One of my favorite new shows is “Mr. Robot”, which I describe to people as “Fight Club but with hackers.”
The person behind the show is the writer and director Sam Esmail, who has brought a cinematic aesthetic to television that seems to violate a lot of rules of television.
One thing that he has done exceptionally well is to make hacking interesting, even though it’s often characterized as people just typing at keyboards. And I love this conversation about it in this podcast interview:
Interviewer Andy Greenwald: “Where’s the drama in people who are hammering on keyboards?”
Sam Esmail: “Well, I’ll tell you, it’s the people. And that’s always the case. It’s not something about computers and action films. You can make it about the set pieces if you want, but if we don’t care–but if you don’t care about the person going into that battle the set pieces are going to feel meaningless. And it’s just the same thing with people typing on keyboards.”
Andy Greenwald “…it’s people wanting things that’s the basis of all drama.”
People wanting things is the basis of all drama. If the desire can be articulated well with proper motivations, then you have a story to go on. In my creative writing, I reverse that formula a lot. I come up with the set pieces, so to speak–an interesting scene or a funny idea and then try to match it to a character. I should probe a bit deeper and establish some fundamental desires of what the character wants to get the story moving.
Define the desire or want, and then set up complications that get in the way of the character’s desire. That sounds like creative writing 101 but I forget it all the time.
You can really see that in the show, even though the main character’s motivations change a bit. The true reveal is that we think his motivations are one thing (taking down capitalism) only to realize it’s something else (spoiler alert: to belong to a community). The show does a great job of altering these expectations while also giving us hints along the way.