And Then There Were None

One of my writing communities recently had a discussion about how many suspects you need to have in a mystery novel. Most people settled on four or five, but a few authors pointed out that you could write a story with only one viable suspect, as long as you kept the audience in suspense the whole time about whether he is guilty or whether the detective would be able to catch him. This is the Columbo model of storytelling, and it can be highly entertaining, especially if you have Peter Falk to pull it off.

In real life, investigators may winnow the field to just a suspect or two and yet still be unable to prove their case. The most fascinating example of this that I have come across is the murder of Diane Kyne. Diane Kyne was home one afternoon with just her husband, Bill, and her adult son, Kevin, when she was strangled to death. One of the men is surely her killer…but which one?

Who murdered Diane Kyne? It was one of two men, but we may never know which one. Photo credit: NBC News.

Both men called 911 to report the murder at roughly the same time, and each claimed the other one had killed Diane. The police arrived to find Bill and Kevin grappling on the lawn, accusing each other of murder. Investigation of the scene showed Diane dead in her bedroom, a victim of strangulation. There was a pair of glasses and a shoe nearby, and a few drops of blood on the bed near her body.

The son, Kevin, had a wicked temper. He had made violent threats against family members in the past, and the police had been out to the house previously when the fighting with Kevin grew out of hand. Kevin had been kicked out of the house before, but Diane let him back in. Rumor had it she was considering removing him again, possibly for good. Forensic investigation revealed that the sandals found near Diane’s body had Kevin’s DNA on them, and the drops of blood near her body belonged to him.

The husband, Bill, did not go check on his wife after he had found her not breathing…possibly because he knew she was already dead. Diane was strangled to death, and it was Bill’s DNA, not Kevin’s, that was found on her neck. Bill seemed to have the stronger motive for murdering Diane: he stood to collect $750,000 in insurance money after her death. And Bill had experience in this department! He had already collected $250,000 in insurance money following the strange death of his first wife. Wife #1 had supposedly awoken in the night, wandered out into the pool area, somehow hit her head, and drowned. Her death was ruled an accident.

The police eventually arrested Kevin for Diane’s murder, and he was initially convicted and sentenced to life in prison. At a second trial, however, the jury ruled Kevin not guilty. Prosecutors are reluctant to retry the case a third time.

By all accounts, Bill and Kevin despised one another, so it’s improbable that they conspired to kill Diane. This leaves us with a situation where both men know the truth, and yet we from the outside cannot definitively spot the liar. Out of the 7 billion people on the planet Earth, Diane Kyne’s killer can be narrowed to a population of just two men…but that’s all it takes for the guilty party to walk free.

What do you think? Was it Bill or Kevin?


The Other People in My Head

Not too long ago, I opined to a friend who is not a writer that I understood why certain parts of the writing process could be difficult, such as plotting or structure. “But,” I said, “I don’t understand why dialogue would be hard. We all use dialogue every day when we talk to each other. All you have to do is listen to the characters talking in your head and write down what they say.”

My friend gave me a look that was part humor, part concern. “Joanna,” she replied gently, “most of us do not have other people talking in our heads.”

Oh… Oops.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have other voices with me, other stories playing out behind the scenes as I went about my daily business. Sometimes it feels like I can direct the action, but often, I really am just an observer. The characters have minds of their own and trying to bend them to my will usually means that the story goes off the rails.

The benefit of this scheme is that I can do a lot of writing without having any sort of notepad or keyboard. When a story is going well, I just sit at my computer and download everything I’ve been thinking about in one go. I can write up to 15,000 words per day like this.

The downside to this particular writing process is that the people in my head don’t talk very loudly. Not that this is a bad thing overall. If they were too raucous, I’d probably end up with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Real life has to come first. However, when real life is demanding or stressful, the characters can be hard to hear.

I look like this a lot.

That is sort of where I am these days, as I am endeavoring to get a new book off the ground. These are unfamiliar characters to me, so I don’t know them very well yet. This means I need more silence—inner and outer—to be able to hear them. I am trying to create that space so that I can get started on the story, but it’s difficult with so much going on around me.

All this is to say…if you catch me staring off into space, not paying attention to my surroundings, I’m not deliberately ignoring you. I’m just momentarily listening to someone else.

Happily Ever After

Today is my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Someone asked me if they would be renewing their vows for the occasion. I replied that no, they’re just having a party because they really have those vows down by now. Richer and poorer, sickness and health. There’s no need to go over the fine print again because this marriage is fully battle-tested.

They met in college playing bridge. My father, a brilliant bridge player, hates to lose at anything and he quickly deduced my mother was smart enough to keep up with him. Plus, he thought she was cute. They played hours of cards together and his course grades plummeted. Dad was hooked.

Their own parents each had stormy marriages, so my parents had to create a new roadmap for what a happy couple looked like. Mostly, it meant that they strove to be nice to one another. This sounds like a small thing, but it’s actually quite huge. Many times we are polite to strangers but save our worst behavior for our loved ones. Not my parents. My mother would ask my father how his day was and actually listen to the answer. My father would show up periodically with flowers for no particular reason, other than they were pretty and he thought they would make her smile.

My parental units.

Not that they didn’t have arguments. I remember in particular some fun times driving around Europe in the days before GPS. My father drove the car while my mother pored over the map, trying to figure out where we were. By the time she’d located the street name, he’d driven somewhere else. I learned all my best swear words touring Europe with my parents!

But they have always supported each other. Mom proofread his scientific papers (just ask her about middle T!) and Dad took up the viola in middle age so that he could join her orchestra. They order the same meal in restaurants and can finish each other’s stories. One memorable Christmas they even gave each other the same book…wrapped in the same paper.

Happy endings often get a bad rap in fiction. They are dismissed as unrealistic or trite. Serious literature is filled with perennially unhappy characters who do terrible things to one another, sometimes in the name of love, as if purpose cannot exist without suffering. These books aren’t wrong, of course. Pain comes for us all in some form or another. Especially in the span of fifty years, you will find examples of suffering, if that’s what you’re looking for. You’ll also find light and laughter and the beauty of choosing the same person over and over again. It’s all in how you frame the story.

A few years ago, my mother told me she’d briefly broken up with my dad when they were dating. I asked him for his perspective on this apparent blip in their otherwise happy life together. “Dad, I had no idea that Mom broke up with you way back when!”

Dad, lowered his newspaper, a furrow in his brow. “She did?”

“You know, when she moved to New York and was seeing other people.”

“But I visited her in New York!”

“Yeah, so did other people, apparently. You’re telling me that Mom broke up with you and you never even noticed?”

“Huh. Guess so.” He raised his paper again, and I stared at him some more, amazed that he could continue calmly reading in the face of this shattering news. Mom had had serious doubts at one point! She’d dumped my dad for some other guy(s).

“Dad, this doesn’t bother you even a little bit?” I waved my arms around.

He peeked over the paper. “Why should it? I won.”

To Everything There Is A Season

Summer’s here! I love the hazy days of summer, when the sun lingers in the sky and school’s out and the pace of life seems just a bit slower. Summer in Boston means sailboats on the river, neighborhood ice cream trucks, and concerts on the common. There are days hot enough to sizzle the concrete and thunderstorms that rock the sky.

I like to set my stories in locations I know fairly well, either because I have lived there or visited often. Boston and its environs are most familiar to me, and I’ve placed The Vanishing Season in Massachusetts during the summertime. The oppressive heat adds to the sense of dread that Ellery has when she realizes the time has come for another person to go missing.

I’ve also resided in Southern California and traveled extensively in the USA and beyond, so other cities and towns show up in my stories. Each location has its own rhythms and flavors, and it’s fun to try to capture that sense of place on the page. Southern California, for example, gets rain so infrequently that the first time it happens during their “rainy season” the drivers all act like they have never seen water fall from the sky before. They either drive like they’ve got a newborn baby on board or they put the pedal to the metal figuring they’ll just outrun the rain and get home as quickly as possible.

Summer days seem to last forever.

Boston and its fellow East Coast cities are more humid. On hot days your clothes might melt against your body when you step outside. The windows on the subway cars become fogged with condensation—and oh yeah, you can smell your fellow passengers. But you also get blazing orange sunsets and sandy beaches and the bracing cold of the Atlantic Ocean. You get city sprinklers filled with dashing, laughing children, and the especially sweet taste of an icy popsicle on a hot day. There’s the smell of fresh cut grass and ocean breezes and backyard BBQs.

I especially love writing about summer when Boston’s showing off its other side—the several gray months of the year when its frozen under a blanket of snow and you find yourself ankle deep in slush when you step off the city curb. Writing about the cheery, sun-filled days helps me hang on until they come ‘round again, so I’m happy to use as many descriptive words as possible to bring them to life.

No, I Won’t Write Your Book for You

It’s a request so common that many authors have a FAQ devoted to it: “I have an idea for a book. What if I told you my idea and then you wrote it?” My book isn’t even out yet, and I’ve already been approached by a couple of people with this proposal, offering to split the profits 50/50.

First of all: 50-50? Putting the words on the page is at least 80% of the work!

Second of all: Just no. Coming up with the ideas is the fun part for most of us, including me, and we’re not looking to outsource that particular aspect of the job.

Still, the craft of writing and the business of publishing have a lot of learning around them, and no one is born knowing it all. Every successful writer has been a clueless newbie at some point, needing to rely on others to show them the way. In fact, I am still very new to all this and seek out the advice of more experienced writers all the time. I am grateful beyond belief when they spare a minute from their busy lives to help me.

If you’re a successful person in any industry or hobby, though, it’s not possible to help everyone. Steven Pressfield wrote a piece this week on how he draws the line at what he calls “clueless asks.” These would be questions from rude people, or those asking for information that is easily findable by looking for it yourself.

My husband, who is a software engineer, has a T-shirt that reads, “No, I won’t fix your computer.” The spoiler is that he totally will fix your computer as long as you are not a jerk about it. I think the same is probably true for writers. We do like to help each other out, even beginners, because we’ve all needed that help at some point in our careers.

I’m still not going to write your whole book for you, though. That kind of fun I am selfishly keeping for myself!

true crime

True Lies

One of my writer communities recently had a discussion on how much police procedure an author needs to know to write a convincing book. I think the answer depends on whom you wish to convince. If you want to sell your authenticity to real cops, then you’d better get every last detail right. If you want to sell your story to the average reader, then accurate legal procedure may actually get in the way.

I’m an avid consumer of true crime, and I marvel at the strange coincidences or jaw-dropping twists that you would have a hard time putting in work of fiction. For example, in one old case, Massachusetts cops visited a suspect’s apartment to ask him about a murder, only they find he wasn’t at home. They left their card in the door with instructions to get in touch, but surprisingly, the murderer instead skipped town. The cops never followed up because this guy was just one of many possible leads at the time. He was eventually apprehended in Pennsylvania after committing a few more homicides.

“We just didn’t get around to it” is not a plausible excuse for most readers, despite it being a very real problem for actual law enforcement officers who must balance competing cases.

Real-life cops must often wade through red tape and deal with budget restrictions that would bog down a novel. A sprinkle of bureaucracy can add realism, but readers don’t want to sit around with your hero or heroine while he/she waits months for a DNA result. Or maybe the result never comes at all. In Massachusetts at the moment, there is a terrible shortage of qualified medical examiners. This means that many bodies are only receiving a cursory external examination, and follow-up tests may take months or never occur at all.

Sheila Davalloo murdered a woman she considered a romantic rival, then tried to kill her husband too.

Or consider the bizarre tale of Sheila Davalloo, who somehow convinced her husband Paul to move to a hotel on the weekends so that she could carry on with her lover. Later she blindfolded Paul and stabbed him several times, all the while insisting she wasn’t actually trying to kill him. And he believed her! Prosecutors had to lay a lot of groundwork for the incredulous jury to accept Paul’s version of events, especially because he was a medical researcher earning a doctorate at Columbia University at the time. If he were a fictional character, we’d expect him to be smart enough to see through his wife’s outrageous lies.

Then there was the part where Sheila acted as her own attorney at trial, leading to a strange moment where she questioned Paul on the witness stand about who really committed her attack. “You…you stabbed me,” he said. Did she really think he was still in the dark after his open-heart surgery?

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it also moves a lot more slowly. It can take years to arrest and convict a murderer, even if the cops know who the guilty party is right away. Most mystery novels, in contrast, feature a case that is solved within days or weeks. If you’re going to tell a complete story in 300 pages, you have to pick up the pace. It’s important to get right what details you can. Beyond that, kindly readers will probably forgive you for fudging some of the finer points in favor of a compelling narrative.

Storytelling, Writing Advice

How to Write a Book

Preparing to write a book can be a daunting progress. It gives me the sweats each time. How do you even know where the beginning is? What if you can’t find the end? And, curse it all, what the heck do you put in that big empty middle? Some writers are plotters, meaning they construct detailed outlines for each chapter before they start the story. Others are pantsers, meaning they make it up as they go along—flying by the seat of their pants. I am somewhere in the middle. I’ve found if I write a detailed outline ahead of time, I won’t write the actual book because there is no surprise left in it for me. However, I do like to have a loose roadmap so that I can see where I am going.

There is no one path that a writer must follow. The best techniques are the ones that work for you.

When I am starting a new book, I picture myself standing in front of a long wall filled with doors. I could choose any door! Eventually, I pick a beginning, and that means choosing one of the doors. Once I go through it, I have a new wall in front of me with fewer doors, because the possible directions of the story have been constrained by the place I began it. So I pick one of these new doors and go through it to advance the narrative, and in doing so, reduce my choices for the next chapter even more. By the time I get to the end, if I’ve done my job right, there should be only one door. It’s marked THE END, and it’s the logical conclusion to everything that’s come before it.

I also subscribe to the Alton Brown theory of scene construction. Alton Brown has a rule that every tool in the kitchen must serve multiple purposes. No point in having a juicer that only does lemons, for example. Likewise, a scene in your book should ideally have multiple reasons for its existence. Here’s a short scene from something I wrote ages ago:

James Dean Trumbull had, at age thirty-nine, outlasted his namesake by a good fifteen years.  His mother had fallen in love with the fifties film idol’s tragic, romantic saga, and since Jimmy’s father was not around to dispute her name choice, James Dean had been reborn in a Hoboken hospital in 1960.  His mother was a great believer in karma, and she had felt the previous James Dean was cut down before he could achieve the successes due him.  By christening her son in the dead man’s name, she truly believed that fate would pick off where it had left off, and Jimmy would enjoy a magic carpet ride into history.

Forty years later, she was still waiting.

Jimmy sat at his cramped kitchen table, surrounded by avocado-colored appliances, and leaned closer to the scanner.  He had a cigarette in one hand and a pen in the other, just in case he heard something worth writing down on his brand-new tablet of paper.

Amy entered the room just as he was blowing out a smoke ring.  “If you must do that, at least go out to the stoop,” she said, waving her hand in front of her face.  She had

her night watchman’s uniform on, with its sensible black shoes, blue polyester pants, and a shiny metal gun hooked to her hip.

“Can’t,” he told her.  “Got to be in here to listen.”

“You listen to that damn box more than you do me.  Sitting here all the time with that radio playing constantly.  What if one of the kids had a nightmare or something?”

“I’d hear ’em.”  He blew out another long train of smoke and aimed it upstairs to where their children lay sleeping.  The police scanner crackled as the dispatcher radioed an armed robbery in progress.

Screw that, he thought.  Get to the good stuff.

Amy’s keys clattered onto the counter as she fished around in her purse for something.  “Well at least do the dishes if you’re going to be sitting here in the kitchen all night.”

“Something big is going down,” he said.  “You can tell.  No one’s saying anything yet, but you can hear it anyway.  They’re all on edge.”

She picked her heavy winter coat up from the back of a chair.  “You think you’re the only one with this toy?  You think there aren’t a hundred reporters out there listening to the exact same thing you are?  And they’ve got jobs, Jimmy.  The papers are going to take their stories over anything you might come up with.”

“That’s why I’ve got to stay on top of this.  I have to find an angle no one else has.”

Amy shook her head as if she had heard this story before.

“You wait,” he said.  “You’ll see.  I’ll get my headline and then everyone will want a piece of me.  I’m going to be an overnight sensation.”  He grinned and reached for her ass.  “You can say you knew me when.”

“I know you, all right,” she replied, ducking him.  She shrugged into her coat and picked up her old leather purse.  “I’ve got to run or McCracken will have my ass.”

“He can’t have it.  Your ass is mine.”

She made a face, but he could see the smile in her eyes.  “There’s leftover cupcakes in the fridge,” she said, leaning down to kiss him.

He’d seen them in there, right next to the beer: chocolate frosted cupcakes with little hearts on them for Valentine’s Day.  Amy talked tough, but she was such a sap.

“I’ll see you at six,” she said.

“Drive safe.”

She left out the back way, into the alley, and cold air stormed in through the kitchen, stirring the curtains and lifting the pages of his writing tablet. A voice crackled through on the scanner. “Five-six, be advised, the suspect has a previous warrant for attempted homicide.”

Jimmy leaned back with his smoke and listened.

This scene introduces Jimmy Trumbull as a would-be reporter searching for a big crime-related scoop. He’s a family man, watching the kids while his wife Amy works, but we can see there are limits to how much of himself he’s willing to give up for them: he won’t go outside to smoke.

The crimes he is waiting to hear on the radio form the backbone of the mystery, but the twist here is that Jimmy is the killer. He’s waiting for the cops to discover his handiwork. Finally, the other player introduced in this brief exchange is Amy’s gun. It’s crucial because the story ends with her using that gun to shoot Jimmy.

All this information is packed into 700 scant words. So that’s my other piece of book advice: make each line work hard for you. With all the effort you’re putting in, the least those words can do is hold up their end!

book recs

Foundational Reading: 10 Books That Stayed with You Over Time

I take something away from almost every book I read, but some have become part of my DNA. Here, in no particular order, are ten books that have changed how I think about life in some way.

The Gift of Fear, Gavin DeBecker

DeBecker does threat evaluation and security for celebrities and rich people, but his advice is valuable for everyone, especially women. If you think you’re in danger, you probably are, and you should listen to that voice telling you to get the hell out of there.

A Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel

This delightful memoir made me laugh so hard I cried, when it wasn’t alternating with breaking my heart. It’s a beautiful lesson in voice and storytelling.

Christie’s classic caper has been retold many times.

And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie


A masterwork in misdirection from one of the finest in the biz. I couldn’t believe it when this was assigned reading for one of my high-school classes. It was an acknowledgment that entertaining books could be worthy of serious study too!

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

A transporting tale that’s not about small things at all; it’s about family and identity and the death of dreams, all in such evocative language that I could smell each scene.

Ladykiller, Ed McBain

This fast-moving story takes place in one day, in which the detectives of the 87th Precinct receive a message that says, “I will kill The Lady tonight at eight. What can you do about it?” McBain’s mysteries always have really satisfying answers, and this one is one of the best.

The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule

You could not make this story up and be believed. A true-crime writer gets assigned to do a book on an ongoing series of murders, only to discover the culprit is her friend Ted. Ted Bundy is an archetypal serial killer at this point, and Rule provides one of the most intimate portraits of the man. I get something new from this book each time I read it.

 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

This book was one of my first loves. I think I read it twenty times in fourth grade alone, and not just because it has chocolate in the title. I loved the imagination of the Chocolate Factory and crazy Mr. Wonka, but I think I loved the part where the nasty, self-absorbed kids got what was coming to them even more. Fiction—the only place where one can truly get what one deserves.

The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

I needed to buy a Cliff Notes explainer to help me understand this novel the first time I read it, but after I caught on, I was blown away by the way the story of the family is interwoven through the various voices of its members.

Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett

What an audacious title! Here is one of the greatest mysteries of the universe—where did consciousness come from? Dennett gives it his best educated guess in this highly readable philosophical tour-de-force.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

This was another revelation assigned school reading did not have to be about torturous subjects that a fourteen-year-old girl could not relate to on any level. I grew up in an entirely white environment, and this book was one of my first exposures to the idea that America’s racial history is painful and ugly. Scout’s narration made that accessible to me at the time. These days, I try to get my stories about USA race relations from authors of color, but To Kill a Mockingbird was an initial shove in the right direction.

I always need recommendations for new books to read! What’s a book that has stayed with you over time?

How You Met My Mother

Dialogue is crucially important for any story. In a written tale, it’s possible to go inside someone’s head to learn what he or she is thinking, but in real life, our thoughts are mostly communicated by the words we speak to one another. Dialogue can advance a plot or reveal information—sometimes clumsily, as when the forensic technicians on CSI would explain the tools to one another for the benefit of their audience. Dialogue can also illuminate character through word choice and style. If you pick your phrases right, your reader will get a vivid picture of the speaker from just a few key sentences.

Take, for example, my mother. I could tell you lots of factoids about my mother. Instead, I’ll relay the following story and let you form your own conclusions:

The summer of my seventeenth year, I drove a car into my house. I had completed the Driver’s Ed classroom course with a hundred percent score. With my freshly printed permit in hand, I was eager to try my luck behind an actual wheel. My mother said I could have the keys and we set out with my little brother in tow to visit the local library.

We lived on the corner of a fairly quiet side street and a much busier main road. I backed the car out of the driveway okay and maneuvered it to the corner. I had never even turned a car on before, so the idea that I should take it onto the open road seemed ludicrous to me. My mother, however, was game on. “Turn the wheel and give it some gas,” she instructed.

For the record, I said, “Shouldn’t I be in a parking lot?”

My mother said, “Just make a right turn. It’s easy enough.”

She did not say how far to turn the wheel or how much gas to give it, so I turned the wheel very far and gave it a heck of a lot of gas. We made a hairpin turn at high speed, wrecking the rear axel of the car as we jumped the high curb.

Now we were hurtling across my front lawn, heading for the cement steps. “Brake! Brake!” my mother hollered.

“I’m trying!” I hollered back, sure that we were going to die. Problem was, I had no idea which pedal was which. I gave it even more gas.

Just picture a red Taurus instead of witch’s feet.

My mother jerked the wheel at the last minute, and instead of hitting the cement steps head-on, we demolished a group of bushes and careened into the front porch. I knocked a support beam out from under the front of the house, and it collapsed on top of the car, which is what finally stopped it.

We all got out, miraculously unharmed. A Ford Taurus lay dead in front of us, sticking out from under the house like the Wicked Witch of the East when Dorothy lands on her after the tornado. Hand to God, the first thing my mother said was, “I never liked those bushes anyway.”

So there you go. Now you know my mother. This is a line only she would say, and so it encapsulates her in a way that a long list of adjectives never could. It’s the same economy of description that I aim for when I’m inventing fictional people.

Amazingly, the car lived to ride again, but there is a sad epilogue to this story. Are you ready?

Those bushes grew back.


All I Need to Know about Pacing I Learned from 80s Television

This is truly the Golden Era of television, with inventive hits like Stranger Things, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Orange Is the New Black lighting up screens across the country. Today’s TV has more diverse casts, complex storytelling, and often…a way to skip the commercials. In our household, we DVR most of the TV we watch so that we only encounter ads during live sports events. I don’t miss the advertising, exactly, but I have to say that the commercial breaks during the 1980s TV dramas taught me a lot about how to pace a story. Maybe today’s generation is missing out?

I watched a bunch of those action-adventure/mystery shows back in the day. MacGyver. Scarecrow and Mrs. King. Moonlighting. They all followed a predictable time clock. Top of the hour, we’d get the introduction to the story, usually with a quick hook. Someone turned up dead or in trouble. Maybe there was a robbery or a kidnapping. This is what we call the inciting event. It’s the change in circumstances that sets your story in motion, and it should happen right near the beginning.

We had to get up to change the channel.

After the credits, we’d have that first fifteen minutes of show until the quarter-hour break. During this time, Our Heroes would react to the inciting event in whatever way was appropriate. They’d develop some initial suspects. Look for clues. Right around the first commercial break, there would be some big development to shove the story forward—the kidnap victim is alive! We must find her! Dropping this oomph right before the break is not accidental; the show wants to make sure you stay tuned. Similarly, you want to keep people reading, so you need to make sure that your story has these ‘must keep going’ twists included in the tale.

The half-hour break is longer, so you need to pull out the bigger guns to keep everyone’s butts in their seats during those Energizer Bunny and Avis Rent-a-Car commercials. This means you probably want some bigger twist here, something like the introduction of a new suspect. Maybe the wife did it, not the husband!

Your third quarter is all about subverting expectations and making life even more difficult for Our Heroes. This is the ‘it’s always darkest before the dawn’ sequence, and the part of the story where it looks like the bad guy might get away with it, or that the kidnap victim may die before they rescue her. Things look grim heading into that break at the 45-minute mark!

During the final quarter of the story, things turn around for Our Heroes. They catch a break or find some new evidence and the path to victory becomes clear. In today’s stories, the end isn’t always as clean or simple as it was back on 1980s TV. Our Heroes may get their bad guy but they are altered for the experience. Not every wrong can be put right. Still, most stories close out near where they began: whatever the inciting incident was, it has been resolved, for better or for worse.

That it, the show’s over! Now it’s time for your nightly news…which these days is a bigger horror story than anything Stephen King could ever write.

Did you watch 80s TV dramas? What lessons did you take away?