What’s at Stake?
by Larry Brody
Long before I got into the television business, back when I was a television viewer, I would go off on a rant about cop shows at a moment’s notice. “Why are people’s lives always in danger?” I would shout. “Why does TV always have someone looking down the business end of a gun?”
Now that I’ve been writing a good long while, I know the answer. The reason television gives us so many cop shows and medical shows and lawyer shows is that in those situations something very important is always at stake – usually someone’s life. You don’t get higher stakes than that, and without the risk of a very big loss, all the audience can do when it sees your hero being agitated is yawn and say, “Who cares?”
Drama occurs when someone has a need that must be filled and must work like hell to overcome obstacles standing in the way of filling it. Notice that I said “need.” Merely “wanting” something isn’t enough. The situation has to be an absolute “must have or else” or the audience clicks that remote.
This is THE basic story. In a sense it’s the ONLY story, and to make it work effectively not only does the need have to be great, so do the consequences of failure – and the obstacles in the way of success.
When you design your storyline, remember that the more serious the danger, the more involved the audience will become.
If your hero is a millionaire, and he stands to lose a thousand-dollar bet, that ain’t enough.
But if your hero is broke and stands to lose his wife and kids unless he comes up with a hundred bucks to save the day – well, now you’ve got something that will hold the viewers’ attention – and yours as the writer as well.
Another in what I hope will be a long run of helpful hints for TV writers here on TVWriter™ every Tuesday. Which brings up a point: If you’d like to share some writing tips with your fellow TVWriter™ visitors, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to make a guest post happen.