4 Things I've Learned about Writing... from Amy Sherman-Palladino
I never watched Gilmore Girls growing up, so when the show finally came to Netflix last year, I felt privileged. I wouldn't have to wait over a long summer hiatus to learn what happened next. Instead, I could obsessively binge watch the fast-talking, junk-food-eating Gilmores to my heart’s content.
Everyone will get to do this today, when the long-awaited mini-series comes out. I’m a bit nervous about how successful the show will be, switching from an hour-long television drama to a ninety-minute mini-series format after 10 years, but I’m also excited to follow up with characters that feel like old friends.
In honor of Release Day, I developed a list of writing tips we can all learn from GG showrunner, Amy Sherman-Palladino.
Writing Tip #1: Voice is everything.
It’s Sherman-Palladino’s signature voice that gave Lorelai and Rory all of those fast-talking zingers. She’s known for a quick-paced writing style full of pop culture references, much like Aaron Sorkin is known for “walk and talk” dialogue. That said, screwball comedy, a film genre known for fast-talking farces, was popularized in the 1930’s and 40’s, half a century before Gilmore Girls first aired.
To make a voice that is uniquely yours, think about books, television, films, podcasts, etc., that have influenced your life, specifically those that you’ve enjoyed due to their storytelling. What made you like that style of storytelling? Which elements of the style would you have avoided if you had written it (e.g. Reservoir Dogs minus the racism)? Research your favorite writing styles and then combine them into something uniquely yours.
Writing Tip #2: World building is key.
Luke’s Diner. Mrs. Kim’s antique shop. The Dragonfly Inn. Miss Patty’s dance studio. The town square. *sigh* I can’t be the only person in the world who dreams of visiting Stars Hollow, Connecticut.
World building is the location, location, location of fiction writing. If a restaurant serves a great burger, but it’s tough to find parking or the hours aren’t clearly advertised, it’s not going to attract a lot of customers.
Similarly, if a work of fiction has brilliant characters and a compelling plot but the setting is flat (or nonexistent), the story won’t connect with the reader as well as it could. Fiction needs verisimilitude, a truthfulness to its telling. This is valid whether a story takes place in small-town New England or on an international space station in the Andromeda Galaxy. Whether they like where they are or not, make your characters interact with, become connected to, and be changed by their setting, and it will pay off with your readers.
Writing Tip #3: Character growth and roadblocks to character growth are essential.
Rory Gilmore is a talented student and an aspiring journalist. She is the top of her class at Chilton Preparatory and a darling of her local community. It is her mother, Lorelai, who provides much of the show’s drama in early seasons. But when Rory matriculates to Yale, the big fish in a small pond moves to the ocean. With the Ivy League comes overwhelming pressure, identity crises, social anxiety, and higher stakes, and Rory makes a few mistakes. (She even steals a yacht.)
But these mistakes are great! As Sherman-Palladino knows, the stakes should constantly escalate for our characters, and roadblocks need to get in the way of their dreams. Otherwise, the character gets what they want, and the game is up.
Take Luke and Lorelai, for another example. Their "will-they-won’t-they" relationship has captivated viewers for seven seasons, and will likely be a substantial part of the mini-series. It’s interesting to learn that Sherman-Palladino wrote Luke’s nephew Jess onto the show not necessarily to create a love triangle for Rory, but to give Luke and Lorelai another reason not to date (source). (Side note: this is probably why we get Luke’s secret daughter April Nardini in season 6, too. Ugh.)
Writing Tip #4: Great stories are timeless.
There are some pop culture references on Gilmore Girls that will fade with every re-watch. (I’m still heartbroken that Lorelai’s “See you when Hillary’s president!” wasn’t prophetic.) But I believe Gilmore Girls will stay in syndication for a long while because its stories trade on things that remain relevant: family drama, the need to belong, and its conflict with the need to be a successful individual.
So, continue to drop your pop culture references, my fellow trivia stars. But also know your Hero’s Journey, your Jungian theories, your Greek tragedies, your Shakespeare, and your Great American Novels. These are the pop culture references that have bested time to become canon, and they’ve done so because they appeal to the most human core of us… just like the Girls.
Are you excited for the Netflix mini-series? Leave your comments and concerns below!