So I finally watched the first season of Veronica Mars after hearing too many times that Paranormalcy reminded people of it (and also that VM was freaking amazing).
(Kiersten, you ask, aren't you supposed to be, you know, writing a book? To which I respond, SHUT UP I KNOW OKAY?) (And then I apologize for yelling at you, and give you cookies to make up for it, but really, let's don't ask questions like that to the poor, stressed out, sleep-deprived author.) (But Kiersten, you ask, wouldn't you be less sleep deprived if you were only writing, instead of also watching long-canceled television series? To which I respond, NO MORE COOKIES FOR YOU GO TO YOUR ROOM YOU ARE GROUNDED.)
So, like I was saying, I watched the first season of Veronica Mars. And it was, quite simply, perfect. Or, to quote Joss Whedon, "Best show ever." But since I've made a profession of storytelling I find myself asking why a lot more while thinking of stories in any medium--film, television, books, even songs. Why I do or do not connect with them. Why they work over the course of a season, why they work in individual episodes, why I lose interest halfway through the movie, why the story never felt alive to me, etc.
Here's why Veronica Mars absolutely worked:
Veronica herself was quirky but not obnoxiously so. She was intense enough to pull off her obsessions, but so funny and smart-mouthed and sympathetic that it took the edge off of some very serious situations that otherwise could have gotten too intense. Plus the actress was perfectly cast.
All of the big side characters--ALL OF THEM--were good and had interesting stories that only got more interesting as you got to know them better. Each episode seemed to reveal another layer to these characters, and their interaction with Veronica and each other was one of the best parts of the show. All of the major side characters honestly felt like they could have had their own shows and still been interesting. That's the mark of incredibly good writing. While you are writing, ask yourself: do each of your side characters add something to the story and stand on their own as people? If not, you might want to consider cutting, combining, and developing.
I also really loved Veronica's relationship with her dad. It was one of the best things about the show, and not a very common thing to see in shows about teenagers. They had a healthy relationship and loved each other but still had conflict and tension that is unavoidable when you have a teenager who knows everything and a parent who knows everything better. Another thing to note for those of us writing about teenagers. Sometimes the easiest option is to have parents entirely out of the picture, but, if you can work it, that dynamic adds a lot of depth to a story. (Yes, I know, I wrote an orphan. But she has a mother figure, so that counts, right? Right? Fine, GO BACK TO YOUR ROOM IF YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE THAT KIND OF ATTITUDE.)
Another important relationship (although I loved loved loved Veronica's romantic entanglements) was her platonic relationship with best friend Wallace. I've really tried to find GOOD portrayals of guy/girl relationships that are dynamic and interesting but without the romantic undertones or tension. This one was perfect, and absolutely worth a case study if you want to write something similar.
And, okay, it needs to be said (spoiler free): I have never, EVER seen the "bad boy" done better than it was in this show. Ever. Never ever ever. If you want to write a bad boy, please for the love watch this show and study everything they did with Logan. And Weevil for that matter.
Overall Plot versus Episode Plot
Each episode had its own mystery to solve and was interesting in its own right, but they never forgot that there was also a season plot that needed to be moved forward. Every episode added another element to the season arc, whether through a character revelation or a clue/piece of evidence. This can be applied to books in that every chapter needs to have a point and stand on its own but also move things forward. Also, if you are writing a series, don't forget that while making the best possible book you can, you also have to move things forward for the overall series arc (whether that revolves around an overarching plot or just character movement--there ALWAYS needs to be movement).
There was a lot of it, but not so much that I'd be embarrassed to tell my mom to watch the series. Just enough to be perfect. And none of the relationships felt emotionally manipulative to me as a viewer, and it didn't seem like they took any easy or predictable plot points. For example, when Veronica is in a casual, fun relationship and then ends up kissing someone else, instead of drawing it out and having her get "caught" to manufacture dramatic situations, she...resolves it with honesty. Just like that. And it made me so happy that the people behind the show understood they didn't need to resort to soap opera tactics to create tension or interest. Drama is a good thing, but I appreciate a fresh approach to it. They didn't make any lazy storytelling choices.
Just some things to think about. If you haven't watched the first season of this series, I highly recommend you do so. And pay attention--always. The same things that make a story (in any medium) work or fizzle are the things you can use (or avoid) in your own. Be an active participant in your entertainment. Everything is a chance to learn and grow.
Oh, heck, who am I kidding. I'm just in it for the kissing.
(You can come out of your room now.)