Find The Mystery

drama, features, screenwriting, storytelling, T.V. writing

We watch for the mystery. All stories have a mystery. Sometimes we don’t notice because the mystery sucks.

  • Love stories — The mystery is who is going to love who in the end, and why? There should be genuine doubt about who is going to wind up together, and why, and how. If there isn’t, you’re writing porn. We should care about this mystery — this is the pleasure of love stories. See Jane Austen.
  • Dramas — The mystery here lies in who the characters really are versus who they say they are and who they think they are — see Mad Men — or in us making discoveries about the character’s world at the same time she does. The protagonist is in trouble — how is she going to get herself out of it?
  • Crime/Thrillers/Action/Sci Fi — These have mystery built in, or they should. How are we going to solve this big fucking problem? What’s really going on here? Good to have competing mysteries — say, the overarching mystery of the situation and the mysteries of characters’ identities and the mysteries of love stories. As for the overarching mystery, see my joke’s on them post — the joke is always on the main characters, and the mystery here is figuring out how to get them out from under the punchline.

Our mission as detectives is to solve the mystery — by finding out what happens next. If the story doesn’t compel us on this journey, doesn’t send us racing to the finish, we need to shave clutter and bulk up clues and foreshadow and raise the stakes so that nothing matters more than solving this big, interesting mess.

6 thoughts on “Find The Mystery

  1. Awesome post. Great inspiration to start my writing session. When is the 6 week Julie Bush intensive writing class gonna go down?

    1. Aw David, thank you so much. You know what, I’m discovering this stuff as I go. I’ve been writing my whole life, as I’m sure you have, and still learning. Over the holiday I was watching The Wire (that’s what I got my stepdad for Christmas), and it occurred to me that all stories have a mystery to solve. But some are more successful at demonstrating it than others. If I can frame the mystery in my pilot, I’ll have a better pilot. So in my Iraq pilot, the overarching mystery is — what the fuck are we doing in Iraq? The characters start by not knowing there’s a mystery at all, then they discover there’s a mystery in their midst, and then slowly that it’s vast and it affects more and more and more people, more and more profoundly. This is the mystery my characters will uncover over the course of the series.

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