January 31, 2012

What Twin Peaks Taught Me About Writing

Pretty much anyone who was not in diapers from 1990 to 1991 and was living in the United States was exposed to the television show Twin Peaks. Since it aired in the US, the show has been viewed in many other countries, picking up numerous fans. Not everyone is a fan of Twin Peaks, with some people not liking how "weird" the show was. Admittedly it was a different show, but I think it was weird in a positive way. Twin Peaks stood out in a sea of assembly line sitcoms and run-of-the-mill cop dramas.If you don't know much about Twin Peaks, check it out on Netflix or buy the DVDs (I think they are worth the purchase). You can also learn more about the television show by clicking here for information on the Internet Movie Database about Twin Peaks.

Because I was a young fan of Twin Peaks, it was one of many sources that has greatly affected my own philosophies on storytelling and writing. The show now has a cult following worldwide, so obviously I was not the only one affected by its story.

Without further delay, here are a few points about writing and storytelling Twin Peaks taught me:

- What your story is supposed to be about may not be what your story is really about. Supposedly Twin Peaks was about an FBI agent trying to find Laura Palmer's killer. While the hunt for Laura's killer was a driving force to the show's plot, really the show was about the interesting characters who populated the fictional town of Twin Peaks. As the show went on, viewers learned more and more that each character was not only zany, but that they all harbored some pretty deep secrets.

- Crazy dreams can make for interesting storytelling. Throughout Twin Peaks, FBI Agent Dale Cooper has some rather strange dreams in a very interesting room with a checkerboard floor. In these dreams he speaks with a midget man who gives him clues about Laura Palmer's murder. The dreams are just plain weird, and they became one of the most distinct icons of the show, defining what Twin Peaks was about.

- Always leave them wanting more. This old saying in show business holds true for all types of creative writing, including books and scripts. Some people claim that they like stories that lay everything out and provide ultimate closure. In reality, these people who claim that often don't want every last thing explained. Some of the best stories I have ever read (or seen as a movie) don't even really give a full resolution, leaving me with a haunting feeling and many questions. Twin Peaks identified Laura Palmer's murderer in the middle of the second season, and the show's ratings declined sharply as a result. The story tried to continue with other themes than the quest to find Laura's murderer, but it did not hold the public's attention anymore. I would argue that the X-Files unfortunately fell into this trap as well, but that is a topic for another blog post.

For those who wish to reminesce more, or who have never seen Twin Peaks, look at these videos. The first one is the series intro, while the second one gives you a good taste for the weirdness of the show:

January 30, 2012

Movie Review: Limitless

The movie Limitless originally was intriguing to me because it is about a writer. Bradley Cooper's character is a writer who is washed up before ever really getting started. He is "working on his book" while living in squalor as a starving artist. That's right, Cooper looks horrible, complete with an awful haircut and an apartment that looks suitable for sewer rats and not much else. His girlfriend has left him and he pretty much is a joke as he wanders through life.

That is, until he runs into his former brother-in-law, who gives him a drug that gives Cooper's character supposedly limitless mental abilities as it unlocks his brain's full capacity. Cooper's character immediately cleans himself and his apartment up, and then he sets to finishing his book. Just a few days later his agent is astounded with the book he writes. Cooper's character, of course, does not stop at a book. Pretty soon he begins day trading securities and makes a small fortune quickly. This, of course, attracts attention and trouble.

The cinematography and special effects that portray the drug at work are highly creative and effective. The story kept me interested, with the action's pacing moving the story along at a good pace. I did not find myself wondering when the movie was going to end, but instead I was interested in what was going to happen to the characters. I also thought the movie provided a good lesson on what drugs do to people, causing them to go to great lengths to get their fix.

I do have to admit that as a writer, I sometimes have wished (okay, a lot of times) that I had some way to work and not sleep at night, so I could then accomplish so much more work. Of course, as in the movie Limitless, doing so comes with a tradeoff that is pretty pricey, so such thoughts always stay in fantasy land. I know some writers (such as Stephen King) have turned to drug use to up their productivity. As King and others found out, though, drugs robbed them of precious parts of their life. In fact, King said he did not even remember writing Cujo.