Last week, after months of being pestered by different friends, I finally checked out the pilot to the A&E show Breaking Bad. If you haven’t seen it, Breaking Bad stars Bryan Cranston (known mostly as Hal, the dad from Malcolm in the Middle) as Walter White, a down-and-out high school chemistry teacher who, after being diagnosed with stage-three terminal cancer and realizing he has no way to leave an inheritance for his wife and family, decides to try his hand at making crystal meth.
The show probably isn’t for everyone, but I was completely sucked in by the first episode. And do you want to know why? Because it’s got a plot concept that drives the action like a souped-up Formula 1 racecar.
This blog will feature many more discussions of plot, so I won’t go too overboard in this post. I will say, however, that a setup for a story such as that of Breaking Bad is the perfect example of both the high concept plot and a premise that can really drive forward the action. When telling people what the show was about, I could see instant reactions. Some said, “That sounds awesome.” Some said, “That sounds too depressing.” But everyone agreed the show sounded unique, fascinating, and worth checking out.
And in beginning with such a rich setup, the action that follows can almost write itself. The mind quickly wanders to what could happen next. There’s instant sympathy for the main character and the tough decisions the audience knows he’s going to have to face.
Not every story will have a plot as instantly engaging as that of Breaking Bad. Not every story will have the roaring engine, either. But whether you write about a man desperate enough to put his life on the line or something as simple as a coming-of-age story of friendship, you should still have an engine in your story that will drive the tale forward and make people want to keep reading.
Can you do it? I, for one, think you can, I think you can, I think you can…