Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Carrie Padgett: Lessons from TV on Plotting & Creating Novels

Carrie Padgett

 The Gilmore Girls. And Veronica Mars.

I’ve been re-watching GilPmore Girls from the beginning in syndication and ended up buying the first two seasons to watch at my leisure. It occurred to me that the structure and story of the Gilmores and Veronica make great primers on how to plot and create novels.

Writing secondary characters: 

Mrs. Kim: Stereotypical Korean woman. Hard working. Tiger mother. Ethnocentric. But—not a Buddhist or Shintoist or Muist. Mrs. Kim is a devout Christian, a Seventh Day Adventist who insists Lane attend church camp every summer and date only other Korean Seventh Day Adventists.

Write a stereotype and then give it one twist. And don’t clutter the story with characters who don’t serve the story. 

Mr. Kim: Non-existent on screen. He’s referred to in early episodes. Lane mentions “… my parents,” and Mrs. Kim says, “Lane’s father and I …” But he’s never seen. By the later seasons, he’s not mentioned any more.

On Veronica Mars, Dick Casablancas is the total air-head frat boy, chasing girls and beer, though not necessarily in that order. But about once a season, he lets his hurt show through and reminds viewers that he’s not a total screw-up. Just mostly. 

Backstory: Dribble it in. We don’t know for the first couple of episodes why Lorelai is estranged from her parents. But it’s clearly shown when Lorelai visits their home in September and the first thing both her parents say (but at separate times) is, “Is it Christmas already?” Brilliant. We know right away that they are accustomed to only seeing their daughter once a year. Give or take. 

In another episode, Rory asks Lorelai if her father Christopher is going to attend a function. Lorelai says, “He said he’d be there, he 100% guaranteed he’d be there.” Rory responds, “So … 50% likelihood he’ll make it?” The viewer immediately gets that Christopher is full of promises and good intentions, but not quite so good at follow-through. 

Setting: The setting has to be an integral part of the story, its own character. Would Gilmore Girls work anywhere except Stars Hollow, Connecticut? I don’t think so. Could Veronica live anywhere except Neptune? The movie answered that question with a resounding “NO!” 

Stars Hollow’s cast of quirky characters and festivals and town dynamics make it a real secondary character, as real as Mrs. Kim. Where else but Stars Hollow would you find a Knit-a-Thon to raise money to save a bridge. Not every element has to make sense. For instance, if every person in town is knitting, who’s left to pledge and give the money? But it works.

Neptune’s class war of the haves vs. the have nots is a classic trope, yet setting the battles in that most horrid of war zones, high school, puts a new spin on what could be a tired cliché.

Trust the reader/viewer to get it: Gilmore Girls is notorious for fast-paced dialogue sprinkled with multi-pop culture references. Maybe once a season does a character question a bon mot and an explanation is offered. Otherwise, the audience is expected to get it or let it go.

The repartee between Veronica and her father is some of the funniest stuff ever written for television. The other characters are just as quick witted. The audience is never talked down to.

Do you have a movie or television show that you look to for examples of or lessons in storytelling? Please, share them with me!

Carrie Padgett writes sweet contemporary stories about people who have a perfect life—from the outside—and what happens when their fairy tale is interrupted. She lives in the middle of California, miles from Hollywood and the beach, although Yosemite is her backyard. She’s a Romance Writers of America ® 2014 Golden Heart® finalist, and an American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis winner (2007) and semi-finalist (2012 & 2014). Her collection of short romance stories can be found on Amazon. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached at cpadgett59 (at) Comcast (dot) net.


Learn writing techniques from The Gilmore Girls. @CarriePadgett @DeliaLatham http://tinyurl.com/oxj57a9

@CarriePadgett shares writing lessons learned on favorite TV shows - on Write Right! http://tinyurl.com/oxj57a9


  1. Thanks for having me today, Delia! I look forward to hearing from your readers.

  2. Hi Carrie! I'm a huge Veronica Mars fan but have never seen Gilmore Girls once *cringes and slinks off in shame* I suppose I should!

    I agree that TV shows and movies are a great help when it comes to writing novels. Good storytelling translates, and TV has fewer words to get it right, so it's a great model. Nice post!

    1. Oh, Amy, you *have* to watch at least the first episode. If you're not hooked, then move on. But I think you'll love it, like me!

  3. Welcome, Carrie - and thank you for such an interesting and informative post! I, too, love gleaning writing techniques from my favorite TV shows. They're great for picking up body language tells, as well.

    1. Ooooh, you're so right about that!! I have to pay more attention to those cues!