Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Want to Be a Prison Break Writer

Prison Break is a show that requires a huge suspension of disbelief. From the first season, they've created alliances and progressions of events that could never happen, not to mention conspiracies of unmanageable proportions.

But there's one thing they do extremely well, and it's the reason the show has survived even though seasons 2 and 4 actually didn't have anyone in prison for more than an episode.

There's an old piece of writing advice (I don't know who originally said it, sorry) that goes something like "If your story stalls, run your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them." In other words, make things really, really bad, and then make them worse. I've never seen a TV show or movie or read a book that did that better than Prison Break.

You'd think that would get exhausting, and it does. This should be the show's last season. These guys (and Sarah) deserve a break, for cripe's sake. But that's a big-picture level. On an episodic level, the writers have managed an amazing balance between success and failure that keeps us totally hooked.

For example, when they stole Scylla (reportedly a list of every bad guy in every important position in the world), it looked like they were getting caught, but it was part of the plan to get the missing piece. Then they were betrayed and lost Scylla, but Michael had kept part of it, so the double-crossing Agent Self didn't get to complete his plan. When Michael, Sucre, Sarah, and Lincoln successfully get Scylla back, Michael's tumor acts up and flattens him, so Self grabs Scylla again and finds the missing piece. When Michael dies on the operating table during the tumor reduction, he realizes Scylla isn't what they thought it was, that it's much, much bigger.

There's no relaxing during this entertainment. The level of suspense is neverending, with very short, exciting reprieves and moments of hope. It can't be sustained forever, but day-um, I want to write like that!

So excuse me while I go throw rocks at my characters.


Trish Milburn said...

I agree, this has been one of those edge-of-the-seat shows since the beginning. Just when you think things couldn't get any worse...they do! But I do think this needs to be the last season because any more would just be ridiculous.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Definitely! I'm ready for closure.

Tess said...

Hmmm - ya know, you may just have helped me more than you could have ever imagined. My plot has been stalled - apparently I need to find some trees and rocks!!

Thanks :)

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Awesome, Tess! Good luck!

*hands over hunk of granite*