Television these days seems to sometimes surprise me, sometimes disappoint me (okay, lately it’s been more disappointment than anything else) but I have been very pleasantly surprised this summer with the Syfy show Killjoys. Did I think the network that brought us Sharknado 3 could still produce original, interesting sci-fi….? No, not really.
I’m glad to see I was wrong. Killjoys has become my favorite show of the summer, and is an excellent example of what a master craftsman can do when weaving a plot together. Bravo. Of course, since it’s brought to us by the Canadian mind behind Lost Girl, it makes more sense. Let’s take a look at the plotting of this show, and see how it can be applied to any form of writing.
**Warning: Spoilers ahead. **
We can argue pantsers vs plotters all day, but any good plot crafts-person has to do at least one key thing: Begin with the end in mind. This isn’t easy. We like to leave room for characters to grow and change and tell us who they want to be – and I’m a notorious pantser myself – but I still need to know how things end. Working backwards, when crafting a plot, is the only way to look in this author’s opinion.
Let’s take a look at the season finale of Killjoys. Here were the key elements of the finale:
- Alvis the Penitent, Born of Rats – He’s the head monk on Westerly for the group known affectionately as scarbacks for their masochistic tendencies, and his position as both leader of the rebellion on Westerly and friend of the hero group are vital to the ending.
- Khylen – The evil, neigh on indestructible mentor of our girl Dutch who taught her all about killing and acted as a surrogate father.
- The Company – this is the corporation who run the planet-and-moons combo known as the Quad where the story takes place. It is run by the landed families on the planet Qresh known as the Nine. They have been willing to destroy entire
- The Weapon – An unnamed weapon that kills based on genetic information, able to take out an entire bloodline and leave everyone else in the room alive.
- Dutch – the protagonist of the series. She grew up in a royal harem, trained by Khylen with whom she has a troubled relationship. She has a lot of subplots:
- Her relationship with / feelings for D’avin Jacobis
- What happened to her former husband?
- Delle Seyah Kendry – leader of land Kendry and big fan/antagonist/blackmailer of Dutch
- Who is she and where is she from?
- Level 6 Killjoys & Red 17 – A believed-to-be mythical level of killjoying and a mysterious government (?) program.
So those are the major players in the finale, and they are all very neatly foreshadowed through the season (most even in the very first episode). This is how you weave together a plot in such a way as to make it not obvious as you’re watching the first time, but easy to trace the threads back at the end.
- Alivs the Penitent – Episode 1 we see him giving info to Dutch and plotting rebellion on Westerly. This theme recurs with him in future episodes, most strongly in Episodes 4, 7, and 8. Then, in the finale, they try to save him while he saves a bit of the rebellion on Westerly.
- Khylen- Also introduced in Episode 1. Let’s just say there’s hardly an episode this season where we don’t learn a little bit of his story and how he is tied into Dutch’s past. And every episode deepens his mystery and the aura of fear around him.
- The Company – We get a small taste in Episode 1, but a big taste in Episode 2 (Sugarpoint Run) where the destruction of that town directly foreshadows the destruction that the Company inflicts on Westerly in the finale. Then we see in Episode 8 that they stake people out in the black rain to die. Yep, we believe they’re evil.
- The Weapon – Although not in Episode 1, we get all of Episode 6 to see its power in action. Took an entire episode. Talk about putting a gun on the mantle for later use.
- Dutch – Of course she’s in every episode, as the protagonist. Let’s look at some of her subplots.
- Her relationship with/feelings for D’avin Jacobis – Grow as the season progresses, peaks in Episode 7 and the monkey wrench is thrown in, and in the finale, we’re left with the decided impression that her feelings are more than strong as she tries everything to find him.
- What happened to her former husband? – We learned of him in Episode 7, got a hint of his death in Episode 9, then found out it was really Khylen in the finale.
- Delle Seyah Kendry – Introduced in Episode 4, reappears in Episode 7 and is back in the finale in a big way for Episode 10
- Where is she from – Lots of hints and glimpses of the harem she grew up in through many episodes. We still don’t know, but there’ve been a lot of hints! We learn in Episode 9 that Khylen was sent by her father and that she’s from a disgraced (but apparently once strong) bloodline.
- Level 6 Killjoys & Red 17 – We first get a taste of Red 17 in a creepy but awesome Episode 5 where it’s painted in blood on an abandoned ship and tied to some nasty nanotech. Level 6 Killjoys are hinted at in Episode 6, referred to in Episode 8, revealed to be true in Episode 9 and of course part of the major ending to Episode 10.
Weaving a skillful plot is like weaving a rug: mixing and combing through strands of every color until, when your reader stands back (metaphorically, of course) they see this entire picture you’ve woven of bits and pieces and hints and character background and subplots. It’s not easy, and I’m by no means an expert, but next time you find yourself stuck with your novel, ask yourself this:
Where do you want to end? What’s the big finale?
And work backwards from there.
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