Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling Watching Breaking Bad: Episode 1, Pilot

A quiet, scientific high school teacher is Breaking Bad and cooking up meth. He has cancer, and he wants to leave his family with financial support. He’s also kinda vibing on the thrills of the dangers of the meth world. In his underwear.

In the first episode, I noticed three key storytelling tricks. 

No scene is too dark for comic relief. Committing suicide before the cops reach you? Lose your pants. Just find out you had cancer? Shock should make you underreact so profoundly it’s funny. 

Characters’ perspectives lie in their reactions. Did tons of gore just fall through your ceiling? You should be a smartass about it. Understatement is powerful In so many scenes, what isn’t said is more powerful than what is. 

There are unconventional ways to raise the stakes. Most thriller writers refuse to tie their protagonists to families, but this show sure makes it work. Walt doesn’t just have a wife and child - he has a pregnant wife and a disabled child. (Dexter also maximizes this intensity.)

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