Six Lessons from My Writing Crush – Writer Unboxed

Badass show from my favorite writing badass

Just a few weeks in the past, my expensive pal (and sensible author) Jocosa Wade texted me, raving a couple of new present she was watching. She knew I’d have an interest, as a result of the present was created by one in every of my absolute favourite screenwriters, the marvelous Debora Cahn, about whom I’ve waxed rhapsodic right here in an unabashed WU love letter two years in the past. A powerhouse author with credit on reveals together with The West Wing, Grey’s Anatomy, Homeland and extra, Ms. Cahn has now launched a collection of her personal on Netflix. It’s known as The Diplomat.

And rattling, it’s good.

I binged the primary season in a matter of days. Admittedly that was not exhausting to do, because it was solely eight episodes, however the excellent news is that it’s been renewed for a second season. And you’ll be able to wager I’ll be watching.

From having my coronary heart gained over by a few of my favourite West Wing episodes, I already knew Debora Cahn had severe recreation. But with The Diplomat, she actually comes into her personal, delivering a present that hooks you with the primary episode, and by no means lets go. As the season progresses, Cahn and her writing employees ship an absolute masterclass for writers of any type – not simply screenwriters.

So as we speak I wish to provide some classes I picked up from my first viewing of Season 1 of The Diplomat (since you higher consider I might be re-watching it). To me, the present simply freaking WORKS, so I would like to try WHY it really works so rattling properly. Here’s what I got here up with.

1. She picked a setting that matches the dimensions of her story.

That may appear to be an odd remark, so I’ll clarify. There are a good quantity of “messages” on this present, and for that to work, the message wants to suit the medium. It’s most likely simpler to note this when it doesn’t match, so let’s have a look at a number of examples.

Aaron Sorkin has lengthy been one in every of my favourite screenwriters, however even I’ll admit that typically he swings and misses. This is a man who’s ALWAYS attempting to inform a Big Story and ship Important Messages, however he hasn’t at all times discovered the precise platform. For instance, one in every of his earliest reveals was the quirky Sports Night – ostensibly only a present a couple of sports-themed speak present, comparable to one may see on ESPN.

Originally positioned as a sitcom, Sorkin’s present quickly started exploring deeper themes, veering into extra of a comedy/drama class, and getting progressively heavier (okay, typically a bit ponderous). Ultimately the present ended up getting canceled after by no means actually managing to seek out its viewers, solely turning into well-liked – and solely at a cult stage – after going off the air.

Taking among the themes (and actors) from Sports Night, Sorkin later discovered his candy spot with The West Wing, a TV present the place he may discover the most important, heaviest themes possible. And it labored, as a result of it was set within the White House, a spot the place the dialogue and execution of Really Big Ideas was a a lot better match.

After leaving that present, Sorkin as soon as once more scaled down – at the least when it comes to his setting. His subsequent present was known as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and centered on an SNL-like sketch comedy present. But the present nonetheless explored large themes much more appropriate for a milieu like The West Wing, and sometimes fell into preachiness and/or melodrama (along with struggling from the worst present title ever).

I perceive – and admire – how huge a narrative Sorkin needed to inform. And I think Debora Cahn has paid quite a lot of consideration to Sorkin’s wins and losses, as a result of I feel she actually discovered the “Goldilocks fit” for her present: a world stage, however with the important thing political drawback being set exterior the United States. I really feel this significant distinction makes her present far much less polarizing than the blatantly left-slanted West Wing, however nonetheless an appropriate setting for Really Big Issues.

While there’s a fairly clear “wokeness” to Cahn’s interracial solid of characters, with a number of girls in exceedingly highly effective roles, she additionally reveals us among the pitfalls of liberal politics. With The Diplomat, Cahn offers us an aged (and okay, considerably Biden-like) president with some clear flaws, and a feminine VP who’s in doable authorized bother – a far cry from the simplistic “Democrats good, Republicans bad” ethos that pervaded many West Wing episodes.

2. She offers us battle, battle, and MORE battle.

And I’m not simply speaking about political battle. Because The Diplomat is about FAR greater than politics. Cahn explores interpersonal relationships with a stage of perception that frankly exceeds Sorkin’s grasp – and I don’t say that calmly. And she does it whereas always ratcheting up the battle. An ideal working example is the titular character.

The diplomat in query is Kate Wyler, the brand new United States ambassador to the United Kingdom. Played by Keri Russell, Kate is a severe and skilled diplomatic operative on an task she not solely doesn’t need; she thinks it’s beneath her. She had needed to be utilizing her abilities to resolve challenges in Kabul, Afghanistan, and is pissed off and impatient with the quantity of pomp and ceremony concerned in coping with the UK’s political machine. But an assault on a UK plane service requires her sudden redeployment to Great Britain.

Traveling with Kate is her husband, Hal – who can also be a profession diplomat, and one with a much more highly effective (and sure, flashy) popularity than her personal.

And that’s when issues begin to get fascinating.

Her husband’s popularity eclipses her personal, and he’s clearly used to being the Alpha diplomat. But now he’s principally “the male first lady” to Kate, overtly referring to himself as “the wife.”

Oh, and did I point out that they’re getting divorced?

Oh, and that there’s a secret plot to draft Kate for a MUCH larger workplace? An workplace for which a divorce could be a deal-breaker?

Six Lessons from My Writing Crush – Writer Unboxed its complicated

Kate and Hal: It’s difficult.

And that’s simply the 2 essential characters. The present has a large solid of memorable characters, every with their very own agenda. And all of their agendas battle with someone else’s agenda – and in multiple case that someone else is their romantic curiosity or political superior – or each.

Seriously, the quantity of battle woven into this present is staggering – and galvanizing as hell. I don’t suppose there’s a single particular person on this present who doesn’t passionately need one thing that someone else is violently against, from lead character to dogged aide; from Prime Minister to CIA operative.

So, we’ve bought Big Themes, on an appropriately sized stage. We’ve bought battle aplenty. Conflict out the proverbial wazoo, one may say (if certainly a wazoo might be proverbial – one thing tells me these are two phrases that don’t spend a lot time sharing a sentence. But I digress…). I discussed earlier that Cahn’s talent in exploring relationships typically exceeds Sorkin’s. Here’s my idea as to why:

3. She’s a lady writing about what’s all too typically a person’s world.

Cahn does a tremendous job of exploring elements of male-female dynamics and perceptions that largely go unstated, regardless of being all too actual. To his credit score, Sorkin would strive to do that from time to time, however his maleness typically overrode him, leading to girls being rescued or admired by males extra typically than being revered as equals or superiors (when it comes to rank, clout, experience, and many others.).

Frankly I feel it takes a lady to put a few of these points naked. For instance, a feminine CIA operative chooses to hide her relationship with a rising younger diplomatic aide, to keep away from being perceived solely as an individual who bought her thrilling task as a result of she was “the girlfriend.” Similarly, Kate is very delicate to the truth that she could have been summoned for this position with the hope and expectation that she would characterize a “package deal,” together with her tag-along diplomatic heavyweight of a husband offering some “bonus” steerage, which they may take much more significantly than the steerage that she – their formally designated diplomat – may provide them. The Powers That Be would then seem like various and inclusive by hiring a feminine diplomat, all of the whereas hoping to money in on the diplomatic rockstar husband for the actual heavy lifting.

And as a substitute of this all being communicated through subtext, which many viewers (significantly male ones) may miss, Cahn has her characters TALK about these elephants within the room. Both {couples} I’ve simply talked about have some severe come-to-Jesus talks about these things, and we study a lot concerning the characters by how they every reply and work together when discussing such awkward and hot-buttony (may be a phrase) points.

And as I give it some thought, it is a nice storytelling machine, whereas nonetheless really being plausible. While Cahn’s characters could also be exploring subjects that usually stay unstated, don’t overlook that these are diplomats – skilled communicators accustomed to coping with conditions excessive on each battle and sensitivity – so it is smart that they’d be geared up to articulate sentiments that many people mere mortals would probably battle with. Well performed, Ms. Cahn. Well performed.

4. She offers her characters unimaginable decisions.

In addition to maintaining the present brimming with battle ranging from potential international conflict to marital breakdown, Cahn doles out battle on the particular person stage, typically forcing her characters to decide on between their feelings, their ambitions, their private loyalties and their nationwide responsibility. An ideal working example is Kate’s husband, Hal, who’s torn between his pure Machiavellian instincts and gamesmanship, his ego, his want to be a participant – each politically and romantically – and his clear devotion to the lady who desires to divorce him.

Hal begins out being a simple man to hate, however then we begin seeing his different sides, and start discovering ourselves really sympathizing with how exhausting it should be to be in his place. At one level, the British Prime Minister corners Hal and flat-out asks for his recommendation, simply after Hal has promised his spouse he is not going to become involved. The agony with which he refrains from counseling the PM is palpable, and clearly takes a toll on Hal, who then goes to blow off steam in what is certainly the weirdest scene in the whole season – and the one scene that, for me, simply didn’t actually work. (Sorry, Debora. But worry not – you’re nonetheless my writing crush, and I don’t see that altering anytime quickly.)

5. She is aware of the right way to inform the massive tales – and the small ones.

Ms. Cahn has confirmed time and time once more that she is aware of the right way to write The Big Story – see her astonishing “Supremes” episode on The West Wing for incontrovertible proof. And she continues to show that present in The Diplomat. But she additionally has an incredible eye for the small particulars, the quiet moments the place the sheer humanity of her storytelling shines like a diamond.

My favourite such moments – and my pal Jocosa’s as properly – are the a number of scenes the place we see Hal within the background assembling a breakfast from the seemingly countless buffet that diplomats apparently have at their disposal when hanging out within the hallowed halls of… some hallowed-looking diplomatty and palatial place within the UK that I ought to most likely acknowledge however don’t. Ahem – again to the breakfast…

In every case, Hal finally ends up leaving the room shortly after his spouse enters, and she or he begins consuming what’s left of his meals. Around the third time this occurs – after we see Hal rigorously splitting a blueberry muffin and leaving half on a plate that he walks away from, after which Kate sweeps in and grabs the muffin-half and not using a second thought – we notice that Hal is actually making his estranged spouse’s breakfast every morning, and we sense that we’re witnessing a pair’s custom that probably has gone on for years. It’s a touching second of sweetness, exhibiting how a pair terribly at odds can nonetheless keep the recurring niceties of a longtime partnership.

Six Lessons from My Writing Crush – Writer Unboxed breakfast 1

Most of that breakfast isn’t for him…

6. She goes all-in on her endings.

Here Cahn takes a marked departure from her West Wing background, the place episodes typically leaned in direction of the quiet-but-satisfying wrap-up, or possibly a tear-jerking second of sentimentality. Not Cahn. Every episode ends in a VERY dramatic means, whether or not it’s a cliffhanger, an OMG second, a robust line of dialog, or one thing much more… explosive.

Every. Single. Episode.

For these of us writing books fairly than screenplays, I feel the lesson nonetheless works. If your chapters finish with the identical sort of energy with which Cahn ends every episode of The Diplomat, you’ll have assimilated a serious lesson in “page-turner” storytelling. And given a platform like Netflix, Cahn has actually mastered the artwork of inspiring some “binge watching.”

Seriously, it’s that good.

To provide you with some further perspective, I had a WU put up on a wholly totally different matter practically accomplished once I completed the final episode of The Diplomat, however I made a decision to shelve that piece and capitalize on how jazzed I’m by Cahn’s newest creation. It’s simply that good.

And sure, I’m conscious of the unabashedly fanboyish tone I assume once I write about Debora Cahn. But as aggressive as I could also be – in music, in writing, and in life – I’ve at all times been capable of take actual pleasure in seeing actually nice work, even when it’s work I may even admit to envying greater than a little bit.

Season 1 of The Diplomat was merely probably the greatest new collection I’ve seen in ages, and remarkably contemporary for a present overlaying the already well-trodden path of the political thriller. So I hope you may give this – or some other present Debora Cahn has been concerned in – a glance. Whether the tales she tells might be your cup of tea or not, I feel you’ll see that these tales are being informed with some rattling high quality writing. And that’s one thing I’m at all times within the temper for.

How about you?

Have you been hooked by The Diplomat? Got some other reveals the place the screenwriting is rocking your world and/or influencing your personal books or tales? Please chime in, and as at all times, thanks for studying!

Six Lessons from My Writing Crush – Writer Unboxed 99ba8950875f1970326285d68499c284

Author of the novels Me Again (initially revealed by Five Star/Gale), and Tony Partly Cloudy (revealed beneath his pen identify Nick Rollins), Keith Cronin (he/him) is a company speechwriter {and professional} rock drummer who has carried out and recorded with artists together with Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. Keith’s fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix administration course. A local of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading native geese and alligators along with his ukulele.

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