Deconstructing a story

So recently, I’ve been watching this drama called GONNA MAKE IT. It airs on Channel 8 at 9pm every weekday and will run its last episode today.

It’s been a while since a story produced by Channel 8 moved me to tears and didn’t make me cringe at the cliched plot or stilted acting or dialogue. In fact, GONNA MAKE IT is a really well-written script with a watchable cast that doesn’t entirely suck in acting. And it appears I’m not alone in the sentiment. It’s been the second highest rating show for weeks.

So I thought I would, as an audience and a writer, attempt to deconstruct this story and find out why it managed to keep me glued to the TV night after night. Laini Taylor advised the same thing too, here:

“I will suggest this homework: take the books that grip you, that give you an amazing experience, and read them as a writer. Figure out what they do, what questions they make you ask, and how they do it.”

(I know I keep mentioning Laini Taylor – it seems almost ingratiating, but I just can’t stop raving about her and her writing.)

On Wikipedia, the show falls under the genres of teens, romance, hairdressing and drama. Their synopsis is a little long, so I’ll give you the nutshell version here:

Xiaoxiao (from hereon called XX because I’m too lazy to type out her name) is a reformed delinquent with a passion for hairdressing. The story starts where she is released from prison after getting involved in a gang fight that saw her best friend stabbed to death. Eager to leave her past behind, she is on the run from her old gang of friends when she runs into Oscar, the young CEO of a prestigious salon chain, who gradually comes to recognise XX’s passion and potential to be a skilled hairdresser. As XX struggles with finding a hairdressing job because of her criminal record, Oscar decides to take a chance on her and offer her a job at one of his salons. But XX’s friends, one of whom is hopelessly infatuated with her, won’t seem to leave her alone and constantly get her into trouble. She eventually ends up disappointing Oscar and resigns in shame.

At the lowest point in her life, she meets A’man, a mercurial high-profile hairdresser who is highly sought after by A-list celebrities. A’man admires XX’s tenacity and passion for her craft and decides to nurture her talent. Despite their constant clashes at the beginning, they soon develop a profound mentor-student relationship. She is the first one who learns of his terminal illness, and agrees to keep it a secret.

To Oscar, XX is still far too mired in her past as she can’t seem to cut off all ties with her old friends. But to XX, Oscar can’t seem to look past her history. Despite all that, the two fall in love. But their relationship is not without its consequences. Oscar’s jealous cousin, Wenya, who is used to getting her way ALL THE TIME, will stop at nothing to eliminate XX from Oscar’s life, better yet if she loses everything she has and can no longer pursue her hairdressing dream.

Things to admire about the story:

1. The characters:

XX is a flawed but resilient character you want to root for all the way to the end. She makes decisions that aren’t always the best ones, and makes mistakes despite her good intentions that makes the audience sympathise with her. Plus, Julie Tan’s convincing acting plays a huge part in bringing the character to life. And to think she’s only 21! (Helps, also, that the main leads are easy on the eyes. *wink*)

And while there’s the antagonist – an outright villain, in fact – Wenya, she is not irredeemable. Her actions, while misguided, stem from an understandable motivation: to hold on to the person she loves and is in danger of losing to XX.

This story, unlike other TV addictions of mine such as THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, doesn’t rely on supernatural creatures or high-octane action to keep the audience riveted. It is character-driven – i.e. the characters are the ones driving the story forward with their desires and fears and emotions. This type of story, to me, is harder to plot than a fantasy one, but also the most rewarding to write because you bring so much of yourself to it, and the emotions come out stronger in your characters than you realise in yourself. (I hope I’m making some sense.)

2. The plot:

The writer wove subplots into the main plot like a maestro. Subplots are one thing I can never seem to wield confidently. I often start with a character and her journey, but forget about the supporting characters and THEIR stories, which often play a part in shaping the protagonist’s journey.

XX not only meets adversaries and faces difficulties in her personal life, her career is also often threatened by jealous coworkers stand between her and her hairdressing dreams. But it’s these adversities that strengthen her relationship with her mentor, A’man, and her boyfriend Oscar. Subplots are supposed to help drive the main story forward. They are separate from the main thread, but shouldn’t seem too separate. They should be woven sneakily into the story, so that everything comes together as a cohesive fabric.

My stories, however, seem piece-y, because I can’t forge a link strong enough between the main plot and subplots.

3. The pacing:

Every episode leaves the audience on a high note, and generates a lot of buzz on the Twittersphere – #gonnamakeit is one of the top trends every night – because we can’t wait to see what happens in the next episode. Because the writers have succeeded in making us care for the characters, we are invested in their lives. We want the protagonist achieve her goals, and will stick it out till the end to see that she does.

This is exactly what we need as writers, for our readers to remain glued to the book till the very last page. To have cried and laughed with the characters, to celebrate her triumphs and empathise with her struggles. To feel like they’ve read a gratifying, moving story after setting the book down. To constantly think about the characters long after they’ve finished the book. To look forward to the next story from the writer.

Speaking of which, the writer of the greatly beloved Korean drama SECRET GARDEN has created another story called HEIRS. Given how amazing SECRET GARDEN was – it remains the best Korean drama I have ever watched, and partly influenced the mood of my novel, UNTIL MORNING – I have high hopes for HEIRS.

But for now, back to more plotting for NEVERLAND, and rewriting for BLOOD PROMISE!

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