Opening Moments

Dozens of books, posts, websites, and whatnot will tell you what to do with those opening moments of a work. You’ve got to make sure those precious words are leaving an impression, introducing your character, getting the plot going and a hundred other little things. The task is daunting, and can produce existential terror if you sit and think too hard about it. That would have been my problem this last week and when the fear of never producing constructed a writer’s block, I decided to look for outside inspiration to break it down.

I started by thinking about what media I’m liking at the moment. Now, Hamilton‘s a fantastic musical, but a book can’t really start with a long exposition of a character’s history these days. (Okay, yes, there is the idea that in writing ‘If you do it well enough you can do anything,’ but I certainly don’t have the expertise for that kind of opening). Knowing that Hamilton‘s writer Miranda is a huge West Wing fan and being one myself, I put the pilot episode on for the upteenth repeat to see how they handled their beginning. And, quite frankly, a lot of that writing advice finally clicked into place in my brain.

West Wing is available via Netflix, so if you’ve got a moment and a subscription, watch through the first few minutes. I’m going to break down some of the scenes here, so if you don’t want to be spoiled on the story, here’s your warning.

Okay, still with me? West Wing starts in a bar with a reporter pressing for information from another man, who we quickly learn is Sam. Their conversation reveals a staggering amount of information in just a few lines. We learn that Josh might lose his job, that Sam isn’t the kind of guy to blab to the press, that he’s friends with Josh, and that Sam’s not incredibly great at figuring out clues from women (“I think she’s looking at me. I can never tell when they’re looking at me.”)

From there, we’re introduced to other characters in quick succession and there’s two obvious commonalities. The characters are starting their mornings, and everyone is interrupted by POTUS–leading to the conclusion that everyone in this story works for the White House. In every one of these tiny scenes, we see character quirks, strengths, and flaws. Leo is ready for work, but he’s obsessed about the crossword getting an answer wrong. CJ is obviously dedicated to taking care of herself, but she’s crappy at trying to flirt. Josh has slept on his desk (probably worried about his job), but he still answers the pager’s beeping right away. Toby is surly with the air flight attendant, but his frustration is understandable even if his behavior’s not polite.

Those few brief scenes give us everything that the plethora of writing books advise. Each character is in mid-action, no one’s waking up to greet the dawn (well, except for Josh, but he’s not exactly greeting anything), there’s movement, minor tensions, and the bigger tensions (Will Josh keep his job? What’s the President like?) The show follows up with all those questions and continues to explore the characterization and the world setting.

Basically, West Wing is a fun ride, and if you’re looking closely, there’s a lot you can pick up on writing. Are there other shows/books/media that do that for you? Feel free to share in the comments 🙂


For Whom the Bell Tolls — Supernatural’s END

So the news broke a couple of weeks ago, but I only found out last night. Looks like the CW will no longer be hosting their shows on Hulu this fall. Sure, you’ll be able to find their programming over on the CW site and the CW’s app, and okay, you’ll get the finished seasons much sooner on Netflix (as it stands, you have to wait until about a week before the new season starts to get last season. With the new program you’ll get them 8 days after the season ends). And yes, there is that traditional way of watching television, but how many people actually watch shows when they’re on these days? I don’t even have cable anymore–the basic package just isn’t cost effective for me. Why pay so much for digital only channels when I can stream via Hulu and Netflix and get it in HD for about the same as it would cost to get the most basic of channels?

I watch a lot of CW’s shows and I do so through the Hulu app because it’s the most convenient for me. I don’t want to download yet another app to watch a handful of programming and I watch from my PS4, so I don’t even think CW has an app for that. I write, which means I spend many hours a day with my computer. The last thing I want for my down time is to stare at the screen only a foot away any longer. So definitely not going to bother putting the app on my phone or tablet either. That means, at the end of summer, my access to CW’s network is going to poof. While I could wait around until the end of season to binge-watch what I missed, I doubt I’ll bother. What would be the point? My interaction with these fandoms is strictly online these days, and if I’m watching long after everyone else, the conversation will have already moved past any thoughts I might have. It’s not going to be fun.

And that got me thinking. I’m likely not the only one who will be giving up their program because of the inconvenience. Others aren’t going to wrangle each episode and CW’s shows don’t always compete with whatever else is on during their programming. Like Supernatural, this last year they were in direct competition with Fox’s Empire.

Talk to most people and they’d be surprised that Supernatural is going on its 12th season this fall. Rightfully so, not a lot of programs last that long and certainly not monster-of-the-week paranormal based fantasy. But I’m going to call it now. This one’s going down this season. Why? Well, besides the limited character growth over the last few seasons and the dwindling fandom, the removal of easy access will reduce the show’s visibility. For a show already bleeding Nielsen ratings the last few years, the inability to draw in new audience from the cross-network platform of Hulu will likely stagnate an already decaying fandom. At this point, without an influx of new viewers, the show doesn’t stand a chance of pulling up out of its tanking ratings.

So, enjoy this show–if you can that is–this fall, because this new deal will likely mean the end of Supernatural.