Thursday, January 27, 2011

Crafting the Perfect Story, or, I Gush About Veronica Mars

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:

Characters

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).

Kissing

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.)

43 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

as you know, I'm in the middle of the first season. Just watched 8 last night. And I agree with you. I love the smaller plots of each episode that reveal character but there's always a clue to the overarching storyline - the mystery with her mother and the Cain's. All good tv dramas are like that. They hook you week to week with the bigger story. LIke the romantic relationship between Castle and Becket in Castle. I'll probably watch 9 tonight.

Elizabeth C. Mock said...

Aaaaaand now, after reading this, I want to re-watch the series. Again. For the fifth time. <.< The first season really is some of the best storytelling I've ever experienced. And I couldn't agree more, Veronica and Keith's relationship is one of my favorite aspects of the show. Though I slightly disagree about all the side characters. I never really connected with Duncan. I get the whole drugged up thing, but he never really developed into anything I could sink my teeth into. Unlike Logan... which is another story entirely. Oh, Logan.

Nikki (Wicked Awesome Books) said...

Veronica Mars love posts make me happy. I loved the show when it was on, I loved Veronica, and Wallace, and Weevil, and ooh how I loved Logan. It will always be one of those shows that was incredible, intelligent, well-written, and well-acted. I'm going to miss it forever.

Plus, the kissing is good too.

Steph said...

I have all three seasons of Veronica Mars. It's one of my all-time favorites (#1 will always be Buffy, of course). I can't tell you how upset I was when they cancelled this series!

Sarah said...

I recently watched the first (and all subsequent) season of Veronica Mars, too. Great show! Great characters. I wholeheartedly agree.

Kristin Rae said...

I literally just finished all three seasons of VM two weeks ago. (Be warned that I don't think they knew it was ending at season 3, so there will be a big gaping hole in your chest for years to come).

I love your analysis of it. And, yes, Logan is one of my favorite TV characters of all time now. He was SO well done and my surface feelings for him were constantly changing but deep down he won me over the first time he was protective of Veronica.

Rachel Morgan said...

*cowers in bedroom with remains of cookie crumbs on lips*

Dara said...

Hmm, sounds like a show to watch. I've been trying to find something else to get from Netflix. :)

Lisa Potts said...

OK, OK, you and Shannon Messenger have convinced me that I MUST watch this series. Netflix, here I come!

ellen said...

Veronica Mars is the reason I see Kiersten Bell every time I try to picture Evie.
I saw every episode and I join the group who got sad when they cancelled it. <3 Logan.

Gretchen said...

Amen and amen. Logan Echolls owns my heart. Also, you need to watch Season Two STAT! Para3 can wait just a little bit longer... (Man, I love playing devil's advocate.)

Kiersten White said...

Gretchen, you are EVIL. I can't let myself. It will be my reward when I finish. It's too hard to be involved in two different stories at one time, and alas, watching something is much easier than creating it...

Larissa said...

Gah! Like I needed ANOTHER show to watch, Kiersten...

If I ever get home internet back, I will certainly add VM to my list. :)

Becky Wallace said...

Okay...wait. Was Season One the only good season, or was it the only one you commented on? Because it drives me nuts when something has a great first season then tanks on the second.

Jill Hathaway said...

I can't believe I didn't watch VM when it was on! Only recently did I discover the pure awesomeness of Veronica Mars.

To the above commenter, the first season was the best, but the second season wasn't bad. The third season, wasn't either, but it was the *least good* of the three.

Tracey Neithercott said...

I loved that series as a teen and I loved it just as much when I watched it again last winter. (Why, yes, I did spend every weekend watching some version of Veronica Mars.) I agree with you about it all, especially her relationship with her dad. I also loved that she was so smart. I can't think of another teen on TV who could have out-spied Veronica.

(Bad news, though still good, season 3 was nowhere near as good as 1 and 2.)

Kiersten White said...

Jill said what I've heard. I've only watched the first season.

Corey Wright said...

I have spent the last four years getting everyone I know to watch Veronica Mars. My very best friend in the world thought I was nuts for loving a show so much, then she went on to watch all three seasons in a matter of weeks.

Everything about the show is wonderful, agreed, but you hit on my favorite parts! Keith Mars? Best TV Dad Of All Time. ALL TIME. Their relationship is so very fantastic (and only gets better in the second season.)

AND WALLACE. Oh my goodness, the Wallace and Veronica dynamic is so great because it is platonic and it is believable and so easy. They're quiet possibly my favorite friendship ever.

And Logan. Well, what isn't there to say about Logan?

(I could literally talk about this show all day. I start in on one thing and it leads to another thing I love and then another until I'm all out gushing and talking so fast my face is bright red and I can't breathe.)

Just wait until Season Two. Oh snap.

NotNessie @ Today's Adventure said...

BEST SHOW EVER!! I was so so sad when it was over. The first season is the best, though.

Mary Campbell said...

I enjoyed Veronica Mars a lot - for all the reasons you stated. Another show I feel the same way about is Bones - love that show - quirky characters that all stand on there own, interesting mysteries to solve and a continuing story throughout.

KT said...

Agree. Agree. Agree. With everything you said. The show is amazing in every possible way.

My friend got me hooked this year...I'm addicted. We're almost through the last season :( so I don't know what I'll do when it's over. BUT we just heard about the possible movie (legit) from this article: http://www.tvsquad.com/2010/11/10/veronica-mars-movie-rob-thomas/ We sent them a few (MANY) emails, so check it out if you want!

Zoƫ Marriott said...

I don't think this show ever aired on terrestrial TV in the UK. I've heard good things about it and sort of ummmed and aaahed but I'm convinced enough now to go hunt up a boxset. Thanks, Kiersten.

Oooh - also - am halfway through Paranormalcy. Loving it so much I hopped into the bath with it and came back to myself two hours later, hair unwashed, in ice cold water. Good times. *Aachooo!*

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

OMG, i'm watching the first season of VM RIGHT NOW! Serenedipitous. And i completely agree about Logan. The writers did such a great job of making me love a guy who can often be a complete a$$.

Christine Danek said...

I watched VM when it aired. I did love it for all the reasons you mentioned. I currently watch Bones and I think that has some of the same characteristics although there are no teenage girls with their dads solving mysteries. Okay, one of the main reasons is David (Angel) Boreanaz. I admit it, but it also has that tension, and story line that travels throughout the season along with single episode mystery solving stories. I'm babbling. I'll go back to my room.
HAve a great day!

Julie said...

I heart Logan. I heart Logan. I heart Logan... even when he's a total jerk. Yep, best bad boy ever. So glad you found the show and I so wish it was still around... like Angel, Buffy, Firefly. :)

Elle Strauss said...

I've heard so much buzz on-line about this series now, I think I'll just have to go rent it! Thanks for the writerly breakdown--good tips, there.

Elle Strauss said...

I just have to jump in re: the Bones thread. I like Bones too, for the reasons stated, but I think Castle is doing a better job, and he has a daughter relationship that's a regular feature.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I often like the secondary characters in some TV series better than the main characters. I might have to check out Veronica.

Marisa Hopkins said...

Why have I never heard of this show? WHY?

*off to google*

Kristen said...

EPIC DAY! I haven't even read this post yet but I just now (just. now.) finished reading Paranormalcy and it was EXCELLENT! wow - your pacing is - wow. Yay! I've just called a friend who is flying to spain tomorrow and said she'd better go out and get it for the plane ride.

and now I have to go back and actually read this post because I LOVE Veronica Mars! woooo!

okay sorry. no more caps. thanks for the wonderful book!

Debra Driza said...

Best. Show. Ever.

Oh wait, you already said that.

<3333 Logan and Veronica, and everything else you mentioned. I own all three seasons (why did it get cancelled, WHY WHY??) on DVD and go back to my favorite episodes time and time again!

Thanks for this post. I could listen to people talk about VMars all day. :D

Kat O'Keeffe said...

This is so timely-- I literally finished watching Veronica Mars season 1 just last night. Now off to season 2!

Kristan said...

Weevil 4 Life!

I also love Piz, but you won't get to him until Season 3.

Natalie (Mindful Musings) said...

I was so excited to see you writing about Veronica Mars! I just started Season 1 a few days ago. I'm only 5 or 6 episodes in, but I'm loving it so far! You're right. The characterization and plot are just SO well done!

Emily said...

LOVE Veronica Mars and LOVE, especially LOGAN. Who doesn't.
Glad to hear that you finally found it.

CMOM Productions said...

It was a sad day when V Mars was cancelled. :( Enjoy the remaining 2 seasons you have yet to see. :)

Carrie said...

I was so bummed when they cancelled Veronica Mars. It was such a good show.

Madeleine said...

Veronica Mars was before my time. I might need to look it up. :D

Sommer Leigh said...

It is funny that you write about Veronica Mars and using it as a guide for good storytelling. Whenever I'm feeling particularly crazy about my characters and things aren't working the way I want them to, I pop in a season of Veronica Mars and watch as many hours as I can sit still. I absolutely agree that this show does such a fantastic job building characters. I love all the characters, Weevil is my favorite, but I think the character development that teaches the best writing is actually Dick Casablancas. You won't really understand what I mean until you've watched the second and third seasons.

Caaleros said...

I just finished watching Smallville season 9, before that I rewatched Dollhouse seasons 1&2, and I was planning to rewatch all of Buffy (I've made it a couple of episodes into season 2), and now you've convinced me to rewatch V Mars. You're so mean :(

;)

Sage said...

I love that a) you love VMars, one of my favorite shows, and b) people other than me related Paranormalcy to it. Now, I listened to the audiobook, and I swear the narrator made Evie sound just like Veronica, so I pictured Kristin Bell the whole time.

Mallory Snow said...

You had me at Veronica Mars. :) Reading this made me want to watch the series...for the 4th time! Very great points here and I promise, Season 2 won't disappoint!

AngelicNytmare said...

Well darn it. Thanks alot now it sounds like I have another show to put on my list to watch. (I like watching the shows after the seasons are all out on dvd) I just finished all the Gilmore girls. (adorable show) Now I have dead like me which of course only has two seasons. (That's sad because the characters are funny) *marks it on my dvd seasons to watch*