Lessons From the Netflix Sweet Tooth Series

Has anyone watched the Netflix series “Sweet Tooth”? It’s a show plotted like so many these days: some event happens, some people (in this case children) are endowed with special characteristics, people are out to get them but they are the future, the hope, the salvation for the earth. It’s crazy how this theme is repeated over and over only made entertaining by how creative the setting or inciting event is.
But that’s not what this blog post is about.

In the first episode of Sweet Tooth, and this is not a spoiler, so no worries, there’s a man with a baby strapped to his chest and a huge awkward pack on his back. He is walking through the woods and comes upon a log cabin partially hidden by trees and overgrown plants. The next scene, the man and baby are moved in and have all they need for a happy life.
My literal, realist self jumped on that with a complaint. Old, dirty, abandoned cabin turns into a homestead without showing any of the transition, really? How did he do that with a baby to take care of? What about windows? They couldn’t all be not broken. What about food until that garden started producing? Questions, questions, questions. Yes, there was a part of me that wanted all the logistics worked out, explained, made plausible (plausibility is greatly lacking in these copy cat plots). But then there was the part of me that really just wanted to get on with the show.
Did I really need any of those details? No. In fact sometimes I wish life could sail past the boring stuff of, “and then”, “and then”, “and then”.

Well, guess what? Good writing, especially fiction, not only can depict lives sailing past the mundane details of life, it should. Jumping to the next place or circumstance without explaining how everything got to that point is a tool to keep the reader focused on what’s important.

Look through your latest work. Do you get too deep in the details and call it world building? Do you feel the need for events to be clearly chronological? Have you used words to answer questions that really have nothing to do with the plot?

Seriously, I may have had my doubts about how that cabin became so perfect, but I can assure you the plot moved right on and I didn’t miss it because I was drawn into the story.

Write on, but don’t sweat the details or gaps.

Whose Socks Are These?

I’m a keeper of old things. That’s clear, though these days, less and less. Going through boxes of Christmas decorations, I found my childhood stocking. I think my parents bought it when I was born because it’s not the stocking I remember being stuffed with little gifts.

For those who may not know the traditions surrounding Christmas, children hang a ‘stocking’ which used to mean a long stretchy sock but morphed into a specially crafted, usually red, classic shaped ‘stocking’ large enough to hold small gifts like candy, toy cars and other trinkets.

It was the original place for gifts to show up that Saint Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) who was a kindly soul who blessed poor children on Christmas Eve by putting a treat in the children’s socks which were hung over the fire to dry after their daily washing.

There are all kinds of variations about this. It’s the secular part of Christmas but in many ways, the idea of sacrificially giving to others to bring unexpected joy, hope and love is a central theme to the birth of Christ for which the word ‘Christmas’ means.

Christmas lesson done, back to the relic of my childhood. When I look at this stocking, not only is it way too small to suit a child’s dream of an overstuffed abundance of goodies, but it has a nursery rhyme on it which has nothing to do with Christmas. This always confused me. (I spent a lot of time confused about things!).

My parents however, bought it for their sweet, angel baby (I was sweet and angelic then) as the most appropriate. It meant something to them. It doesn’t mean the same thing to me.

This just reminds me of the conundrum that new writer’s often get stuck in, especially fantasy writers. How to explain and convey the significance of values and attitudes of a character that lives in a world that doesn’t exist.

From the writer’s mind everything makes sense, but for the reader that has not hashed out the details, edited and designed for hours on end, it’s all foreign, disconnected. I know if I took the time to research Christmas at the time my stocking was bought, I would find that the symbols that were part of my older childhood were not yet established. I might learn that nursery rhymes were the backbone of parenting. I’m guessing this is the case. It doesn’t really matter. I do appreciate that after several (unnamed) years the print is still pristine, and it is not falling apart. That says something about quality! The other take away for me is to put this mental exercise into practice as I write, by keeping in mind that what I think is common knowledge, contextually clear, may need more scaffolding than first seems necessary. Hope you find this tip helpful too!