Leverage, Amber, and Strategic Storytelling

This post is a repeat from the archive of my old Japanophilia-blog-turned-culture-blog Tetsujin.org. I recently revisited this post and decided to repost it here because the question of strategic versus tactical plotting continues to interest me, and has become an important consideration in planning my current writing project.

Since this post appeared in 2010 Leverage went on complete five seasons and reached a very satisfying conclusion. Throughout its run it continued to build upon its style and structure of strategic plotting with super-competent characters.


 

Last week Darling Wife and I watched the Season 2 finale of Leverage, TNT’s updated fusion of Robin Hood and Ocean’s Eleven. Timothy Hutton stars as Nate Ford, a former insurance investigator who leads an all-star team of criminals — a Hitter, a Hacker, a Grifter and a Thief — to steal back justice for those victimized by the rich, powerful and unethical.

This most recent season of Leverage had its rocky moments, but the two-part finale was brilliant. Written by series co-creator John Rogers and directed by his co-exec producer Dean Devlin, it showed both their talent and the care they have for the material.

The season finale also brought home for me one of the reasons I enjoy the structure of Leverage, why its stories settle into the mind so comfortably. I think it is because the plots operate on a purely strategic level. Read more

The Accidental Exercise

Last Saturday evening, after the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ annual workshop to prepare for the 2015 Colorado Gold writing contest, I sat down with my notes, my novel manuscript, and two tasks: start making revisions based on the excellent suggestions from the judges, and start working on the synopsis portion of my entry.

My 150 word synopsis.

Wait. That can’t be right, can it?

I checked my notes again. That sure looks like I wrote “150 word synopsis.”

Hmmm.

After a few moments of grumbling about the cruelty and apparent insanity of whoever made these contest rules, I got to work.

150 words for a synopsis of a novel that fills 390 pages. Hopeless. Impossible.

But eventually I did it. 150 words to convey the setting, beginning, middle and end of my story. The first draft of the synopsis may not have been polished and perfect, but it worked. Word for word it may have taken me more time and trouble than anything else I’ve written, but it worked. Mostly. I never did get it down to 150 words; I got to 153 but then I just had to put it aside for a while.

On Monday the contest web page was updated, and I reviewed the submission requirements.

  • First 4000 words? check.
  • 750 word synopsis…

750 words?

750 words. Okay, that’s a much more reasonable length. So I spent a moment in silent apology for the terrible things I’d thought about the rules and their creators. Then I felt desperately silly for having wasted my time trying to draft a 150 word synopsis of my novel due to my own poor note-taking.

And yet. Was it a waste of time?

Now, a few days later, I don’t think so. Writing that short synopsis was difficult, but it was a worthwhile exercise. It was a test of concise writing, of my ability to make every word count. And the process made me think about my story in a new way, to get my head around its core and indispensable elements. I’m confident that this will help me refine my longer synopsis, help me draft effective queries, and help me make my book better.

So if you’d like a challenge, and maybe a chance to learn more about your own work, give it a try. Pick an unreasonably small word count — 150 words for a novel, maybe? — and see if you can find a way to convey your whole story from beginning to end in that little space. Not a hook, not a pitch, but a real end-to-end synopsis.