A blog post by my fellow Minx, Lacey Devlin, sent me scurrying to the video store to hire the first disc of The Vampire Diaries. I got so hooked by those opening episodes that I didn’t go back for more … instead I bought the entire first season on DVD.
This post is about why I think the screen writers for this TV show are so awesome.
The first thing I took away from this TV series was the structure. In age-old TV tradition, each and every episode ends on a cliffhanger and with the entire DVD set handy, the effect is akin to reading a novel: you just have to keep turning the pages. Each episode has twists and developments that keep the viewer riveted.
The next thing the screenwriters did well was to keep the show unpredictable. About half way through the series I started to think “Stefan is getting boring. He’s just the same anxious, serious, devoted character in every episode.” Immediately after I’d thought that, his character began to change and grow in interesting ways. It is a very rare skill, knowing exactly the point at which the viewer/reader’s attention is starting to drift, and being able to snatch it back again.
And they’re doing this on so many levels all the time, juggling character arcs and plot lines, bringing some to the fore, then others.
Now as a category romance writer you're probably wondering "what does this have to do with me? I don't have room to juggle secondary characters." The point isn't that you keep shifting story-lines or characters, the point is that you shouldn't be predictable. Yes, there's an expectation in romance that hero and heroine will get their Happy Ever After. But that doesn't mean you have to make it obvious. Take your reader a different route to that HEA. Reveal unexpected depths in your characters.
Another really difficult skill is getting your audience to care about your characters. There’s a certain magic in achieving this, and sadly there’s no paint by numbers manual out there that can help a writer create characters that hook your readers as deeply as these do. I believe it’s instinctive.
As Lacey’s original blog post pointed out, The Vampire Diaries is an excellent example of how an antagonist can be turned into a protagonist. Making an unsympathetic character sympathetic takes skill. Of course, creating sympathetic characters that stay sympathetic is also difficult, as any romance author can tell you!
The TV version of The Vampire Diaries does this in spades. In my opinion they achieve this by layering the characters. Every single character, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, has a history. There are no cardboard cut-outs here! No character is purely good or purely evil, and because each and every one is relatable in some way, the audience cares.
Finally, it's all about the characters. This series could have been very action or Special FX orientated, but the film-makers deliberately kept the focus on people. As the host of the bonus DVD interview states, you could take the vampire element out of this show, and it would still be worth watching.
I’m sure there are other reasons why The Vampire Diaries is such a success, but for me, as a writer, these were the elements that captured my attention.
Having run through all 22 episodes of Season One (and the bonus DVD) within 5 days, I looked around to find my next fix. What better than the books the series was based on? More next week ...