I’ve been re-watching the series from the beginning in syndication and ended up buying the first two seasons to watch at my leisure. It occurred to me that the structure and story make a great primer on how to plot and create novels.
For instance, writing secondary characters:
Write a stereotype and then give it one twist. And don’t clutter the story with characters who don’t serve the story.
Mrs. Kim: Stereotypical Korean woman. Hard working. Tiger mother. Ethnocentric. But—not a Buddhist or Shintoist or Muist. Mrs. Kim is a devout Christian, a Seventh Day Adventist who insists Lane attend church camp every summer and date only other Korean Seventh Day Adventists.
Mr. Kim: Non-existent on screen. He’s referred to in early episodes. Lane mentions “… my parents,” and Mrs. Kim says, “Lane’s father and I …” But he’s never seen. By the later seasons, he’s not mentioned any more.
Backstory: Dribble it in. We don’t know for the first couple of episodes why Lorelai is estranged from her parents. But it’s clearly shown when Lorelai visits their home in September and the first thing both her parents say (but at separate times) is, “Is it Christmas already?” Brilliant. We know right away that they are accustomed to only seeing their daughter once a year. Give or take.
In another episode, Rory asks Lorelai if her father Christopher is going to attend a function. Lorelai says, “He said he’d be there, he 100% guaranteed he’d be there.” Rory responds, “So … 50% likelihood he’ll make it?” The viewer immediately gets that Christopher is full of promises and good intentions, but not quite so good at follow-through.
Setting: The setting has to be an integral part of the story, its own character. Would Gilmore Girls work anywhere except Stars Hollow, Connecticut? I don’t think so. Stars Hollow’s cast of quirky characters and festivals and town dynamics make it a real secondary character, as real as Mrs. Kim. Where else but Stars Hollow would you find a Knit-a-Thon to raise money to save a bridge. Not every element has to make sense. If every person in town is knitting, who’s left to pledge and give the money? But it works.
Trust the reader/viewer to get it: Gilmore Girls is notorious for fast-paced dialogue sprinkled with multi-pop culture references. Maybe once a season does a character question a bon mot and an explanation is offered. Otherwise, the audience is expected to get it or let it go.
Do you have a movie or television show that you look to for examples or lessons of storytelling? Please, share them with me! I’ll be doing a future post on what I’ve learned from Veronica Mars.