Person of Interest: Wingman: Multi-Thread Plotting

Person of Interest Binge LogoOne of the major problems of this season is that it’s so damn complex. Finch has to be a professor and deal with students, Shaw is still selling perfume and driving the getaway car for thieves, Reese is buried under paperwork while trying to save people, and only the Machine knows what Root is doing. And then there are the numbers . . .

“Nautilus:” Samaritan is recruiting, luring a brilliant young mathmetician into danger to dismantle a Blackwater analog that’s in competition with Samaritan. Finch tries to save her, but in the end, it’s Samaritan who rescues Claire and enlists her on its side. This is not good.

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Which brings us to “Wingman.” Continue reading

Person of Interest: Panopticon: Starting All Over Again

Person of Interest Binge LogoIn any long-running series, no matter what the medium, writers come up against the same conundrum: People want the same but different.

They want the same things that have made them love the story over the course of several films/years/books, they don’t want anything they love to go away (SAVE BEAR!).

But at the same time, everything they love about the story is the reason it’s starting to feel shopworn: we’ve been here before. “Didn’t they do that in Season Two?” “I love X, but if she says/does Y one more time . . .” “Really? Another number of the week to save?” Continue reading

Person of Interest: Deus Ex Machina: Act Climax As Crisis

Person of Interest Binge LogoOne of the conceits I’ve been working with here is that Person of Interest is a five act novel, each season finale acting as a turning point, an event that swings the story in a new direction, raising the stakes, changing character, and escalating the conflict by hurtling the plot forward. If you prefer a classic screenplay structure, then Season One is Act One and the upcoming Season Five is Act Three, leaving the middle three seasons as the arcing middle act with the devastation of Carter’s death hitting at the midpoint/point of no return.

But act/turning point designations don’t have to fall into a rigid pattern. They’re there to make sure that a long form story keeps reinventing itself, not to make a fill-in-the-blanks framework for story. So I’d argue that there are two crisis points in the Person of Interest novel: this episode which defeats the Gang, and the climax of Season Four, which defeats the Machine, a one-two punch that sets up the desperate final act, which begins next Tuesday (May 3), a shortened stretch of narrative that raises the reader/viewer’s anxiety about the story to a fever pitch before providing catharsis in a final story-changing climax.

Well, I’m worried, anyway. Those PoI writers will kill anybody. Continue reading

Person of Interest: RAM: There Is No Good Back Story

Person of Interest Binge LogoWhen I chose the episode and craft topics, I did it by memory. As a fan of the series, I loved “RAM,” so I thought it’d be a good way to talk about “good back story;” watching it now as a writer, it’s still an excellent story on its own (another written by Denise The), but in the context of the series as a whole, it has two main purposes: explain what happened in the past and provide fan service. The problem is, while it’s fun to know what was happening to Finch and Reese before they joined forces (even more fun to see Shaw at her murderous best), there is nothing in the story that we needed to know. It’s a good episode, but if you were editing the season as a novel, this episode would go. Back story kills, people, no matter how well it’s written.

Previously on Person of Interest: Continue reading

Person of Interest: 4C, Character in Crucible

Person of Interest Binge LogoOne of the most heinous crimes a writer can commit in relationship stories is the Big Misunderstanding. After spending many chapters/episodes building a strong relationship the reader/viewer can invest in, instead of looking at the very real, character-driven problems that might test a bond, the crisis descends into a misunderstanding that any solid relationship would defuse with an intelligent question. So forget the “I saw you kissing that woman” “That was my sister” stuff; if you want to test a relationship, give it a real test, something that just talking won’t solve. That kind of test almost always goes to character: In this situation, no matter how much this character believes in this relationship, he or she has to walk away. Continue reading

Person of Interest: “The Devil’s Share”: Rip-Your-Heart-Out Storytelling

Person of Interest Binge LogoPreviously on Person of Interest:
“The Perfect Mark” is one of those everybody’s-crooked con stories that was probably pretty good but by this point, the HR story is so compelling that it just got in the way of the good stuff, culminating in the shootout in which Lasky dies, Carter shoots his killer, and gets the dying crooked cop to point out the head of HR: Quinn. Best part of the entire episode: That fistbump between Reese and Carter in the car. It’s a beautiful thing. Continue reading

Person of Interest: Mors Praematura (Helen Shaver): Fusing Multiple Story Lines

Person of Interest Binge Logo I began to watch a John Sayles movie called Lone Star several years ago, and almost turned it off in the beginning because it kept switching to new characters with new problems. I can’t remember now how many–six? eight?–but I was completely confused. Fortunately, the writing was great and the actors were exceptional so I stuck around. And as I watched, those multiple stories slowly converged, and as they converged, they added layers to each other. What had seemed like fairly straight forward character stories became complex, what happened in one story shifted the other, plot points took on different meanings, and I couldn’t look away. As I remember, I didn’t understand the impact of everything until the very last lines of the very last scene. It was a perfect inverted pyramid plot, everything resting on the final words.

This episode reminded me of that the first time I saw it. Continue reading

Person of Interest: “Razgovor:” Establishing Character Through Relationships

Person of Interest Binge Logo I wrote a book once about a depressed divorcee. Well, she perked up fairly quickly, but she was depressed in the beginning. And that taught me a valuable lesson: Never write a depressed protagonist. They’re usually immobilized, unhappy, and frankly, depressing. It’s nice to have a 180 arc, but it’s possible to start too low.

I think the emotionally-stunted Shaw presented the PoI writers with much the same challenge. Shaw isn’t depressed, she just has a personality disorder that makes it difficult for her to feel emotion. And that in turn is why it would be difficult for us to feel emotion for her: there’s nothing for us to relate to.

So why do so many of us love Shaw so much? Continue reading

Person of Interest: “Lady Killer:” Utilizing a Large Recurring Cast

Person of Interest Binge Logo
By the time you get to the third season of a series (or the third novel in a series), you’ve probably built up an embarrassment of cast riches: there are a lot of people your viewer/reader wants to see again. Plus whatever relationships problems or secrets your central cast has have probably been ironed out, so when everybody gets together, it’s just fun.

Unfortunately, the last thing an exciting story needs is a lot of shiny, happy people, which is why Person of Interest rips our hearts out halfway through this season and stomps them to a pulp.

But before that, they did some fan service and made use of that wonderful extended cast. Here’s what happened before this episode: Continue reading