My friend Dawn and I were discussing the TV show Arrow, which has quickly become one of my favorites. We talked about why we like it so much – other than the obvious man candy appeal! Dawn hit the nail on the head when she said, “…superb writing and excellent acting make for a kick ass show.” Woot woot! Of course, she is 100% correct!
Before I get too far into this, if you are an Arrow fan and aren’t current on the episodes, proceed with caution. I didn’t try to give anything away, but I may have inadvertently done so.
That line of thought (not the spoilers but the show in general) led to . . . as writers, what can we learn from Arrow to make our own stories better?
Some background… It was just a fluke that I stumbled upon Arrow on Netflix. I had watched and watched and watched again Teen Wolf (the show on MTV) and needed another series to watch. Arrow looked interesting, and I liked the mix of present day Oliver and on the island Oliver. Plus, did I mention Stephen Amell shirtless performing the Salmon ladder stunt?? I wasn’t familiar with the D.C. Comic or the premise behind Arrow (other than what I read on Netflix).
Let’s cover some basics. First, what is a story or what are the elements of a story? This basic definition is courtesy of Michael Knost and a writing class I took from him.
Conflict + Action + Resolution = Story
Is there conflict in Arrow, I ask? Duh. Does a zebra have stripes? Hell yeah, there is all kinds of conflict in Arrow. Actually, many levels of conflict are present in the show. Life on the island is filled with conflict – wasn’t easy for a shipwrecked, partying billionaire to adapt to living in that environment. Conflict is found in Oliver’s post-island life as well. Trying to work on the list, keeping his identity from his family – remember what happens once Tommy finds out?? Conflict isn’t limited to the main character, either. Just look at Moira and Malcolm, Diggle and Deadshot, Thea and Roy… I think you get the picture. All of this keeps the viewer engaged.
Is there action in Arrow? Again, ya think??! Tons of fights scenes – too many to name! The conflict between Oliver as the Arrow and Oliver as the Queen heir drives all kinds of action (and conflict). There’s never a dull moment on the island – lots of fights and lots of things that aren’t as they appear. Of course, the Arrow versus the villains – fight scenes galore!
Resolution – last but not least. In the show, resolution is ongoing. Oliver will no sooner resolve an issue until something else crops up. For instance, Diggle is the first to learn of Oliver’s secret identity. Enter conflict and action – Diggle swinging at Oliver and saying not so nice things. After a short time, Diggle decides he’s okay with how Oliver spends his nights. The two work well together until Oliver fails to have Diggle’s back in regards to Deadshot. There is a similar progression with Felicity.
Why is Oliver Queen is such a compelling character – besides the fact he is played by Stephen Amell who performs all sorts of Crossfit-style moves shirtless – oh wait, back to character. . .
We will examine this through another Michael Knost concept – The Three Dimensions of Character (and Oliver is very interesting because there is pre-island Oliver and post-island Oliver and the ‘who he was while on the island’ Oliver).
First, Oliver’s traits, quirks, and habits: finds it difficult to trust, driven when it comes to the list and criminals, loyal, exercise/ fitness (has to be in ass-kicking shape to take on the bad guys and girls), strong will – what am I missing? Oliver is a complex character so there are tons more!
Second, Oliver’s inner demons – trying to correct his father’s wrongs while keeping his identity a secret and protecting those he loves so harm doesn’t come to them. We see his inner demons in the episode The Three Ghosts. I won’t spoil what happens, but if you check it out, all will become clear – well, mostly!
Third, Oliver’s world view (who he really is) – a lonely guy, trying to do the right thing and not always by taking a life. He feels the need to correct the wrongs done by his family yet he struggles with not telling them who he really is – think of when Walter and Moira want him to take his place as the head of Queen Consolidated.
Why do we love him? He takes a stand – cleaning up Starling City – accepts the risks of going out by himself (with occasional back-up from Diggle and Det. Lance), and gets the job done despite the fact he is lonely and has to lie to those closest to him. Does it get him down? Maybe – after all, he had the “slip” with Isabel in Russia (season 2). Given that, does he still get the job done? Hell yeah.
- Well thought-out – extremely so! Wish my brain worked in such a complex, yet sensible fashion!
- Lots of twists and turns – they make sense and wind together. The viewer may be caught off guard, but everything makes sense.
- All kinds of action and emotion – don’t have “down time” – what would be ‘narrative’ or ‘telling’ in the writing world.
- Character parallels – Oliver isn’t the only one leading a double life…think of Malcolm (businessman, push behind The Undertaking, and archer trained by the League of Assassins) and Sebastian Blood (too much here that is spoiler material!).
- Character growth – compare Season 1 Oliver to Season 2 Oliver
So, in theory, if we can write our stories and novels like a season of Arrow, we would be a permanent fixture on the NY Times Bestseller list and retired from our day jobs! Good luck and do not fail this city!!