When good story elements crop up in real life

Lily White LeFevre just did a fascinating post about a show I absolutely cannot tolerate and have never watched more than a few minutes of: The Bachelor(ette). It sounds very much like a case of the show's producers lucking into a situation that provided the show with actual emotional heft, instead of them having to manufacture it with gauze and roses.

The first season I saw of The Amazing Race was like that: It was season five, which featured a team of extremely hard-charging racers who handily won every single thing they ever did. They completely dominated the race--until the stress got to be too much, and they had a massive melt-down near the end. They came in last on that leg, which usually ensures elimination, but it turned out to be a non-elimination leg (and those two almost had a stroke when they found that out--seriously, I was worried).

The season finale was fantastic: The strongest team was last, and there were three teams in front of them. Because the last team was so good, every single team in front of them was an underdog. It was like watching three pairs of minnows trying to outswim a pair of sharks--as much as you respected the sharks, you couldn't help but root for the minnows. It was one of the most exciting shows I have ever watched, and I watched quite a few more seasons of The Amazing Race before I realized that it probably wasn't ever going to be that good again.

People respond to story points--underdogs, love triangles--whether they happen in real life or in fiction. Why am I so interested in Block B? I like the music, sure, but the characters are funny and likable, and the storyline (injustice!) is compelling. Why were the Browncoats such activists? Well, you create a show about people getting screwed by The Man, and then Firefly...gets screwed by The Man! It really isn't that shocking that the people who found the fictional show compelling found the real-life events surrounding it compelling as well.

(And of course, this is something that someone like Lance Armstrong just doesn't understand. His storyline was the underdog triumphing over adversity. The fact that he cheated to win...oooh, that just ruins everything. You don't come back from that--you can't invalidate your own storyline and expect people to still like you.)

One of the best bits of advice I got in journalism school was, "Just tell a story!" Obviously, nonfiction has to be true, but other than that, it's very much like fiction--it's about story.

And the reverse is true--if something in real life is very compelling to you, it's worth it to take some time and pick apart what it is that you're responding to. After all, it might be something you can use....