Breaking Bad as a Mentor Text

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"If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
– Stephen King

My favorite books, since I have been writing, are the ones that catch me as I read and show me a new way of looking at my own writing. Taken by Erin Bowman helped me think about how I plan my stories. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult helped me see character motivation and development. Allegiant by Veronica Roth showed me why character voice is so important (her characters Tris and Tobias sounded exactly the same throughout the book), but also that if you do kill off your characters it needs to have a purpose and make sense. In Kindergarten, we call these mentor texts.

I think that, as writers, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to finding inspiration or new viewpoints in our own medium. Example: Jeremy and I have been watching Breaking Bad (we’ve watched through Season 4 Episode 6) and the characters are perfection. One episode that hit me was Season 3 Episode 12: Half Measure, specifically the last scene. I’ll skip the spoilers for those of you that haven’t seen it, in exchange for the discretion of those of you that have watched past where I am. At the very end something happened that flipped the whole dynamic. We didn’t expect it at all. Despite that, it didn’t feel like the writers threw it in there as a cheap way to save the day or to cliffhanger for no reason like so many shows do at the end of each episode (and so many authors do to fill out their books).

When I thought about the choice Walt made and, as the obvious next step, had a long conversation with Jeremy about how it fit into the storyline, we found all of the ways that the scene made sense. It was true to the characters, the pieces that made it fit had been in play for many episodes if not longer, and it made me think of my own writing.

Do I have pivotal moments that make sense, aren’t there just to prolong the story, fit the story, and are true to my characters?

Yes.

Can I use these thoughts to help craft those types of scenes better in the future?

Yes!

I’ve mentioned both in passing here but I’ve been working on rewriting the first trilogy while, here and there, working on the first book in the second. While working on the rewrite, I have already found myself thinking back to this episode. I am questioning my story choices, giving myself other options, making sure that I’m not following cookie cutter paths, and am staying true to my characters. But the biggest impact that this realization had came with my second trilogy. I had the second trilogy all planned, except for one decision at the end of the second book. No matter what I chose, it didn’t quite feel right. What would Ember choose? How would everyone react? I posed this question to Jeremy, referencing everything above, and I quickly realized that I had been afraid to let things play out as they should. “She can’t go there,” I told myself before. Instead we asked, “what if she does?” It will be a while before I am there and can write that book, but I am so very excited to work with emotions and thoughts that I haven’t before.

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."
– Stephen King

Thus, I would like to add to that: Always keep your eyes open to other forms of storytelling including the world around you. Read a lot, watch a lot, think a lot, and write a lot. Let everything you experience be a potential mentor text.

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