I’m a huge fan of AMC’s Breaking Bad for so many reasons–cinematography, the acting, the writing, the characterization…but what has been perfect is the story arc.
A pet peeve for me when reading books or watching TV or movies is when a character is not faithful to his arc.
The beginning of an arc is when a writer or director (creator) initiates a relationship with the reader/viewer (consumer). There is a set up that hints at story potential and the twists and turns that keep us reading and watching. Another term for this is trust. The creator is asking the consumer to trust them for the duration of the journey…and the creator is already ahead of the game because the consumer is a willing participant. He wants to trust.
It is then up to the creator to use literary and visual finesse to support the set up–the first part of the arc–and maintain it to a satisfying conclusion.
We all know the frustration when a character goes inexplicably off the rails. We tend to throw those books at the wall (or turn the channel) and gnash our teeth at the time and money wasted. Our trust has been exploited. Pah!
Not so with Breaking Bad. The story arc was so satisfying. From the first moment, the creator (I want to be Vince Gilligan in the next life) set up the character and life of Walter White, and from then on, feathered in emotional subtleties with the deftest touch that hinted, foreshadowed, and yet still shocked utterly. The very last episode was a payoff in Walter White’s story–not a cheap attempt at something dramatic or coy to cover a weak story.
As I was riveted through five seasons, I was always trying to get a bead on that story arc skill. I want readers to trust me when I take them on my writerly journey. I want them to feel they can trust me to not cheapen the experience or make them feel they were played. I want to make them care.
If you haven’t watched Breaking Bad, be warned. It is dark, rough, it peers into the grimy shadows of the human soul (and forces you to peer into yours) and is beautifully shot and acted. But it’s also an example of a perfect story arc.
Trust is a beautiful thing.