The Complexities of Story

There are occasions in my life where I become completely immersed in a book or a TV show to the extent where I’m almost drowning in it – I think about the storylines between episodes or chapters, dream about the characters, and so on. I remember Stephen King saying about a favourite novel of his that the feeling was akin to being married to the book, which I can relate to.

Currently, I’m feeling this with Breaking Bad. I’m currently midway through Season 4 and I’m stunned by the quality of the writing and the constant edge-of-the-seat cliffhangers that happen in every episode.  My girlfriend and I spend more time discussing theories on future developments in the show than we do about important stuff like bills and in my case, finding employment!

And we rarely find common ground in our conversations, either. Which I think highlights the sheer complexity of the plotlines in the show. I marvel at how the writer on Breaking Bad manage to keep a handle on what’s going on, where the stories have developed from and how they are going to be resolved.  I felt the same when watching The Wire, too.  The creative stimulation that these shows give me is like a shot of adrenalin. And it does help to inspire.  But the overriding feeling I get is that this type of complex storylines are beyond me as a writer. Such feelings should act as a spur to try, but for me it isn’t currently working that way. I don’t think my imagination could cope with multiple storylines that criss-cross each other constantly. Just having to remember who said what 50,000 words earlier. Or having to sort out what a character knows at a certain point in time, and what they think they know. Juggling so many balls in the air is something I’ve never felt I’ve been able to do in my own writing, which is another segment of the fear that stops me putting pen to paper again.

I know I shouldn’t let it dishearten me. It has been said that Raymond Chandler, a master of fiendish and labyrinthine plots, once forgot about an entire character when writing The Big Sleep. He admitted that he forgot about the butler (although Chandler was a fan of the sauce which may explain things). Another story I read somewhere concerning Alfred Hitchcock: After the first private screening of Psycho, Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville said to him, ‘You can’t send it out like that’.  There was stunned silence. When Hitch asked why not, she responded, ‘Janet Leigh swallows when she is supposed to be dead.’ And it was true.

So it can happen to the best of them. And if I’m being honest, there is more than one writing voice on a show like Breaking Bad. Having a team of writers all contributing ideas to the show must make it easy to spark the creative juices and come up with imaginative storyboards for future episodes.  Besides, big holes in the plot of a manuscript is what the rewrite is for. Once I had a character send a text message in 1985! And I never saw it until the rewrite.

So I know that anyone, even the greatest writers, can have problems with the complexities of story.  But it’s another layer that is holding me back.

Oh well, might be time to watch another episode…