What Novel Beginnings and TV Pilots Have in Common

I’m sick. I’ve caught whatever bug is going around. So, I’m laid up on the couch watching Netflix, trying to recover. I decided to go back to a favorite from my adolescence: One Tree Hill.

One of my favorite dramas from my youth

After I watched the One Tree Hill pilot again, I got to thinking. It’s a great model for the beginning of a novel.

All the main characters appear. 

I knew the main players Dan, Lucas, and Nathan would all show up in the pilot. But we also get to see other characters who play major roles: Skillz, Haley, Karen, Keith, Whitey,  and Tim. And not only do they all show up in the pilot but we get to see them in character defining ways. We get to see that Lucas has a soft spot and that Nathan is a bit of a jerk but is also under a tremendous amount of pressure. The characters are complex, right from the beginning.

The tensions are laid out and in your face. 

Lucas vs. Nathan. Nathan vs. Dan. Dan vs. Whitey. Karen vs. the World. These tensions are clearly established in 40 minutes. They pack a punch in a way that’s real and relatable but also intriguing. These tensions are why I come back to this series and why so many viewers were pulled from the pilot through the rest of the season. The thing about this tension is that it feels like it starts in the middle. They’ve existed for awhile, and we, the viewers, are stepping right into the middle of them. But there’s room for these tensions to grow, and we can feel that.

The stakes are clear.

Viewers, just like readers, need to know what the characters have to lose. The writers of One Tree Hill did this perfectly by putting Nathan and Lucas in conflict with each other at the basketball game in the pilot. (Check out the epic block in the video!) Both boys have something to lose, but there’s also the potential that they each have something to gain. The stakes are clear and played out in a way that keeps us glued to the television. The best books do this too.

What are some books or television shows that grabbed you from the beginning?

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