“There’s always sadness in our lives. It’s that sad feeling that keeps us going.”

— Tsukino Usagi


What Stranger Things Tells You About Your WIP

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Stranger Things. Netflix.


There's no denying the success of Stranger Things, Netflix's hit original series. After watching the second season, though, I found myself wrought with questions. Do I like this show? How do I feel about these characters and their conflicts? What is the purpose of Stranger Things? Does it achieve its goals?




If it didn't, then it wouldn't be booked for four seasons, and it wouldn't be dominating social media feeds as much as it does for the second Halloween season in a row. However, Stranger Things is not without its flaws, and it's biggest flaw is its story--and the show might be aware of that


What are you working on right now? How well do you know your characters and their dilemmas? Do you have an ending in mind? Better yet, how confident are you in the middle acts of the narrative? And most importantly, what do you want to achieve with this work in progress? 


Nerdwriter's great piece on the concept of intertextuality and it's currency in storytelling.


While studying and reading about Stranger Things after finishing season two, I realized that Stranger Things isn't trying to win its audience over with its metaphysicality, intellectual themes or commentary. It's not looking to whip you around a long, twisting tale full of surprises and internal inquisition. It's disposition is to allure viewers with its meticulous attention to cosmetic and atmospheric detail. It serves as an intertextual, nostalgic journey with an almost universally penetrable gateway. Anyone can get into it, especially if they have an affinity for the 80s. And as nostalgic as I am, by the end of the second season, I found myself frustrated, antsy, and let down. 


Did the Duffer Brothers just RickRoll me?


Stranger Things x Firestarter, anyone? Via Adweek


Here are some of the flaws that are in Stranger Things
(and there may be light spoilers abound): 


1.) The narrative fails to establish the motivation of the “super villain,” how it relates to our “co-lead” protagonists (Will and Eleven), and what the action towards that resolution has to be.


2.) The writers intentionally leave their audience in the dark as a device to drive tension, especially when this is done over a long period of time. This device is okay when it’s meant to shroud mystery early on in a narrative, but when you’re actively leaving your audience in the dark and you’ve already broached the first act, then it becomes disrespectful to the viewer/reader. When several of your protagonists are much more informed than you are and you aren’t invited to that knowledge, as opposed to being given clues and information that puts you on the same level as your main protagonists, your viewer/reader is going to feel left out, frustrated, and ultimately, disengaged. It's dragging you along for a ride that is absent of theme and well-developed plot. 


3.) There’s a resolution, which is basically put Will in a hot room? How is that relevant to anything in the story?


4.) El's understanding of social cues is inconsistent. Are we going to go the full “Kimmy Schmidt” route where she just doesn’t understand at all how the real world works and communicates due to her isolation or are we only using it when it’s convenient for the plot and/or comic relief? It can’t be both, and do consider she’s had a year and she’s observant and incredibly intelligent on her own. Also, she can read minds. El should know her stuff, just like any other 13-year-old would.


5.) When Axel starts calling El a schitzo? He shouldn’t be calling her that when he’s already familiar with Kali’s powers. Not saying he needs to be empathetic, but he can still be stand-offish without insulting her through ignorance he doesn’t possess. Character dialogue is so important when uniting theme and plot, and that is a loose thread.


6.) Stranger Things relies heavily on tropes to carry its story along, much like the Billy x Max story arc.




These are all things you should be watching out for in your WIP: consistency in dialogue, strength of plot references, thematic commentary, and mutual narrator-reader confidentiality. It was almost like Duffer Brothers ignored these things deliberately.


In reality, it's safe to say they didn't give much weight to them. 


And here's the objective that the Duffer Brothers did well: they created a show that was supposed to be watched with certain TV settings, that is a reimagining of 80s pop culture, and is a testament to them being glued to their TVs and VCRs at the time. They made stylistic choices based on their intertextual relationship with classic film and TV. They don't need to tell a airtight, unique story in order to grip their audience. 


Will the story come around in the future? We'll see. But the Duffer Brothers nailed the aesthetic of Stranger Things. They created something that, with a not-so-apparently deep-rooted narrative, generates a feeling. The atmosphere, the use of muted colors and grain, the music, the intertextual references--it all comes together to be its own thing that permeates your memory. People are going to be talking about Stranger Things for a long time after it's done.


Your WIP might have a solid outline, complete with logical twists and compelling story arcs, but does it have a feeling? How are you creating that feeling?

  • Are you using motifs?

  • Are the motifs meaningful? 

  • Are your descriptions sensual? Can I smell, taste, touch, hear and see what's all happening in your chapters?

  • Are you tying your theme elements in with your plot? 

  • How's your pacing?

  • Is your character dialogue unique?

This is a long checklist that goes deeper and deeper into the context (and subtext) of your project. It can be an overwhelming process to consider. The writers behind Stranger Things considered all these things while developing each script, but their strengths played to the main objective of Stranger Things, and this is the most important question to ask yourself about your WIP:


What is your WIP's main objective?

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Kyle V. Hiller is a freelance editor, published author. To inquire about his editing services, visit the services page. To read his work, check out The Recital and Project Anjou If you're just hanging out, subscribe to his newsletter below, where you'll get posts like this delivered straight to your inbox! Stalk Kyle on Twitter and Instagram, too.

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