How Walter White Can Make You a Better Writer
by Martha Southgate
Martha Southgate's workshop, Come Together—Connection & Disconnection in Fiction begins on September 29th. Find out more here.
I’m proud to admit that I was and am an obsessive fan of Breaking Bad. When Walt, Jesse and all their friends left us on that Sunday night three years ago, I was left bereft for a while. Sundays just weren’t the same without those guys.
And it wasn’t only because of the brilliant acting, the beautiful way it was shot, the way everything came together in the end. It was because of the incredibly tight, rather novelistic construction. A construction that was skillfully revealed from the very first thirty minutes of the show onward. And a beginning that grabbed most viewers by the throat and wouldn’t let go.
Here's a brief precis of the first scene: A middle-aged guy wearing a gas mask drives an RV through the desert. There is a younger man slumped in the seat next to him, unconscious, wearing a gas mask. The RV turns over and he gets out unharmed. He is wearing only tighty-whities that make him look ridiculous and pathetic. He grabs a shirt hanging from the window of the RV and sticks a gun into the back of his underwear. Sirens are heard and he stands in the middle of the road, takes the gun out of his underwear and points it, ready to kill whoever is coming over the crest of the hill. Cut to opening titles.
Martha Southgate is the author of four novels. Her newest, The Taste of Salt, was published in September 2011 and was named one of the best novels of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Globe. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Her essay “Writers Like Me,” published in the New York Times Book Review, appears in the anthology Best African-American Essays 2009. Previous non-fiction articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, O, Entertainment Weekly, and Essence. She is at work on a new novel.