What LOST Has Taught Me About Writing Great Copy

What LOST Has Taught Me About Writing Great Copy

LOSTI’m a television junkie, my habit formed early in life, then groomed along a few steady decades of dependence and practiced routine.

Fortunately, controlling the cravings for my coaxial crack has been made easier by a sharp shift in my recent schedule. Now I’m a writer spending my days writing great copy. I’ve modified the methods in which I feed those ravenous parts of my brain, always starving for stories and essential truths.

The solution was simple. Now, like blowing bubbles instead of smoke, these days I deliver ideas rather than simply soaking them in.

Don’t get me wrong, were it entirely up to me I would still be mainlining my digital opiate directly from eyeballs to frontal lobe, but the mass reduction in my high definition addiction has led me to cling only to the future classics. Where my plate was once filled with empty calories, now it is mostly protein and nutrients.

The digital dance is different for everyone. For me, there is no weekly prescription I’d rather have pushed at my peepers than LOST. The show, now in its fifth season, is far from idle television. LOST is both demanding and rewarding. The most observant of its viewers conclude each episode with dots connected, parallels drawn, and a few more questions that almost always come packaged in patience.

Like great copy, LOST has me hook, line and sinker. There isn’t another show on television I’m more inclined to catch. This is no accident. LOST’s room of writers know exactly what they’re doing.

Here are the 5 ways LOST has taught me about writing great copy.

1) LOST makes me think, in part due to the multitude of well threaded story lines woven from the first episode forward. Yet it is the intelligent elements of the show that truly make it shine. Heavy in science and synchronicity, the writing in LOST rarely fails to brighten the burning bulb above my head, encouraging me to ponder my place and wonder how the world unfolding in front of me at 32 frames per second relates to the world that swirls around me each day.

2) LOST always leaves me eager for more. I am never quite ready to bid farewell as that bone white logo floats to the surface of the screen behind a single beat of steady percussion. I am so keen to see what’s coming next, I am willing to rewind and review what I already know.

3) LOST always has me in thought long after the final fade. Where is the story going? Was there anything I missed? What was I supposed to glean from the episode? Great television, like any great art or compelling copy should leave the audience with something to wonder. Writing great copy means you either leave them pondering what to do or whether to buy, but your purpose must be palpable.

4) LOST leaves me feeling like I can’t afford to miss a moment. The most consistent argument I hear from people who have not yet experienced the show is that it is too difficult to jump into mid-stream. No argument from me. LOST is an island away from formulaic, situation TV and has consistently built upon the scaffolding it set early in the first season. Missing an episode of LOST is missing a lot.

5) LOST is imbued with intelligence and an overall plan. Sure, there have been moments in the last five seasons where I’ve wondered if the writers really knew where they were going. Yet the writing is so consistently solid, that even if they are making it up as they go along, the audience could never prove it. This makes me trust the writers not only as storytellers, but as master craftsman. Solid trust between author and audience can lead to places few other things can.

LOST is a spectacular show and I can’t wait to inhale it all for the second time in a week long binge someday in the future. For now, I am happy to revisit the remarkable writing once a week for a few months at the dawn of each year and reflect at how the wonderful writing in widescreen can translate to the published copy in my browser. Thanks LOST, for teaching helping me write great copy.

The Collective Inkwell Community Question: What television, movies or music has made a difference in your copy or art?

Sean Platt is a ghostwriter and the man behind WriterDad.

  • http://www.ihatemymessageboard.com Tracy

    Great topic! I don’t have to worry about writing great copy, but I write a lot of humor and shows like The Office (UK and American version) help me get a sense of what works and doesn’t, timing & pacing and how much is too much. It’s very easy to try and smack the audience right in the face with the punchline but it takes skill to let the joke blossom in your audiences mind, and let them layer it with personal meaning.

    You know what else helps? Watching shows like the Tonight Show and Letterman and seeing how often they bomb. Sounds crazy but it’s a great reminder that you have to take risks to get the big payoff and sometimes it won’t work out but that’s okay, you can recover.

    Tracy’s last blog post..My values are what motivate me

  • Lori — SpaceAgeSage

    Ever watch Babylon 5? It did the same for me, but I’m sure LOST, like Battlestar Galactica, uses greater sophistication since it’s now 15 years later.

  • http://www.weareawesome.net/weareawesome.net/A_Rogues_Life_%28blog%29/A_Rogues_Life_%28blog%29.html Joel

    I’m a “Lost” junkie too, and (interestingly enough) have also recently paired down my formerly grotesque consumption of television to “just the good parts”. The wife and I gave up cable a few months ago and since then only watch the “appointment tv” shows and have dropped all the fluff.

    This itself has given me more focus in my writing as I’ve been able to develop an editorial calendar and maintain constant and consistent updates to the blog/website.

    But the question was about TV, music or movies that have made a difference in my art.

    It’s not one of the above (although, it was adapted into a movie, so I’ll claim it), but “The Princess Bride” was my favorite book from the moment I discovered it (senior year of high school) until…well…it still is. I’d seen the movie as a kid and loved it, but the book was a million times more impressive.

    Goldman’s use of the parenthetical and constant diversions from the narrative itself were exactly how my brain worked, and gave me the freedom to write in a style that came natural to me (as you see in my comment, I still keep that style).

    As to movies, the films of Kevin Smith, Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet (as well as Sorkin and Mamet’s stage plays) are all favorites of mine. I think their dialogue (and I know they all have drastically different styles) comes closest of any modern filmmakers to capturing real conversation. It’s something that I’ve tried to develop my own version of for my scripts/screenplays. No sense in aiming for second-best, right?

    Joel’s last blog post..…But I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

  • Jamie Simmerman

    Very nice spin, Mr. Platt. Would you believe I’ve never seen Lost? Never seen American Idol, 24, Desperate Housewives…. none of them. It’s sad. I do feel the way you described about many books, though. I actually miss the characters once I finish a story. For me, good characters make the story. :) I’m sure writing great copy would be the same.

    Jamie Simmerman’s last blog post..Strengths and Weaknesses

  • http://welshscribe.co.uk Marc – WelshScribe

    “shows like The Office (UK and American version) help me get a sense of what works and doesn’t”

    The UK version works, the US version sucks. Sorry Sean but it’s a scientific fact. ;)

    @Lori Babylon 5 definitely fits into the bill here. Miss one of those episodes and you may as well have missed the entire season. Great piece of sci-fi.

    Marc – WelshScribe’s last blog post..Earth Day 2009

  • http://collectiveinkwell.com Sean

    Tracy: Totally! You can learn a lot about delivery from writing well written comedy. The Office is pretty much my favorite comedy on TV right now. I often have it on in the background when I’m writing at night. It doesn’t distract me in the least.

    Lori: I’ve never heard of Babylon 5, but I’ve heard excellent things about it. It really is one of those that has sat on my “needs to check out” list. BSG is a close rival to LOST, but I gots ta give the glory to LOST. I just really dig the mystery (and it helps me with the writing great copy stuff).

    Jamie: I promise you’re not missing a thing with American Idol or Desperate Housewives. Housewives was decent the first season but started circling the bowel shortly thereafter. 24 is terrific and LOST is something a little extra special.

    Sean’s last blog post..April

  • http://momgrind.com/ Vered – MomGrind

    I don’t watch TV but now I’m thinking I should!

    Vered – MomGrind’s last blog post..54 Tips For Green Living – Earth Day 2009

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T. (@kt_writes)

    I’m hoping I can just apply what *you’ve* learned from LOST to *my* writing, without ever having to get sucked into the show. That’s right—I’ve never seen it, either. Writing great copy would be nice, but I’m frightened. :)

    Kristin T. (@kt_writes)’s last blog post..How do you define a “real job”?

  • http://nebulousmooch.com Lovelyn

    I agree with you about the twists turns and interwoven story lines on Lost. I don’t have a television and Lost is the only show I’m sure to catch online every week. The show have taught me a thing or two about suspense and how to really capture an audience.

    Lovelyn’s last blog post..My Aching Back

  • http://foreignquang.blogspot.com Randi

    One of the many things I love about LOST is the way it shows how characters have touched each others’ lives in the past, unknowingly. I have to wonder in my own life how many times that has happened. Like… I let someone go ahead of me in the grocery line and two years later the same person lets me go ahead at a 4-way stop. That kind of thing. How often do we interconnect with each other unwittingly? I love those kinds of plot twists and woven threads . We are so blind to the reality of most of our own lives, that it’s fun to watch LOST and see other people function in the same cluelessness. Like, “Wow, Sawyer didn’t know that he was sitting in a bar with Jack’s father!” When writing fiction, I now try to find ways to include little surprises.

    The Lord of the Rings movies also helped me with details in my fiction writing. I have watched hours of the special features on the DVD’s and the same thing comes to light–Peter Jackson made sure every last detail was perfect, even if a prop was only going to be on screen for one second! Hours and hours would go into perfecting something that might not even be totally visible on screen. The message came through to me in thunderous fashion—you don’t scrimp if you want perfection, and why do something if you’re not going to do it perfectly?

    Randi’s last blog post..Whose Scowl is Scarier? ("24" Fans Only)

  • http://writerdad.com Sean

    Vered: Even if I wasn’t worrying about writing great copy, it would be totally worth the addiction.

    Kristin: It’s amazing, I would meet dangerous men in a dark alley to get my fix. That’s not really true, but the show really is powerful good.

    Randi: That’s one of my favorite things about the show as well, and one of the few things I miss from the earlier seasons. I often wonder about synchronicity myself and am trying to tackle the subject in “Four Seasons” though honestly I don’t quite yet know how I’m going to pull that off.

  • http://deepfriar.wordpress.com Friar

    I’m glad to hear you say you’re a TV junkie. That means you have at least one vice like the rest of us.

    But you realize, of course, this might disqualify you from the Tortured Intellectual Writer’s Club.

    Aren’t you writers supposed to roll your eyes, and say “Oh, I NEVER watch TV…it’s such garbage!”

    PS. I watch TV. A lot. But I’m pretty lame: I’ve never seen one episode Lost.

    But I DO know every Family Guy and South Park episode off by heart.

    Friar’s last blog post..Happy Earth Day

  • http://collectiveinkwell.com Sean

    Lovelyn: Sorry I missed you there earlier. The moderation was ahead of me I guess. I don’t have a TV either. LOST is one of my three mandatory downloads. I actually prefer watching most shows in long runs on DVD, but I’m not willing to wait for the deliciousness of LOST.

    Friar: Are you kidding me? My vices run in plenty. The only reason I don’t have every channel twice is because at the moment I can’t afford it. TV may be junk food, but I like that too. Tortured writer’s club, no thanks. That club kept me for writing for three decades. I don’t think I’ll every be tortured enough to join.

  • http://www.punintended.com/blog Bamboo Forest

    I don’t really watch TV presently. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a single episode of LOST. You describe it similar to how you describe your Apple computer, giving me the impression I’m really missing something special.

    Bamboo Forest’s last blog post..7 More Bizarrely Named U.S. Towns

  • http://writerdad.com Sean

    Bamboo: It is definitely something special. However, we are talking hours and hours out of your life. It only works if you see it from the beginning and have the patience to get through every episode, including a slightly middling stretch in the third season. TOTALLY worth it in my eyes though.

    Joel: Sorry guy, you got thrown in the Spam dungeon for some odd reason. You know I’ve always wanted to read The Princess Bride. I love the movie, but just never read the book. I’m not sure why. I really love Mamet, excellent choice. How do you feel about Tarantino? He’s probably my favorite dialogue writer right now.

    Sean’s last blog post..A Cornucopia of Thanks

  • http://www.sharingthejourney.co.uk janice

    I haven’t watched Lost either, but I plan to get the DVD’s so I can control the addiction part! I don’t watch much TV at scheduled times, but prefer to record favourite programmes and watch them when I’m in the mood. I guess that’s affected how I write; I’m not a natural blogger. I assume that people will only read what they want, if they want, when they want, like they do with a magazine or book. I’ll never have readers who feel they have to ‘be there or miss out’. I guess my writing’s a bit love it or hate it, like The Waltons. The episodes were self contained, but the enjoyment grew slowly over the years as you gradually got to know all the characters and watched everyday life evolve. The West Wing and Friends had that element too.

    janice’s last blog post..Cultivating Happiness

  • http://www.weareawesome.net/weareawesome.net/A_Rogues_Life_%28blog%29/A_Rogues_Life_%28blog%29.html Joel

    Sean,

    “The Princess Bride” is well worth your time.

    I’m a big Tarantino fan, but I feel like his last few movies have been more about spectacle and cramming in all of his favorite genres than that exciting dialogue and storytelling that we all fell in love with. (BTW, if you’re not onto “True Romance” you should be. He wrote it, but didn’t direct and I think it’s still one of his best films).

    I enjoyed “Kill Bill”, thought “Death Proof” was overkill (no pun intended) and am very much looking forward to “Inglorious Bastards.” I wish he’d do another “Jackie Brown” though. Something smaller, more character based.

    Joel’s last blog post..…But I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

  • http://writerdad.com Sean

    Janice: I’m the same way. When I first started blogging, my reader was full and I hit every site every day. I realized that was sapping a bit of the soul from how I truly prefer to absorb information. No more. I glance through my reader and enjoy all that I have time for. Except for a few must see shows, I’m the same with TV.

    Joel: I love True Romance, though I’m not crazy about the ending. My favorite scene is the one with Christopher Walken and Easy Rider (having trouble remembering his name… grrr). I also love the first half of From Dusk till Dawn. Death Proof was overkill, but I still enjoyed the banter. I am a sucker for it. I would love to see him do another Jackie Brown as I would say it is BY FAR his most underrated film. Inglorious Bastards I couldn’t be more excited for. I’ve been wanting to see that one since before Kill Bill (which is one of my all time favorite movies period).

  • http://www.weareawesome.net/weareawesome.net/A_Rogues_Life_%28blog%29/A_Rogues_Life_%28blog%29.html Joel

    Dennis Hopper is the name you’re looking for. That scene is one of the best in any Tarantino film in my opinion (other than possibly the last conversation with Bill and the Bride. Ooh, I got goosebumps just thinking about it).

    Joel’s last blog post..…But I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

  • http://writerdad.com Sean

    Ah ha! There it is… Dennis Hopper. I can’t believe I didn’t remember that. Yeah, that scene is excellent, as is the final one in Kill Bill. I have a feeling Bastards will throw us a handful of classics.

    Sean’s last blog post..A Cornucopia of Thanks

  • http://www.280dayslater.com 280 Days

    For once I am going to have to disagree! I think Lost is a great example of how to lose your way in writing. We personally really loved the first 2 seasons – like adored it – we recorded it, couldn’t wait to watch it, and debated the meaning of it all. But, then I think it really lost its way (excuse the pun!) The writers and actors have been quite open about the fact that the later seasons were not planned until the popularity of the programme became apparent. With that, the main driver of the script writers was money, not story line, and something which was intended to have a short plot thread, now has been stretched beyond recognition. Character’s back stories are being altered and changed and key themes through the first programmes have been conveniently forgotten as they now make little sense to the direction the programme has now taken. All in all, I now find Lost frustrating and confusing and most of all, disappointing.

    That said, each to their own. As a newbie, but growing fan of your work, I am pleased to hear about anything that gives you inspiration :) I’m no writer and am trying to learn the art of creativity again after time off with commercial work and being a new mum.

    280 Days’s last blog post..Butterfly kisses

  • http://www.sharingthejourney.co.uk janice

    @280 days. Totally unconnected to film, I just wanted to say how nice it is to see another ‘mum’ in the comments boxes!

    janice’s last blog post..Cultivating Happiness

    • http://www.280dayslater.com 280 Days

      (Crash) Hi Janice! Right back at ya! x (Crash)

      280 Days’s last blog post..Butterfly kisses

  • http://www.writingforward.com Melissa Donovan

    I’ve never actually watched an episode of LOST but I’m certain that I’d get hooked. I know that it appeals to a lot of HEROES fans (and that’s my fave show). I have learned a few things about writing great copy from HEROES but oddly, I’ve learned even more watching AMERICAN IDOL (ssshhhhh!).

    Melissa Donovan’s last blog post..Poetry Writing Exercises: Freewriting and Poem Building

  • http://www.unleashreality.com Alex

    haha really funny for me to read this because i’ve been waaay into 24 lately and i learn heaps from it – specially because, since the premise is that it happens in real time, you see everyone’s point of view and how they interact.

    like point number 5 too. 24 def makes me feel like i have a plan. like jack bauer. legend status.

    solid stuff
    respect man

    Alex’s last blog post..Why You Never Get Anything Done

  • http://foreignquang.blogspot.com Randi

    Sean: I agree with Joel. Reading “Princess Bride” will be well worth your time. I know why, but I can’t say why, because each person’s “Princess Bride” reading experience has to be unadulterated by anyone else’s summary or review. I never talk about Princess Bride details unless I know someone has read it. I’m sure Joel will agree. I had seen the movie (it’s one of my all-time favorites) but the book is as Joel says, “a million times more impressive.”

    That is usually true for me, because I generally like “the book” better than “the movie.” The movie is ultra faithful to the book even to the point of exact dialogue in most places. The difference in this case is that the book is *more.* Goldman is to be admired for his mastery.

    Janice: Ever since I found your site last week I feel like I “have to be there or miss out.” It reminds me of my mother’s garden when I was a child–a summery, peaceful, colorful oasis.

    Randi’s last blog post..Whose Scowl is Scarier? ("24" Fans Only)

  • http://writerdad.com Sean

    280 Days: I totally hear what you’re saying, and that is a rather common criticism of the show, but I actually think the way the writers have adapted is remarkable. Rarely have I seen a show jump so far without a shark swimming beneath. From the Season 3 Finale until the present, I think the show has been continually surprising and surprisingly elegant. Having said that, most everyone I know gave up on the show midway through the third season, and I do understand entirely where they’re coming from.

    Melissa: I’ll tell no one about American Idol if you promise to rent Season 1 of LOST. Deal?

    Alex: That is definitely the best thing about 24, the multiple perspectives and few mediums have ever done it with as much grace as those writers. My only regret is that I watched more of it, but I guess that’s what DVD is for. Nice to know you, Alex.

    Randi: Alright, I’ll add it to my already long literary queue. Come on Summer!

    Sean’s last blog post..A Cornucopia of Thanks

  • http://welshscribe.co.uk Marc – WelshScribe

    I can’t believe I forgot to add Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles to my list.

    Great storylines, fantastic writing.

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  • http://www.matthewhayward.co.uk Matt Hayward

    An awesome topic for discussion!

    My favourite TV show, as at least one other person has also said, is Heroes. When reading the five points you made here, I was nodding to myself mentally as I noticed that Heroes does all the same things to me.

    An awesome set of writers, that’s for sure.

    Matt

    Matt Hayward’s last blog post..The Purpose of a RolePlay Post

  • http://writerdad.com Sean

    Marc: I’ve never seen, but it is on my list of things to check out. Sounds right up my alley for sure.

    Matt: Heroes kinda lost me after the writer’s strike, but I’ll definitely tap it again at some point in the future. Thanks for the compliment, Matt. Much appreciated.

    Sean’s last blog post..A Cornucopia of Thanks

  • http://foreignquang.blogspot.com Randi

    Sean: I plan on doing a lot of reading this summer as well. Can you recommend any books from your “long literary queue?” (Anyone else feel free to chime in here as well.)

    Randi’s last blog post..Whose Scowl is Scarier? ("24" Fans Only)

  • http://welshscribe.co.uk Marc – WelshScribe

    @Sean Stick with it for the first few episodes. It looks like it’s going nowhere then all of a sudden they really start asking the tough moral/ethical questions. More so in the second season.

    Also missing from my original list is Fringe. What’s wrong with me!

  • http://stickyfingers1.blogspot.com/ Tara@Sticky fingers

    **Stands up** Hello, I’m Tara and I am a total Lostaholic.
    Seen every single one. Talk about it endlessly after watching latest episode and if ever you tell me you are a fan I’ll latch on to you like a limpet and prattle on and on and on about it.
    I absolutely love it and, as a very difficult to please TV viewer, he writers have so got me hooked!

    Tara@Sticky fingers’s last blog post..I (nearly) killed Baby

  • http://welshscribe.co.uk Marc – WelshScribe

    Hello Tara. Good to see a fellow Brit as enthusiastic about LOST as I am!

    I’ve been trying to catch up lately, got to episode 5×12 “Dead is Dead” (the one where Ben tries to summon the smoke monster according to the synopsis) only to find that Sky+ had screwed up the recording!

    Needless to say, and putting it extremely politely, Marc is not a happy bunny >:(

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  • http://savvysuzy.com Suzy

    Hey Sean,

    First time commenting. I couldn’t agree with you more — LOST is the best thing TV has going or ever had! This year’s season finale, could have easily been a movie on the big screen. It by far is better than a number of those movies that people shell out lots of moola to go see.

    The question is what are we going to have to fill the void after it gets to its final episode in 2010? I’m hoping the producers will turn it into a movie franchise and continue the ride that way.

    It is a very deep show. I hope the writers keep the momentum going next year and go out with lots of gusto.

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