A Masterclass of Storytelling

July 1, 2012 at 8:45 pm (Writing) (, , , , )

There’s this show that my brother has been after me to watch for a while. His timing is pretty much atrocious- almost always, he brings it up again when I’m neck-deep in a project, so I can’t actually pay any attention to the TV. When I’m working on projects, I either listen to music or watch shows I’ve already seen ten million times, that way I don’t have to dedicate brain cells. Finally he caught me between projects, right as I was finishing a draft of one book and hadn’t quite gotten a second round of edits back for another.

And Oh. My. God. This. Show.

That’s right! Avatar: The Last Airbender has held me captive for the better part of a week, and it is a masterclass of storytelling.

Kiersten White wrote a post about Television and Writing a while back, and I hadn’t seen the show so when I read the post I thought: huh, seems pretty cool. Whatevs. Now that I’ve actually seen the show, I want to throw myself at her feet and say “OH MY GOD YOU WERE RIGHT!”

Because the writing in this show?

Absofrickinlutely brilliant.

Consistently, every episode blew me away with the writing, with the attention to detail, with how clearly the writers knew the overall arcs of both the story and the characters. This was a show that knew where it was going the entire time and never lost sight of that, so it was able to layer things through in every episode.

Anyone who’s ever read my reviews knows I’m a sucker for character. I can get past a mediocre plot if I’m in love with the characters. Anyone who writes should be studying this show for how well-developed their characters are. You spend two and a half seasons rooting for a bad guy just on the slender hope that he may get to become a good guy. There’s a character so thoroughly psychotic that you cringe almost every time she opens her mouth, and yet even she has a few moments where you feel genuine sympathy for her. She is a truly horrible person- and yet you honestly feel sorry for her. All of the main characters are beautifully rounded, and many of the side characters as well. You cheer for them, you cringe for them, you cry for them- and if you’re me, at a particularly emotional reunion in the series finale, you yell out “YES! That’s what I’m talkin about!” and start clapping.

And then your brother looks at you like you’re an idiot.

And you tell him to do something best left unsaid because damn it, the show is just that amazing.

But it doesn’t matter that these characters are obviously fictional because they’re still real. Each of them have dominant personality types, of course, but we see them through the full emotional range. The dark, dour characters get to have occasional moments of silliness and happiness. Light-hearted characters get to explore gravity and despair. Every character has a specific journey, a way they weave through other journeys. They cross paths time and time again, each time coming away with something new that changes their perspectives, and the patterns shift after each event. The way they evolve and grow is gorgeous. Within the story arc, each character has individual arcs that make them just as fascinating as the story they’re a part of.

There are no loose threads in the story. Even the side quests, the pieces that should feel extraneous, add something valuable to the whole. Part of what makes this story so brilliant is that it never loses track of where it’s going. Most of the episodes are their own contained story, and yet it never gets away from the series path. Even the individual seasons keep an arc for themselves while still directly feeding into the larger story.

This show has redefined how I look at the construction of a trilogy. Each book should be its own story while still contributing to the overall story, and if even half the characters in a book are as complex and well-rounded as the characters in this show, I will be one happy kitty.

Seriously, if you are a writer, you NEED to watch this show. And watch it again. And study it.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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