Tag Archive | Story arc

Breaking Bad: Chekhov’s Ricin

It’s been awhile since a full Breaking Bad post, and I do plan to still do posts on the remaining episodes, just not on the schedule I originally thought.

RicinimagesBeware: This post will contain mentions of things that happen in Season 2, Season 4, and last summer’s episodes from Season 5. Continue at your own risk.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ricin on BrBa lately. Today, in a memoir writing class, my prof mentioned Chekhov’s gun, and it got me thinking about Walt and his ricin once again. For those that aren’t aware, Anton Chekhov was a Russian short story writer (and, I just learned from wiki, a physician). He said in several different instances and ways that if you plant a gun somewhere in your scene early on in a story, it must eventually go off, or there’s no reason to put it there in the first place.

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Breaking Bad Episode 209 “4 Days Out”

209aindexWow, wow, wow.

I know I say this about a lot of episodes, but “4 Days Out” is one of my all-time favorites, like for real. Definitely top five. Some of the funniest lines in the whole history of the show are in this episode. I still to this day can’t go get clumps of copper for fractional distillation (organic chem lab) without thinking to myself, “Ahhh wire.” And does anything really beat, “A robot?” Jesse’s failed chem tests are showing through.

One thing I love about this episode is that it fits into the arc of the season (I mean, talk about Walt pushing for more, and about consequences) and it also works really well on its own. It has a complete story arc within these 47 or so minutes, and could almost be a mini-movie. If someone came to this episode first, I think they’d be able to follow most of what’s going on. It advances the larger story, sets up a LOT (Walt’s going to live, they have a shitload of meth they need to sell) while still being a full story unto itself.

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Writing Lessons from Breaking Bad: An Overview

As I mentioned in my first post, Foraging Into the Blogosphere, I’m partially justifying my obsession with the TV show Breaking Bad because it offers so much insight on good writing, insight that I think writers of all different types of stories–fiction, non-fiction, screen, prose–can apply towards their work. Most of my posts have been about either Breaking Bad or Writing, and I’m hoping these posts can merge the two topics, and will be applicable whether or not you watch or like the show.

Not long after getting into Breaking Bad, I was typing up some of my old writing from longhand into Word. It was memoir material I had written while still way too close to the subject matter, and had never edited, just raw “shitty first draft” material. And it was terrible! I couldn’t believe how repetitive, self-indulgent, and just plain MESSY it was. It was confusing even to me, and I had written it and lived it. What was I trying to get at? I couldn’t tell. And I was not in control of the writing as an author should be.

My first thought was along of the lines of, “Writing quality wise, this is equivalent to Private Practice, and I want to strive for Breaking Bad.” Now, there are two things I want to clarify here. One is that I don’t really think I’ll reach BrBa level, but it’s nice to have a goal like that, one that will push you beyond your usual limits, your current perception of your abilities. And it may not be BrBa for every writer, but I think it’s important to find that thing, whether it is a book, a poem, a TV show, a movie, a song, something that inspires you with its genius and is so brilliantly written that it provides a new, high standard to strive for.

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Perils, Pitfalls and Pleasures of Writing Memoir

Writing about your own life is like walking through murky water. On one hand, you are employing some of the techniques of fiction. Dialogue. Description. Setting. Character Development. Theme. Symbolism. Story arc and plot. Scene, scene, scene. Internal monologue. All of these come into play. And then there are the smaller, detail-oriented things like cadence, sentence variation, and playing with language in an artful way that expresses what you want to say.

And yet, it’s not fiction.  There are limits on all of the above elements (except perhaps the language and sentence levels). Your dialog has to match, more or less, the dialogue as you remember it from real life. Your character development is limited to how much you’ve developed your insights and observations about the people around you, how closely and in how many dimensions you’ve paid attention.

Your story arc often won’t fit the more linear traditional arc. That can be one of the trickier things to work with. I think you do need a fair amount of crafting to make the raw material of your life into a story worth telling. You can’t just vomit out exactly as you remember it happening because life is so messy that your story would end up that way too. At the same time, I think it’s dangerous to control the messiness too much, to work too hard to fit things into and expected and accepted story arc. Doing so can push you too far into fiction. There has to be a balance between free-flowing creative energy and craft. And the more you write, the more both come naturally.

More on writing memoir