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What I Learned about Writing from The 100

I recently finished rewatching the CW show The 100 and it was right in the middle of me revising Silver. I was having some difficulties figuring out a few characters and where I really wanted the plot to go. Sequels are so hard because they're the glue that's supposed to stick two books together, the first and the third. They're the bridge between the beginning and the end and I've always found the middle of my books difficult, which maybe is why I find sequels so hard. But anyways, as I was watching The 100 I realized two things that completely changed me and seemed so stupidly obvious that I should have known these things from the very beginning. Like all writers should or do know this and I guess the concepts just never clicked in my brain until now because I had a ah-ah! moment.

I learned that simple plots are usually better and character motivations are everything. I know, you're probably like duh... I already knew, but I guess I didn't. Yes, I've read tons of articles and books about character motivation and plot, but rewatching The 100 just sort of made me come face to face with these two concepts. Maybe it's because I learn a lot through example and by watching these two concepts being used in a TV show and several others helped me grasp the idea better. 

But anyways, if you haven't seen The 100, I highly recommend it. It's so good and one of my favorite shows. The show is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the human race has been living in space for several generations after the Earth became uninhabitable due to a nuclear war that ravaged the entire planet. Because the Ark (the spaceship the human race has been living on) is running out of oxygen they send one hundred teenage offenders to the Earth. Drama and danger ensue. So anyways, the show follows Clarke Griffin, the main character, and as the show goes on Bellamy, his sister Octavia, John Murphy and several other side characters become important as well like what happens on most TV shows. Usually the most important characters that have the most potential are the ones that get promoted to almost main character level, you know?

I've always sort of had a hard time with plot and character motivations. I can make a good, realistic main character with goals and a personality and motivation, but side characters? Maybe it's just me, but they've always felt a little flat to me. But the thing is with TV shows? You're side characters can't fall flat or no one will like your show. TV shows don't just rely on their main characters to carry the show, but they also rely on their entire cast to carry the plot as well. Books do too, but I feel like it's less obvious because most authors stick with one character's POV. Maybe two. But they don't have the time to give every important side character that they want to develop their own POV or scenes here and there. They can't switch from scene to scene like a TV show, which makes it trickier and because I've watched so many TV shows over the past few years (probably more than I've read books), I've looked at the plots and the characters and the format and wanted my books to be just as good as them. For a while I didn't think it was possible, but I think I finally figured it out.

TV shows, especially ones like The 100 let their characters shine because their plots and goals are simpler. Usually the characters have one primary goal to accomplish. In season 1 the one hundred kids’ main goal was to survive. Survive the mysterious dangers of Earth, survive the weather, survive sickness, survive Grounders. Just survive. Season 2, their goal was to escape Mount Weather. To escape these people that took them. Season 3, their goal was to stop Allie (I won’t tell you who she is in case you end up watching it, but she’s the bad guy). In season 4, the theme kind of loops back around to survival. Only now they have to survive another apocalypse that is going to destroy Earth again. See how easy it was to sum up the seasons? I could probably even do it for TVD, only TVD has many more subplots. The 100 has a few subplots, but usually the characters are driven and focused on that singular goal. But that isn’t what makes the show interesting and the story worthwhile is it? No, what makes the story so good are the characters themselves. How they react to that goal, how they accomplish that goal?

When it comes down to it, everyone has their own best interests at heart. When the apocalypse happens, you look out for yourself and the ones you care about. Its selfish and cruel, but for most characters and people that's just how it is. Unless you’re the selfless hero, like Clarke. Not only are motivations so important, but priorities are too. Take for instance in this last season, everyone’s primary goal was to survive a new apocalypse. But why do they want to accomplish that goal? What are their priorities? Who do they want to save? Clarke wants to save the human race. Ensure that the human race continues, even if that means sacrificing some to save others for the greater good.

 Bellamy is focused on protecting and saving his sister.

Murphy is the antihero, selfish bad boy of the show (you know the kind of character I’m talking about). He just wants to save himself and his girlfriend.

Monty wants to save his girlfriend and his best friend.

Within these very personal priorities and motivations, if you look at the bigger picture you have different groups of people with different motivations and priorities and a way to survive. Clarke’s people go through several different plans. First to hunker down in a spaceship for five years, then to create something that would make them all immune. The Grounders can’t seem to look past the present moment and are worried about politics and war, over survival. Get what I’m saying? Motivation and priority is key. If you give your characters a strong goal to accomplish then you have to give your characters a strong motivation and priorities too. In the one episode when all the clans are fighting, Octavia even says, she wasn’t sure what she was fighting for. For just bloodshed and to fight, for her brother, for her people. But then she got her priorities straight and realized her motivation. She was fighting for everyone. For survival and for her clan, which she views as all the clans.

 So, when I applied this to Golden, I sat and made a list of all the important characters. My protagonist and “heroes” and my antagonist and “villains.” Then I went through and thought of everything I already know about these characters and sort of tested them in my head. Who are you doing this for? Who are you wanting to accomplish this goal for? Why is this goal important to you? What’s your main motivation? Who and what are you, priorities? What are you willing to do to accomplish this goal? Steal? Break the law? Hurt someone? Kill someone? What are you willing to sacrifice for this goal? What won’t you compromise? Then I wrote out all the answers to those questions until I knew why they’re doing what they’re doing and who they want to save and why. It completely changed my book and made it ten times better and ten times easier to write because then I knew exactly how my characters would react and what they were willing to do to accomplish their goal and how each of them are going about accomplishing that goal in their own unique way.

The same goes for plot. I was having the hardest time with plot. My plots always end up more complicated than they need to be, and I end up digging myself into a hole that I can’t get out of. That was starting to happen between Golden and Silver and as I rewatched The 100 and I realized that not every plot has to be so complicated. There don’t have to be tons of bad guys and ulterior motives and secrets and lies and shady organizations. Sometimes simpler is better. Not every story will call for a simpler plot, but also, not every story will call for a complicated one either. So, because I was feeling overwhelmed and was backing myself into a corner I simplified the plot and my two books became ten times better because of it. I could then focus on my characters and my antagonists finally fit into the plot how they were meant to and it all just came together like the right puzzle pieces being put together. Some TV shows are complex, and I love those kinds of plots. I love complicated, hard to figure out, mysterious plots. But I also like simpler ones, because those allow for all the attention to be on the characters and how they react to certain situations.

I guess what I’m saying is, I learned a lot about writing in 2017 and I feel like my writing improved a ton over that whole year. But the two most important things I learned about is character motivation and simpler is sometimes better. Don’t be afraid to simplify your plot because you feel like you need to compete with other writers who write amazingly complex and mysterious plots full of twists and turns. Sometimes the best books are the simplest ones.

Have a great weekend everyone and enjoy the rest of January!

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