Yep. I’m a self-professed Breaking Bad-aholic. I’m not a fanatical fan by any means. But I’ve developed a very healthy appreciation for some of the BEST writing around. It’s been almost two months since I finished watching the series (courtesy of Santa Claus, who delivered the final season DVDs Christmas morning) and the storyline STILL haunts. And this is A Good Thing.
This thought came to me as I was doing homework for a Deep Editing class I’m taking this month. There are many good books out there, and some of them are real standouts. And then there are those books that grab you by the throat and squeeze so hard, the impression left behind is permanent.
Now, Breaking Bad isn’t a book but it is storytelling. And it’s grabbed me so hard I still can’t shake its effects.
So I thought about how and why Breaking Bad made such an impression on me and, surprisingly, the answer wasn’t all that simple.
It’s the storytelling, first and foremost. Yes. Definitely. I mean, here’s this chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with a fatal disease and who decides he’s going to provide for his family in the only way he knows: by using his chemistry skillz to cook the purest meth around. And who’s thinking he’ll stop once he reaches the financial threshold he needs.
Only he doesn’t.
It’s about a character who becomes involved with drug cartels and dealers, and who faces death square in the face (on the receiving and giving end) many times, all for the love of his family.
Until he realizes he loves himself more.
It’s about people whose actions have consequences. Serious, irreparable, damaging consequences.
That bring on even more serious, irreparable, damaging consequences.
It’s about bad and good.
And the blurred line that exists between them.
It’s about the imperfections found in all people.
Even the good ones, who aren’t always that good. Because, you know, that’s human nature.
This is, in my opinion, what stellar storytelling is all about. Life, like people, is complex. And a great book is also complex. That doesn’t mean it has to read as complex–only that the characters need multidimensional layers. They need to feel real. They need to draw a reader in, sink their fangs into reader empathy, and make the reader think, “Geez, if that were me, I might have done the same thing. And how scary is that?”
A great book draws on the fears and worries and the humanity inside of us. Suspense. Mystery. Sci-Fi. Romance. The genre doesn’t matter. What does matter is that real-life complexities are there, on the page. Decisions, good and bad, are made, leaving the reader breathless as to what will happen next.
I can think of two authors who do this very thing for me. Who are just so stellar that when they release a book, I’m willing to stop the rest of the world just so I can indulge myself for the day in their storytelling. These authors are Robert Crais and Harlan Coben.
One day, I hope to grow up and write like them–only in my own way.
One day, I hope to write stories that people will talk about.
One day, I hope to offer memorable, haunting characters that a reader can’t shake loose.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to study the greats like Crais and Coben, and watch reruns of Breaking Bad. Coz, you know, there ain’t nothin’ like stellar storytelling.
What about you? Have you experienced such stellar storytelling through reading or television or the movies that it still haunts? I’d love to know.
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