When the writing draws you in

I don’t watch TV much. Every season I have two or three programs I never miss. I mentioned my guilty pleasure, American Idol, in my last post. The other shows I follow are dramas. In recent years, I was a big fan of series like Oz, The Sopranos, The Wire, and Lost. Now it’s Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, True Blood, and Treme. (Hmmm, I guess HBO wins.)

Treme is set in New Orleans during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The show follows several characters as they try to put their lives back together. I have my favorites, though the writers are capable of changing my mind about a couple of the others. And you never know when they’ll kill off a main character like they did in the first season.

This season, one of the storylines has been about the rise of crime. People who used to feel safe in their homes and places of business are finding the “rules” have changed in post-Katrina New Orleans. I watched one scene with growing dread.

As La Donna turns off the lights and prepares to close up her bar for the night, a young man in a hooded sweatshirt knocks on the window, “We’re closed,” she tells him. He’s looking for a different bar and lost. She talks to him through the glass and gives him directions to the place he’s looking for. Then he asks if he can come in and use the phone. Wisely, she tells him, “No phone.” She asks his name, he’s evasive, and she pulls out her cell phone, telling him she’s calling the police to come down and help him.

The kid walks away. As La Donna’s talking to the police, she waves to friends who’ve called to her as they walk down the other side of the street. She gathers her keys and purse. She pauses for a moment, looks back at the window, then she lifts her chin, tosses her hair back, and walks to the door. The street is deserted now. It’s quiet. The scene is shadowed, reddish, barely lit from the streetlight in front of her, the Christmas lights behind her.

I’m on alert; afraid I know what’s coming. “No,” I say. La Donna opens the door, steps out, and turns to relock it. Before she can, she glances to her right, and the camera pans to show the kid step around the corner of her building. He asks her about the directions again, sounding innocent, but the camera pans back to La Donna and you see the fear in her eyes. A shadow looms behind her. She turns toward it. There’s another man. I speak louder now. “No. Don’t.”

She scrambles back inside, shoving with all her might to close and lock the door, but it’s a futile attempt against the guys on the other side. As they burst through, she backs away, and throws her purse to them. “Take it,” she says, “it’s $200 dollars.”

“Please, don’t,” I plead—with the intruders or the writers or both. I hold my breath. La Donna tries to sound tough, cursing and ordering them out, but her voice betrays her. She stumbles backward, grabs a sawed-off broomstick, and starts swinging. “Yes!” I say, hopeful.

But then, I see the intruders still advancing slowly, quietly, determined. I am crushed.

The scene cuts away. I won’t tell you the rest. I just wanted to share how good writing grabs me, pulls me in, and makes me feel it. That’s how I want to write. That’s how I want you to write. Let’s do it.

Treme photos credit: HBO.
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17 thoughts on “When the writing draws you in

  1. My TV viewing starts with PBS and ends there for the most part; I indulge in Fringe on Fox every Friday night. (Walter Bishop is a GOD! ) Okay, I just let out how much of a science-nerd-geek I am. Anyway, mainstream TV viewing rather numbs my mind, whereas reading is more interactive. My mind works to recreate the scene’s textures, colors, smells, etc., as I read. A well-written story has me so completely immersed in that process that I’m oblivious to anything else happening around me. My goal (someday) is to write stories that captivate the reader with that much believability and intensity.

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