My 13-year-old son loves Stranger Things. He sits on the sofa, rapt, as the music starts and the action begins. He can’t wait for season 3. And, not long ago, he invited me to watch it with him. I figure it’s either because I’m the coolest mom on the block or he’s expecting the fright of his life. (I know, I know. The latter.)
Still, as a parent, I savored the experience, absorbing the show and his reactions. The grins. The shrieks. The looks of horror. The bouncing up and down, anticipating “what would happen next.” As an author, I’m fascinated by how the stories unfold, how the writers craft the characters, how the setting matches the storyline. What draws people in? What holds their attention? What makes this an I-have-to-see-what-happens-next?
Of course, we binge-watched the season, consuming it like starving teenagers after football practice. Which got me thinking about writing. And characters. And all the goodness that goes into creating and executing a damn fine story. What lessons can I learn from this monster-infested, chilling sci-fi thriller that’s captured the imagination of millions of viewers across the globe?
Here are my six writing takeaways:
- The characters are relatable. No Kardashians allowed. Garden-variety kids play the starring roles. There are the endearing nerds. The snobs. The bullies. The awkward, crush-worthy teens. The exhausted moms and dads with not-very-glamorous jobs. The frustrated, over-worked cop. The geeky science teacher. We can’t help but see ourselves in Dustin, Mike, or Nancy. Our hearts go out to Eleven.
- The setting is familiar, but with a wow-factor. I grew up in a town like Hawkins, Indiana. The streets and buildings epitomize middle-America. The houses are normal; no McMansions here. My high school could be a replica of the show’s school. And with the 80’s soundtrack playing, we feel immediately comfortable as each episode unfolds. That said, the sci-fi twists whisk us into the Upside Down, home to faceless human-devouring beasts.
- The plot twists and turns. From the first moment of each show to the last, it’s go time. The tension builds to epic proportions. The writers don’t waste time with boring back story or yawn-inducing tea drinking. Every character, every symbol, every line of dialogue matters. Is Will alive? Who is Eleven? What’s really going on at the eerie lab?
- The protagonists make mistakes. Let’s face it. Perfect is boring. If the characters made all the right moves, we wouldn’t be clutching the sofa cushions or covering our mouth stifling screams. Instead, the boys launch “Operation Mirkwood.” Dustin “adopts” and named a Demogorgon. More people die. Or disappear. And life for our little heroes gets worse. Much worse. And we love them for it.
- The villains are worthy adversaries. Go big or go home. These are not your average criminals, petty thieves, or hackers. We don’t know the enemy—at first—or what to think about these creatures lurking inside walls and small kids. What we glimpse is downright terrifying.
- The quest is life or death. Make no mistake. The characters are fighting for their lives. Eleven is running away from the military and lab’s creepy-good Dr. Martin Brenner. Nancy’s friend Barb goes missing. Joyce fears she can’t save her son. Eleven’s telepathic powers aren’t enough to rescue everyone. And just when you think everything’s back to normal, the writers foreshadow a bigger, badder nemesis.
What do you think? Are there relatable characters? Twists and turns? Life or death? A worthy adversary? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this extraordinary show that’s captivated so many hearts and minds.