Writing for TV: Stranger Things Pilot
Unlike most television series, Stranger Things is the center of discussion whenever it airs. It doesn’t matter how much time is left in between seasons. You can count on Twitter to be a lively Stranger Things discussion whenever the show has something new.
Considering the show's significance, it offers a lot of knowledge to aspiring screenwriters. Any show that can generate that buzz is a fine example of great screenwriting and longevity. With this in mind, below will discuss writing for TV and the importance of Stranger Things as a writer.
Still from 'Stranger Things'. Photo credit: Pat Verducci
The Blending Of Genres
Part of the reason Stranger Things is so appealing is because of its large target audience. It doesn’t pigeonhole itself into a strict genre, meaning it blends several genres into a great show. As a result, you can have everyone from Sci-Fi nerds to people who love coming-of-age stories come together to love the show.
However, Stranger Things blends the genres well enough that it doesn’t feel inconsistent. Whether it’s an intense Sci-Fi action scene, a dramatic farewell, a comedic moment, or the kids being kids, it all works. Hence, you can find people from varying demographics who love the show.
The nostalgia-bait question is a polarizing subject in screenwriting. Some argue that people over-utilize nostalgia to make up for flaws in their stories. We see this in the latest horror franchise reboots that don’t do too well critically but are appealing audience-wise (mainly because of the nostalgia of the franchise).
Although Stranger Things utilizes nostalgia a lot (specifically its 1980s setting), it usually does tastefully, where it doesn’t annoy critics, fans, or feel cheap. Some were worried about its use of nostalgia in season three and the mall setting, but the brilliance of season four put that to rest.
Yes, the show used Master of Puppets by Metallica and Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God by Kate Bush as part of its nostalgia-fest in season four. However, what nostalgia critics don’t realize is the show had excellent writing, acting, and directing on top of it. It’s done tastefully, not as a cheap way to gain a following.
If you were to tell the average person who had never heard of Stranger Things about the show, they most likely would have a general idea of what to expect. “So, a darker version of Stand By Me and ET featuring a lot of Sci-FI?” Sounds simple enough, right?
As apparent as some of the tropes might be, Stranger Things understands the importance of unpredictable writing. Right from season one, the show could’ve quickly done the same story in the next season as so many shows with great first seasons do. Instead, the show went an entirely different route to keep it fresh and unpredictable.
Not Everything Needs an Explanation
Furthering the idea of unpredictable writing, Stranger Things does a great job at introducing story points and characters without overly explaining everything. It’s not to say the show goes the David Lynch route and lets the weirdness take over, leaving it up to interpretation.
The show explains enough that it keeps us wanting more, allowing more episodes to demand us back. Take the character Eleven; we know significantly more about her in season four than in season one. However, that doesn’t mean we know everything. There’s still a lot to find out, which is a sign of a great show.
Going back to the idea of nostalgia, most of Stranger Things' nostalgia centers around its setting, being a small U.S. town in the 1980s. The 1980s appeals to younger generations because it feels alien-like while simultaneously being significant to older generations.
Its setting is a win-win for many people, and it becomes more enjoyable when combining its Sci-Fi elements. The ordinary feel of a town going through something otherworldly is an exciting setting, no matter how you paint it. However, the show does a great job of changing the setting (the mall, prison, the upside down, etc.) to keep it fresh.
Furthering its ability to craft a great story comes with its fantastic characters. The comparisons to other young coming-of-age stories are because of the core group of friends in the show. We feel like we’re watching a bunch of buddies living their day-to-day lives when something insane happens that’ll change them for years. In a way, we are.
The last and most crucial writing lesson from Stranger Things is its willingness to take risks. Many shows like Stranger Things try to stick with a formula instead of what the show has been doing. We’re introduced to new characters and concepts, some of which anger or upset us. That level of risk-taking makes for great television, and there’s a reason Stranger Things continues to be as successful as it has been.