Writing

What can Mythbusters teach us about writing?

Words by Bec Fleming, ACTWC Blogger in Residence

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Mythbusters is the kind of show I never intend to watch. I like the show, I just don’t go out of my way to watch it. Yet, while I wouldn’t call myself a fan, I invariably walk past while my husband is watching an episode, sit down because a segment catches my attention, and wind up watching the whole episode. The hosts, Adam and Jamie, draw me in every time. I think the reason I can’t turn away is because the show does exactly what many of us try to do when we write – it asks questions – and the audience takes a journey alongside the hosts to find the answers to those questions. I can’t walk away until the questions have been answered. This is what we want our readers to feel.

In August this year, I attended the Mythbusters stage show and was pleased to find I was equally enthralled. The same combination of character, passion and great storytelling translated onto the stage. Adam Savage opened the show with a juggling act. While demonstrating some impressive juggling skills Adam told the audience a story – his story – about how he developed the skill. This immediately drew the audience in and created a bond, his character shone through instantly capturing the audience. It was a perfect way to open the show and far more engaging than any of their famous explosions. I think the audience was drawn to his character, which is a big part of the appeal of the television show too, and an important lesson in how powerful character can be in capturing attention. The lesson here, show the reader an engaging character as early as you can.

The story itself also held lessons for me as a writer. It was a story about practice, patience, persistence and the importance of failure. The sound of the batons falling was the sound of learning, he told the audience, not a reason to give up. As a writer who is still learning the art of accepting rejection without days of sulking, this was an important lesson for me. So the next time my email pings with the sound of a rejection I will try to remind myself that it is simply the sound of a baton falling, pick it up, and keep practicing.

While I enjoyed the entire show, I did feel the bond with the audience broke at intermission and Adam and Jamie had to work again to reconnect with the live audience. Distracted by the fifteen minute break, the audience didn’t seem to connect as strongly with the performance in the second half. This has made me think, one should avoid an ‘intermission’ in any piece of writing. If a reader finds a good moment to take a break, even if they return to the piece the bond that has been built may not be as strong. Obviously people have limited time and attention spans so there will be times when they need to put a piece down, but don’t give them an obvious breaking point.

It’s a funny thing, the more writing I do the more I realise there are lessons about the craft in unexpected aspects of my life. Attending the Mythbusters stage show I thought I might learn something about science, but instead walked away with some powerful lessons about the importance of character, plot, persistance and narrative momentum.

Bec Fleming

 

Bec Fleming is a Canberra based writer, historian and poet. She graduated with a PhD in history from the University of New England in 2010. She has spoken at the National Portrait Gallery, the Australian War Memorial and for the ABC program Now Hear This. Her poem ‘An untimely death’ was shortlisted for the 2013 Michael Thwaites poetry award. She has loved words for as long as she can remember and thinks it is a little bit magic when they line themselves up in just the right order.

One thought on “What can Mythbusters teach us about writing?

  1. Bec, I’m glad you were able to take storytelling lessons away from the Mythbusters show. I liked the thought of batons falling as signifying the sound of learning. Maintaining that bond with a reader will always be a difficult exercise, but I think the idea of not offering an obvious breaking point is a great way to think about reader engagement. It’s also a nice feeling when you start to see lessons for one’s craft out in the wider world. Looking forward to your next post.

    David

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