3 Things I Learned About Writing from Korean Dramas


nanowrimo1In time for NaNoWriMo I thought I would explore one of my favourite sources of procrastination, ahem, proving to you and myself how it informs my writing and makes it better as I trudge down yet another month of ass-in-chair mayhem.

Kdrama may be full of cheese and sugar-things and will ultimately give me brain-diabetes but once in a while a true gem appears, and you should be on hand to see it.

Without further ado:

1. Starting with backstory is a bloody annoying waste of time!

In almost all dramas that are longer than the standard 20 or 16 episodes, the story starts when the protagonist is a wee bairn who messes around doing mundane universal kid things like playing or going to school or watching his or her parents scream insults at each other.

Other times, the story starts even before the protagonist was born and introduces us to a myriad of one-dimensional characters that will be gone by Episode 9 or 10. So when you arrive in the next five episodes and the story FINALLY starts to be about the protagonist, you’re left thinking, “So who was that Ajhumma with amnesia in Episode 4? Where did she go? WHY DO I FRIGGIN CARE?”

tumblr_inline_mr838vMDSP1qz4rgpThe same goes for writing a novel. If they are meandering through bogs and meadows and vast plains of nothing-much-happens and the story is not called Lord of the Rings, I’ll start throwing nail polish tubes at the screen.

So how do you tell backstory?

Employ the magic that is flashbacks.

I especially loved how they were used in non-Asian TV show ‘Arrow,’ how while every episode advanced the current timeline, it also told us, morsel by morsel how Oliver Queen went about acquiring those killer biceps among other things.

Don’t lay it all on the table and invite your readers to pig themselves out. Rather feed them once a chapter and leave them hungry for more.

2. It’s a successful love triangle if both guys (and girls) have equal chance with the object of amoré

(Fake French accent) Ah, l’amore! And triangles of l’amore! Who started these angst inducing, sleep depriving team sports anyway? I blame Stephanie Meyer – but then again, I blame Stephanie Meyer for a lot of things!

Kdramas have been bringing this brand of angst to audiences because it’s high quality fangirl feed! And while some triangles work magic, bringing together three people (who are almost always two boys and one girl) with the sheer power of their emotions running amok like a cage full of caffeinated monkeys in a banana plantation; lazy drama writers will pick the bland instant coffee mix of the rich-jerk-with-personal-space-issues and the sweet-kind-OMG-marry-me-instead-oppa second male lead who does everything gentlemanly but loses the girl to Mr. Perverted Narcissism instead. Hence the outbreak of ‘Second Lead Syndrome,’ because the viewers have brains even if the lead girl never subscribed for a dose.

tumblr_inline_ms7ggqPQUl1qz4rgpBut love triangles can attract readers to your story faster than ants to a sugar-drop if you do it right. While ‘doing it right’ depends heavily on your plot instead of love triangles for the sake of love triangles, you can get an idea through a recent Kdrama wringing the marrow out of this trope: cable channel TVN’s Answer Me/Reply 1994.

Who’s her husband in 3, 2, 1…

The story lays out the triangle layer by layer as each episode progresses, giving you time to understand the three corners of the love-line better before bringing them together in all out warfare. This method of storytelling is what plummeted the franchise’s predecessor Answer Me/Reply 1997 into a cult classic.

Only when you get to know the characters – in this case the two boys/men vying for the throne of husbandom – will you care about the outcome. The well written main men in AM1994 have ignited fan wars all over the forums, going head-to-head as shippers from either side have plenty of reasons as to why their chosen man should be the Chosen Man!

AM1994
From Dramabeans.com

If you can start fan wars with your characters, you know you’ve created a good story!

3. The protagonists are only as powerful as the supporting cast.

By this I do not mean that each character, including the grouchy grandma wearing polka dot pants who crossed your protagonist’s path near the bus terminal must be fleshed out like a pregnant sow but those characters that are not the protagonist or the protagonist’s love interest or the antagonist.

This is another point for the Answer Me franchise. There is the typical, cheesy, somewhat unrealistic Kdrama romance, but there are also the lovable band of best friends, who are not just wallflowers as in most cases, but fleshed out human beings with their own stories of who they are and why they are what they are and how they got there.

Think of it like this: in real life, no one is the protagonist.

You may be the main character in your life story, but alongside you, your best friend or your husband or sister are starring in their own drama where you are a supporting character and they are the protagonists.

Like the Harry Potter books are told in Harry’s perspective, but there’s the Ron/Hermione romance, the Dumbledore family tragedy, the inseparable bromance of Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs all of which link back to Harry, but happen regardless of his involvement. (Unless you count Ron’s minor jealous spats, that silly boy!)

tumblr_mea8ds11yW1rvv4qro1_250So there you have it, build not only your protagonist, but build his or her friends, enemies and frenemies as well. Give them their own story; let them live it in the outer circle while the reader follows your protagonist inside. Just as others stories happen around you, let your protagonist experience that in his or her supporting cast as well.

There is an interesting dynamic in another Kdrama remake ‘Operation Proposal’ where the actions of the time-travelling protagonist not only changes his past but inadvertently affects the timelines of his best friends, resulting in his erasing something bad in his past creating a problem in one of his friends’ past.

That is the perfect recipe for an organic tale where the protagonists change and grow as do the people around them.

Also, time travel is never the answer. You’ll come back to find you’re dating your niece!!

HAPPY NANOWRIMO!

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