Writing Lessons from the TV show Firefly

I’m not feeling too well tonight, so I thought I’d sit down and do a Firefly marathon, a lamentably short-lived TV show created by Joss Whedon. I’m a total geek about this show. Yes, I’m a Browncoat

But, as I started watching the opening sequence, ideas for a blog post itched at me. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this, but every time I find something new. This time, I guess because I’m hyperaware about writing right now,  I kept seeing examples to illustrate writing techniques. So I hit pause and came upstairs to do a little snippet so I could watch the rest in peace. Actually, that probably won’t happen because I could easily see this turning into a series of posts. Sigh. I know I’m not exactly breaking new ground by saying this, but, you know, I just feel the need to personally say it. Joss rules.

Think of all the lessons in writing you’ve read in the past. About how you’re supposed to start your story with action. Peak a reader’s curiosity. Make them care enough to keep reading past the first page. No backstory in the beginning. And then general rules for the rest of your novel, like make your dialog do double duty by illuminating aspects of your character. Misdirection. Establish your POV character. Give your POV character a voice. Establish your world, but without info-dumping. And on and on. Well, these are all present in the opening of the pilot for Firefly. Heck, if I was feeling better, I could probably tease out even more. And if I was feeling super-duper, I bet a quick search would bring up other posts that have already done this.

Anyway, below is the opening I found on YouTube, and if you’ve never seen it before (or even if you have), watch it and see these different elements of telling a story well:

1. Start your story right in the middle of action. Make the reader curious (but not frustrated). You want them to keep reading and your opening sentence should hook them right away. Your reader should also know who the POV character is and what’s at stake. What’s their immediate goal, etc. Firefly: can’t get any more action packed than starting with explosions. You also get a tad bit of worldbuilding, but without any sagging. Small clues show that this is not only a battle, but the uniforms and technology are slightly different, so you know immediately this isn’t from our current history. At the :30 second mark, our POV character rushes out of the craziness and when he reaches a bunker, takes control. Notice that his second line of dialog not only moves the plot forward, but reveals character: on finding out that they have no commanding officers, he doesn’t miss a beat and finds a quick solution to the problem. What does that tell you right away about this character?

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