Writing lesson from Castle

I love watching Castle for a lot of reasons, among them that it’s partly about writing, so the dialogue is snappy and the writing is, in general, full of win.

Except for the first half of season 3, which is where I am now on DVD from Netflix. The first half of the season was…blah. I thought maybe it was just me, but my husband agreed that it wasn’t what it was before. Of course, for a show as good as Castle, this brought it down to kind of mediocre, rather than actually bad, and, fortunately, it did get back on track and the second half has been engrossing TV once again. Went through a disc and half over the weekend and sent them back to Netflix for more Castle goodness. Already getting sad that we must be nearing the end of the season.

Mondays I usually talk about something that relates to writing, so I wanted to talk about a bit of scene from my Castle watching yesterday. I watched so much of this show yesterday that I have no idea what episode it was in or what it was about.

Castle is sitting. Beckett pokes her head out a door. He’s like, anything new [on the case]? She’s like, matter of fact, yeah.

Now at this point, Beckett’s about to reveal some information to Castle that’s pertinent to solving the mystery. It could easily be written such that she delivers this piece of information and Castle would then react. Cut. Or, Beckett could deliver the information, they could process it, and then decide what action to take next. Maybe that would be a more classic Swainian reaction–> dilemma –> decision type sequel. And it would leave a natural place to stop and pick up in the next scene with them taking action based on their decision.

What actually happened in the episode, was that Beckett handed Castle a folder. Castle opened it, read it, and made some kind of oooh, raised-eyebrow type reaction. Cut.

So we don’t actually know what that bit of information was, just that Castle found it interesting. We don’t actually know what kind of decision they’ll make, and have no idea where the next scene will take us.

Now imagine this isn’t TV where you’re committed to coming back after your commercial time potty break and finishing out this hour-long episode. Imagine that this is a book that’s going to take 4-8 hours to read and that this scene occurs at the end of a chapter. Imagine these two different endings for the chapter.

In the first one, Beckett delivers the information, they process it, they tell us what’s next.

In the second one, Beckett hands over the folder, Castle reads something, and says, oooh, and raises his eyebrows.

In which scenario are you more likely to stay up late to read just one more chapter?

It seems obvious, but I think we writers often tend to want to tell the reader stuff as soon as we can and that, when we’re writing, the way that occurs to us will more likely be the first scenario. And yet the second is a very simple way to hooking the reader deeper into the story, getting her to spend another hour in our world, getting us closer to that review that praises, “It was hard for me to put it down!”

It should be noted that, in the episode, this was just an add-on to the end of a scene in which stuff DID happen. You can’t be just writing a bunch of stuff that sets the reader up for something to happen and then say, nope, not gonna give you anything yet. That would be reneging. You certainly can’t be doing that over and over, or that book’s hitting the wall before too long. But once you’ve delivered something of value that rewards the reader for reading through the scene, this kind of ending is one tool you can use to pull the reader into the next part of the story.

The comments are open to talk about how awesome Castle is, how awesome Nathan Fillion is, how Beckett should lose the hottie doctor before I lose my patience. Or you can talk about writing, too, if you want.


Filed under writing

6 responses to “Writing lesson from Castle

  1. Castle is awesome, Nathan is awesome and don’t trouble yourself too much about the doctor.
    I love that you use TV as an example of good writing. So often, book writers eschew any kind of writing from other mediums and I think that’s too bad. There’s a lot to be gleaned from how writers handle moving a story along when they have only 43 minutes or so to tell it.
    Fun post, thanks.

  2. Castle is one of my favorite shows because of the characters. And yes, the writing is awesome (usually). They did an awesome take on steampunk that was the most accurate tv had seen (I think another show tried to do it & f’ed it up big time from what I hear). They reward the geek fan base without alienating the normal fan base.

    And so cool that you look at other media for stuff. I do too… Or at least that’s the excuse I use for reading so much manga. 😉

  3. I love the concept of Castle, but I have not seen enough episodes to call myself a fan. It’s a show I have avoided for the simple fact that I know I will love it, while my wife is not such a big fan of all of these shows. I cannot wait to watch it from episdoe one. That is another thing I like, I don’t like watching a show from the mid point.

  4. asraidevin

    You are right. Castle scenes are great show don’t tell and masters of “read-on prompts” that keep us on the edge of our seats. I find CSI characters to just tell us the information (while they do show us the gory crime stuff the characters don’t do enough).

    Plus Nathan Fillion is just full of awesome in anything. Though if they brought back Firefly and reinstated him as Captain Mal, I would be much happier.

  5. Castle is great at a lot of things. I actually wrote a blog post on how effective it was as a pilot and how you could use what it teaches in your first few pages (a Kindle sample size, for example). You could very clearly feel the tone and “promise” of the show within the first act. \it’s a good lesson for making sure the first 10% of your book delivers on what you’ve promised.

  6. Ditto on Castle, Nathan F, and bringing Firefly back. And extra thanks to my teenage boys for introducing me to Firefly a few years ago!

    I like the idea of holding things back. I wrote a blog post a few years ago about the show “Jericho.” They gave us characters in the middle of conflicts, but each one of them had things going on that we didn’t know about but only got hints to. It was very enjoyable to discover the depth of the characters bit by bit instead of an instant dump of situational characteristics. If that’s even a term.

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