosened jar in the air. By having him get hurt in this way, they reinforce Jimmy’s cad-ish, mean-spirited character while also getting him out of the way for a while.
Pretty schmartski, eh?
Thus, Downton Abbey Lesson One: Never let your scene do one thing when it can do two or more!
Can you think of other times they did this?
Virginia Wolfe really captures it: “It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning of a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.”
Right now, I am at the Determined stage. I am NOT giving up after all this work!!!
Look out 2014! I will fight to the death!
So what good is having your own blog if you can’t live via your children’s accomplishments?
My son and his friend Megan rocking Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran’s “I just want to know you better”