Taking Cues from Lost

*Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers about season 1 of the television show Lost.*

Lost became an instant sensation when it first aired on ABC, both a critical and popular success that helped turn the fortunes of the struggling network… The two elements of success on any television show are writing, and acting. While there are other factors to a show’s success (time it airs, appeal to the contemporary audience, etc.), a show’s writing is the greatest force that helps to propel any form of media into the spotlight. Learning from the writing techniques behind the show can help make your plots more involved, more multi-faceted, and more compelling. Let’s take a look at some of these techniques, and how you can implement them.

First, let’s remind ourselves that Lost is not a television show about a plane crash, or the survivors of said event. What any good writer must realize is that it’s never about the setting or backdrop: it’s always about the characters. The human experience is what compels each of us to become involved in a dramatic presentation. We must feel a connection to the characters, and know that they have histories much like our own. Even if we ourselves have not experienced anything similar to the characters we are watching, we must feel empathy towards the character. In short, the situation must be written in a way that allows us to picture ourselves in that situation, even if we have not been there before. Undoubtedly, you have heard the adage about Star Trek, which states that it’s not about the technology, it’s about the people. The same holds true with almost every other story told in history.


For more information, also see Avoiding Backsims, Regaining Missed Opportunities, by Captain Rocar Drawoh.

Perhaps the most compelling part about the series Lost is the use of the flashback throughout the show on a regular basis. With this technique, the writers are able to tie the ”viewer” to the ”character” in a profound way. Remove the flashbacks from Lost, and you’re left with little more than a bunch of frightened, bickering castaways. But ”with” the flashbacks, we begin to see the motivations for each character’s actions. What is it that drives Jack to try so hard? Why does Kate so easily connect to Sawyer? Why such tension between Sun and Jin-Soo? All these questions are answered through the flashback method.

Let’s take the character of Sawyer, for example. On Lost, Sawyer is immediately pigeon-holed into the villain by many of the survivors of the crash. His resource hoarding, one-line comebacks, and standoffish-ness make him a prime target for the aggression of others, despite the fact that many other share the same personality traits as he. Jack is a resource hog — for good reason: he’s trying to save others. Shannon can be pithy. And clearly, Locke is more than a bit standoffish. But what got Sawyer, specifically, to this personality? Through the flashback scenes of his childhood and scenes of his recent stint as a “confidence man,” we begin to understand that he is a complex man, demonized by the “Sawyer” from which he got his name — a con man who ruined his parent’s marriage by taking their money, and eventually caused his father to murder Sawyer’s mother, and then commit suicide.

The important point here is that the audience learned of all these details through the use of the flashback. Indeed, most of the others on the island know little or nothing of his past — just like the other characters on board your vessel might not know about your character

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