5 Things Screenwriters Can
Learn From Lost

By Margherita Pellegrino

Lost All the Lost fans out there are mourning the ending of their favourite series, and possibly re-watching the episodes in hope of magically figuring out all the mysteries they’ve been dying to see solved in the series finale (but to no avail).

Apart from riddles and enigmas, Lost is a unique series from which writers can learn a lot in terms of how to create a story that grabs the audience and doesn’t let go.

For example:

Stay away from perfection

Sure, the choice of what kind of characters will appear in your film is strictly connected to the genre of the story and the plot developed. This said, the ‘Mary-Sue’ trap is very alluring and falling into it is easier than you thought: in other words, you could be tempted to write your characters as good, wholesome people, physically attractive and with lots of good values. It happens to a lot of writers due to the fact that they see themselves through the characters, which become the representations of how the writers themselves would like to be in reality. However, this carries a very high risk of creating bland and uninteresting characters with no flaws (humanly impossible) and no distinctive/interesting traits either. Lost reminds you that the heroes of the story don’t have to be perfect for viewers to still like them: Jack is a tormented surgeon with no confidence, Kate is a fugitive who killed her abusive stepfather, and James is an ex con-man. The more interesting you can make your characters, the better for your film.

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Diversity makes the story interesting and increases your chances of getting viewers to empathise with the protagonists. By diversity we don’t only mean casting from different nationalities, but also choosing actors with distinctive physical appearances; in other words, your characters don’t have to be beautiful or look good all the time. It wouldn’t be believable, and they would tend to look very similar in the eyes of the viewers. Consider your story, and think: what are the chances that that the survivors of a crashed plane from Sidney to Los Angeles would all be good looking, blonde young Americans? None, probably.  So we have Sayid from Iraq, Sun and Jin from Korea, Charlie from England, Claire from Australia; young Michael, old John Locke, fat Hurley.

Kill your characters

Be unpredictable and surprising. Kill your characters at the right time, as painful as it can be for your ‘writer mind’. Alternatively you can kill your characters only figuratively, by letting something happen to them that will impact on their lives, cause great changes, make them become different people. Nothing is worse than a story where nothing happens, or where small things happen that get rectified straightaway with no consequences. In Lost, quite a few of the survivors have died in one way or another, and so many unexpected things have happened to the others that viewers never get bored.

Be believable

Whatever you write and/or however you shoot, you need to stay within the framework of your chosen genre. It is rather obvious: if your film is not a fantasy or a sci-fi, your characters can’t suddenly manifest magic powers and start to fly; if you’re not dealing with a musical, don’t make your protagonist start singing and dancing with random people in the street. In some occasions it may seem easier to use a little ‘poetic license’ to get out of a situation which would be difficult to explain/represent otherwise, but take example from Lost: Kate, Jack, James, Claire, Charlie and the others have crashed on a mysterious island, they don’t know if and when they’ll be saved, and a lot of weird things are happening: they don’t just decide one day that they’ll have a party on the beach and go swimming, and likewise, they don’t show off new clothes like they’ve just been on shopping spree at Macy’s. They stay in character: gloomy faces, lots of running around, worn out clothes.

Allow for comic (and shame) relief

Even in the sappier of rom-coms, it is always good to set a character or situation aside as a ‘comic relief’, something/someone, in other words, that breaks the tension and gives viewers a little rest, while keeping them interested. In Lost, Hurley does just this: he is the most innocent of the bunch, naïve, impulsive and is always behind in what is happening. By means of not understanding much of what’s going on and always having to ask, he is funny and at the same time functions as ‘helper’ for the confused viewers.
When, instead, your story contains a character or situation which you can’t explain but you really can’t do without, then you need to find a ‘shame relief’: something, that is, that you can blame for it. Like in Lost: someone has come back from the dead? You just went back in time and now it’s 1974? Well. It’s “the Island”…

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About The Author

MArgherita Pellegrino

Margherita Pellegrino moved to the UK from Italy five years ago, studied Sociology and has now finished a Masters Degree in United States Studies.

She is obsessed with cinema and the United States (especially New York) and loves to write (and talk) incessantly about both.

She would like to work as a reviewer/film critic, or maybe in casting because she has a sixth sense about people.

Margherita is presently interning at Raindance where she writes articles, researches films and filmmakers and does other more usual intern jobs.


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5 Things Screenwriters Can Learn From Lost