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:


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I only watched one or two episodes and they were definitely out there and kept you guessing.

Steven said...

Alex, you should watch the rest of the series. Personally, I find things that are out there to be good inspiration for my own work, but that is just me.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Twin Peaks scared the heck out of me!! It was the ultimate creepy and weird ... until LOST came along.

But don't get me started on how LOST ended or I'll blow a gasket.

DL Hammons said...

I loved Twin Peaks! I own the DVD collection and someday want to sit down with my kids to let them see it. Something else you can say that show taught me...atmosphere! :)

Heather Day Gilbert said...

If you ever want to watch a hilarious re-take on Twin Peaks, the Psych episode called "Dual Spires" had me rolling on the floor! From the mysterious town, complete with emotional characters who randomly burst into tears, to the music (an excellent copy of the Twin Peaks scores...YES, I listened to the Twin Peaks cassette endlessly way back when!), they nailed it!

Steven said...

Diane, don't get me started on Lost, either. Talk about breaking some major rules of writing (and insulting your audience in the process)!

DL, watching Twin Peaks should count as good bonding, quality family time. And I agree with you about the atmosphere aspect of the show.

Heather, I heard about that Psych episode, but I have to admit I have never even watched Psych. I just may check out that episode.