Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Breaking Bad- My Lessons About Story

I've been really studying what makes story good lately. and my first question to myself was, "what story-movie, TV, or novel- do I think was a compelling story?"
Of course, I came up with the storyline for "Breaking Bad."
Don't judge...that show was the most compelling show about meth dealers I have ever seen...of course it was also the only one I have ever seen.

So why was it so compelling for me? What was it about the story that made me keep watching episodes in a binge-watching fury with Cheetos rolling off my chest every time something tense happened? I have really been giving it some thought, so here it goes:

Warning! I may talk about plot points in the series that you do not want to hear about because you haven't watched it yet. Please don't read any further, if that is the case. Don't say I didn't warn you.

1) Fish out of Water:Walter White is such a neophyte when it comes to cooking meth, that in the beginning, Jesse looks like the expert. He isn't. He is a small-time criminal with parent problems. He doesn't know anything about making nothing into something...a big something. This fish out of water thing makes everything they do seem to be so difficult. Everything. Anybody see the episode where the fly is in the lab? Walter spends an entire episode going after it? Remember. Yet the episode was still compelling.

2) Double life for a purpose: Walter is operating in a double life. He is a teacher with cancer, but he is also a cook...of meth...some of the purest meth anywhere. Anywhere. In one world, he is a nobody. In the other, what he does is better than what anyone else does. One life is drawing him in further and further. The other pales in comparison. When the two come together in any way, there is huge conflict. CONFLICT! huge story situations with huge implications to the characters. Heck, even the fact that his brother-in-law is a DEA agent is a huge conflict from the very beginning and gets worse as the seasons progress. The fact that Walter is doing this so that his wife and children will have all the money they could ever need, in case he dies, is a huge conflict because he keeps losing money in the beginning.

3) Character goal and arc: Walter's goal in the entire series is to make enough money to setup his wife and children for  the rest of their lives, if he dies of cancer. this is a strong possibility. He ain't looking good in the beginning of the series. The story arc starts with Walter being a chemistry teacher with a normal, bland, beige, blah life. He can feel the life being sucked out of him. When he gets the idea to cook meth and sell it, you actually wonder what in the hell has gotten into him. However, you also feel a little sorry for him. The cancer is what makes you feel sympathy for him. He is desperate. He wants to help his family. But it is the other, selfish story goal that keeps creeping in and tainting the other one. That of the fact that he is becoming full of who he is as a meth dealer. In that world, he is somebody. That goal, that feeling of wanting to be somebody important, is what makes this show great. These to wants and desires battle against each other constantly. It's Darth Vader wrestling between the good that is in him and the dark side of the Force. This is he one thing that I learned about story.

The main character should have an inner struggle going on, whether he succumbs to one side or another.

So what do you think? Any BB fans out there? I know there is much more to this series than just what I said. I would love to hear from you. Anyone who comments will be entered into a drawing on January 16th, my birthday, to win a copy of "The List of Five" e-book in whatever format you want.


  1. Great post, Jason. For me, another important element in any good story is dialogue. HOW characters interact with one another is crucial. I haven't seen Breaking Bad - not one episode! - but I gather the dialogue must be mesmerizing. Granted, the actors are bringing to life the writer's words. But what about the words in YOUR story? When you write dialogue, your reader is imagining how it's being conveyed; how you write it has a lot to do with how they read it. Did that make sense? And I don't mean your writing specifically, I mean any writer's words. Dialogue, for me, is something I try to perfect in every story I write. :)

    1. I agree, Sean. Dialogue is really important and one of the great vehicles of story. BB had great dialogue. Great.