If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

October Interviews
10/2 Debra H. Goldstein, Two Bites To Many
10/10 Connie Berry, A Legacy of Murder
10/17 Lida Sideris, Double Murder or Nothing
10/23 Toni L. P. Kelner writing as Leigh Perry, The Skeleton Stuffs A Stocking
10/30 Jennifer David Hesse, Autumn Alibi

Saturday Guest Bloggers:
10/5 Ang Pompano
10/12 Eyes of Texas Anthology Writers
10/19 Neil Plakcy

WWK Bloggers: 10/26 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Lyrical Press will publish Kaye George's Vintage Sweets mystery series. The first book, Revenge Is Sweet, will be released in March. Look for the interview here on 3/11.

Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!

Susan Van Kirk's A Death At Tippett Pond was released on June 15th. Read E. B. Davis's interview with Susan.

KM Rockwood's "Frozen Daiquiris" appears in The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk. The anthology was released on June 18th.

Fishy Business anthology authors include KM Rockwood, Debra Goldstein, and James M. Jackson. This volume was edited by Linda Rodriguez.

Please read Margaret S. Hamilton and Debra Goldstein's short stories (don't ask about their modus operandi) in a new anthology, Cooked To Death Vol. IV: Cold Cut Files.

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ydaklx8p

Grace Topping's mystery, Staging is Murder was released April 30.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Why Burn Notice was a successful television Series

Why “Burn Notice” was a successful television series.

Now that the television series “Burn Notice” has concluded after seven seasons, some stations are replaying the entire series episode by episode.  Watching the second time around I’m able to focus on the how and why the series succeeded.  My observations apply to writing a series of books as much as they apply to a television series.

 Matt Nix created the series. He was the writer and the show’s executive producer. One of the strengths of the program was Nix’s strong premise.  An experienced government spy is “burned,” i.e. disowned when he is suspected of being a double agent.  The spy wants to find out who “burned” him, what he was accused of and why so he can disprove whatever was said against and resume his career. No longer having access to government resources, he has to recruit and use people from his past to help. 
Michael Weston, played by Jeffrey Donovan, the protagonist has a wide range of skills that include expertise with hand-to-hand combat, explosives, weapons and wiretapping. He has the skill set needed to sustain a protagonist in a series.

The show is very well acted with Gabrielle Anwar playing Fiona Glenanne, mistress of explosives and weaponry.  I know her supposedly Irish accent kept slipping in the earliest episodes but she did a wonderful job of conveying intimidation despite her relatively small frame. Fionna was a participant in “the troubles” in Ireland, which is a credible reason for her to have deadly abilities. Bruce Campbell, veteran of B grade horror and action movies, as Sam Axe provides a great foil for Fionna.  Sam is a retired military officer with a taste for women and booze and a history of combat. He too can believably shoot and blow things up. Sharon Gless, an experienced actress, portrays Michael’s mother, Madeline. Starting in the fourth season Coby Bell joined the ensemble as a spy who Michael “burns” in an effort to clear his own reputation.  Bell is a skilled actor who adds another set of relationships to the cast. He also has a physique that suggests athletic abilities.

Michael has a complicated history with each of the other characters.  Examining the complicated and changing relationships within the comedic and action storylines gives “Burn Notice” a depth and complexity that kept the audience interested beyond what an average comedic action series could achieve.  The characters grow, regress and develop over time.  That keeps the series fresh and possibilities open for the actors and the writer.

Over seven seasons Michael’s search for the truth leads him through encounters with dangerous members of his own and other intelligence agencies.  He tries to help people who are threatened by spies or criminals who he meets along the way.  He is a sometimes-reluctant hero who has to pursue his personal crusade but also has to interrupt his efforts in order to save innocent people. The skills that helped him as a spy — isolation from others, lying and keeping an emotional distance from everyone — hinder him in his relationships with friends and family.  Villains from his past appear and re-appear.  From time to time is offered work using his spy skills for illegal purposes. If he refuses, his family and friends may be threatened to force his cooperation.  Throughout the seasons Michael is under pressure in each episode.

As a writer, I would love to use a technique limited to visual presentation.  When a character is first introduced the camera freezes on the actor’s face and a brief description of the character appears in letters underneath.  For example a person might be described as, “Michael’s Client,” “Psychopathic Killer” or “Scumbag Drug Dealer” so the audience is immediately aware of who the character is.   
The end of the series was carefully considered and well written.  It was logical and satisfying, but, even though I had seen many episodes, I was not able to predict the outcome.  It fulfilled the old burlesque adage: Leave them wanting more. 

Do you learn anything from successful television shows?  


James Montgomery Jackson said...

The TV technique that has most informed my writing are scene endings and beginnings.

Scenes end with the viewer in doubt of the outcome.

Scenes begin with action and assume the viewer can fill in the missing details. (For example if scene one ends at the library and scene two is at the capitol, the viewer assumes the driving between spots.)

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

Polly Iyer recently converted one of her novels into a screenplay for a contest. She told me it was difficult because everything was dialogue and the writing had to be condensed down to the very minute yet still convey the story matching to the visuals the audience would see. Maybe you should try it, Warren. New types of writing stretch skills. I think Paula's experiments with her Christmas Short Story were terrific examples of adaptability and writing versatility.

Kara Cerise said...

I thought "Burn Notice" did a terrific job of making flawed characters sympathetic to viewers. A spy could be two dimensional, but the writers added family and girlfriend troubles to make him seem more human. I thought Sharon Gless was a brilliant casting choice for Michael's mother. Perhaps the program will return as a two hour movie.

Gloria Alden said...

Because I don't have cable and watch very little TV, I never saw "Burn Notice", but I do like the mysteries that appear on PBS. Right now I'm waiting for the new season of Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbach. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying "Death in Paradise" even though many of them are reruns.

Carla Damron said...

Kara's right about Sharon Gless. I loved it that Michael, this seasoned, much-sought-after spy, had a mom that could push his buttons. Real stuff.

Linda Rodriguez said...

I do think we can learn from television and from movies, Warren, even though they are each a different medium from the novel. The quick-cut technique that Jim references is something that modern novelists stole from film, for example.

Marilyn Levinson said...

I think "Burn Notice" was a successful show because of the relationships the main characters had with one another. Of particular importance were Michael's relationships with Fiona and with his mother. The characters' relationships and emotions are as essential to a TV series as they are to mystery readers.

Mark Baker said...

When you're a fan of Burn Notice.... Sorry, I just couldn't resist.

I certainly agree that the complex characters and changing relationships added much to the show. The action was always great, but it was the characters that gave the series it's heart. That's why I felt the darkness they put the characters through in seasons 6 and 7 so much more.

What can you learn from the show? Something I've definitely found in books, too. Give me great characters, and I'll keep coming back. You have to give them something exciting to do, but if I like the characters, that's much of the battle.

Anonymous said...

A good story is a good story, whether it's in the newspaper, told by someone, on TV or the movies, or in a book. There's a lot we can learn from other forms of stories, although of course we have to be very aware of how the different presentations need to be handled to be effective.

Terry W. Ervin II said...

I think that a story arc, where events that occurred impacted the storyline moving forward was key to the series' success.

I agree with the development of the characters, and their complexity...even the secondary characters such as Barry or Michael's brother, or even say, Victor from Season 2.

I read some of the novelizations of the series. They were not as good. The author inserted political biases, such as Fiona thinking: Michelle Obama, now that's a woman that can take care of herself. Really? By Fiona's standards?

The novels were more like watching a Soap Opera, but with substitute actors standing in for the regulars. There was some familiarity, with lines and with setting, but it just wasn't the same, if that makes sense.

marja said...

One of my favorite shows, and I should have taken notes when they were putting things (like weapons, phones or anything else) together. This series held my attention for all seven years. Terrific post!
Marja McGraw

Julie Robinson said...

Terry W. Ervin, thank you for letting us know about the novels not keeping in line with the characters. Normally, I'm of the belief that a novel should be read before a movie to understand it better. In this case, the novel merely uses the series to perpetuate a political agenda that is in direct opposition to the thinking of Warrior archetypes like Fiona, Michael, and Sam---especially when the character of Fiona is that of a government rebel. But, perhaps those character traits are the reason so many people liked the series.

Terry W. Ervin II said...

Julie Robinson,
The political thing isn't a major focus, but the times it cropped up, it sort of grated on me.

In addition, the novels sort of portrayed Fiona as an unstable violent maniac at times--far more than in the TV series. With Sam, the novels gave more light into how he got information for Michael, through his buddies, but portrayed him more as a buffoon and close to incompetent in areas that didn't parallel the series.

I would imagine that they were okayed in some fashion by the producer of the series...but maybe not. And it could've been my reading and take, but I don't think so.