Watching: Pretty Little Liars
Why you should watch it: (there’s a million reasons, but lets go with) Suspense
Okay, let’s just talk about Pretty Little Liars for a minute. If you don’t watch the show, you might be thinking “Wait, isn’t that just another teen drama about some rich girls with problems?” And you’d be sort of right. However, it is so much more than that. And these writers know something about stringing a viewer along and really amping up the suspense, keeping the viewers tuned into ABC Family week after week after week. The show has got all kinds of people with all sorts of interests talking. For a really interesting take, check out CollegeFashion.net‘s take on the fashion of the Pretty Little Liars crew. That enough should get you interested, but if not:
First off, the show is based off a series of books by Sara Shepard and the lovely people at Alloy Entertainment (you guys can call me with your job offer anytime. Seriously.) It follows the escapades of four girls named Hanna, Spencer, Emily and Aria. They were part of a pretty mean clique of girls spearheaded by the meanest of all, Alison.
A year prior to the start of the show, Alison went missing. It gets better. Before Alison went missing, the girls accidentally blinded another girl in the incident referred to as “The Jenna Thing.” In the series premiere, the girls receive text messages and emails from a mysterious person simply named “A,” leading them to believe that Alison is still alive, because “A” knows things about them that only Alison would know.
Then, Alison’s remains are found, and yet the messages from “A” keep coming. Things only get more crazy and awesome from there. “A” forces the girls to do things they wouldn’t typically do, and in order to protect themselves, the girls struggle to find out who both Alison’s killer and “A” are, and if they’re the same person.
Most importantly, as a writer, what I take away from PL2 (oh yes, I just went there) is how to truly craft suspense. In the past, I’ve never been much for suspense, and some great writers are able to draw you into a story based on other things instead of that feeling of needing to know what happens next. But if you follow any particularly suspenseful television show, or series of books, doesn’t drive you crazy when you realize its 9:58 or you’re on page 345 of 346?
On Pretty Little Liars, they use several tried and true methods to build the suspense:
A cornerstone of Shakespearean work (Romeo and Juliet anyone?), the misunderstanding leads the characters and the audience into believing that someone or something is not as it seems. In Pretty Little Liars, one character might over hear another saying something that incriminates them, or at least makes them look guilty. Though the misunderstanding has been done so much (every romantic comedy since…ever), it seems lazy, when done well it can be such a satisfying twist. There is a reason it has been used so often—because it can be such a great way to make the audience motivated to find out what happens next.
On Pretty Little Liars, the audience gets to see conversations between characters that the main characters aren’t privy to. By clueing the audience in, the suspense is ramped up—and fast. We know when the main character so shouldn’t get in the car with someone else, or who they shouldn’t be telling a certain piece of information. As a viewer, it drives me crazy! As a writer, I take notes.
I’ll be brief. But THIS WORKS. This may be more done to death than the misunderstanding. However, some shows take the cliffhanger to a new level. The Sopranos is famous for ending their episodes mid-sentence. On True Blood, the character is often seen reacting, but no reveal as to what’s causing the reaction. On Pretty Little Liars, the cliffhanger often works in conjunction with both dramatic irony and the misunderstanding. MADDENING.
All of the devices, have been used and used and used again. All because they actually do work. My piece of advice is not treating the audience like fools. When done poorly, its as if the writer expects me to believe that a character is dead from falling off their porch onto a trampoline, or something equally ridiculous. In the future, I’ll be trying to remember how I feel as a member of the audience when trying to build suspense. I know how long I can be strung along before it begins to feel silly and impossible. And I also know what drives me absolutely batty!
As far as Pretty Little Liars goes, the devices and so many more are employed so well, its certainly worth tuning in just to see what is going on. Its not my fault that you’ll get hooked along the way! The second half of Season Two doesn’t air until January 2012, which gives you plenty of time to catch up! The Halloween special aired last night, was a beautiful tease, and has driven me into an even bigger Pretty Little Liars frenzy! I know I’m not the only one, so if you need someone else to theorize with, drop me a comment below, or send me an email. I’m not even kidding.
So what do you think? Do you watch PLL? If not, do you want to now? Did you watch the Halloween special? Are you dying with…suspense? Let me know!