Friday, 1 February 2013

What I Learned From Last Week's Episode of Castle

There’s no new episode of ABC’s Castle this week and while some of you may not care, Castle is my favourite show, surpassing all past and present television shows in my mind. So when it’s not on it makes me sad and when I get sad I usually write (or sing) so today I’m actually going to be talking about Castle in vague relation to writing.
So first of all, if you don’t know, Castle follows the story of a best-selling murder mystery novelist who shadows an NYPD detective, writing a series of novels based on their adventures together and eventually forming a romantic relationship with her. It stars Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle and Stana Katic as Detective Kate Beckett and is currently in the middle of its fifth season (working towards their 100th episode in April). If you’re really interested, Hyperion Publishing House has published all four books in the Nikki Heat series (the series Richard Castle wrote based on his adventures) and I’ve been told by people who aren’t Castle fans that they’re good so take my word when I recommend them for a good read.

Last week (January 21st) marked episode 5x12: “Death Gone Crazy” in which the creator of a well-known porn company “College Girls Gone Crazy” is murdered in the women’s bathroom of his night club. While watching the episode there were a few things that came to mind that I think can be applied to writing. In no particular order:
   1)      You can reuse a plot if it’s still relevant to the situation. The overall plot of the murder in this episode is eerily similar to one that took place in season two. You can either look at that as them just reusing a plot or you can look at it as a round structure which is used a lot to reflect a character or characters’ personal growth throughout a story. So reusing situations in that context is, in my opinion, a good tool to use.

   2)       Foreshadowing is a great way to create plot twists. This one might be a bit obvious but I really like this one: make the audience believe something is foreshadowing events to come but in reality it’s setting up something completely different. This is classic, you fake right and then move left. In this particular example, the writers are setting up a rumor regarding a certain character’s status, when in reality they’re taking the character in a different direction.
   3)      Romance in a romantic scene does not have to be overwhelming. After four years of working together the main characters finally started a relationship this season and while the first few episodes featured them in ridiculously romantic situations the following episodes were rather subdued in terms of romance. Some fans have been complaining actually about the lack of pure, sickeningly sweet romance but I think this is a perfect example of how to write a love story. These character’s haven’t stopped being in love and they by no means have stopped showing affection towards each other but once you’ve established that yes, they are in fact kissing and having sex and being mushy, you don’t need to overemphasize it and you certainly don’t need to show every single sex scene. What’s more romantic than stolen kisses in the office is a comfortable companionship and being best friends with your lover; working with them as you always have with the added bonus of getting to fall into bed with your arms around them every night. That’s romance.

4)      Balance the sub and main plots because they are both important. The show ‘Castle’ is famous – among its fans – for having mirroring plots that always tie into one another in some way. Whether it’s Castle’s home life reflecting the situation of a murderer or a victim or a clue is revealed through something no one else but a retired diva or a college student would have thought of. Regardless, the sub and main plots in the story are always strong and they’re always relevant. There is never a scene just for the sake of a scene. Everything has purpose.

5)      Every character (good, bad or neutral) has a sob story. I think this one’s obvious but it came up in the episode so I’ll say it again. Every villain, every victim, every average Joe walking across the street has a backstory – a reason for being there and a reason for doing everything. You want at least one reader to identify with one of your characters (every single one) and in order to do that, they need a story.

6)      Dropping information through dialogue is only good if it fits the character. Information dropping is the epitome of ‘show don’t tell’ and I love it but sometimes it seems like characters know things that they shouldn’t or wouldn’t given who they are which is cool and fine – I know lots of tidbits that an introverted classics major wouldn’t know – but not when it’s a consistent thing. I don’t want to name names – but their name ends with -eckett – but some characters seem to know everything. Make it believable that your character would know it. You don’t have to explain in detail why a certain character knows the actress who works mainly in soft porn but don’t leave the reader questioning how the hell they know it.

7)      Clothing is an essential part to any character, scene or mood. I actually get really frustrated with this on Castle where the woman who works as a cop and has for over a decade, dresses like a supermodel. Granted the actress
        is a goddess who simply walks among us mortals to show us what perfection
        is like but that’s not really what the character is like. Clothing is like a cross over between scenery and character. Every single outfit needs to reflect the character, the scene they’re in, the situation, the mood of the scene. Clothing can (and should) define a character. How they present themselves can say so much to an audience.

8)      Following police procedure is only necessary when it doesn’t obstruct dramatic effect. It’s almost like a joke on some shows that cops don’t actually do what they’re supposed to do. The only example I can think of off the top of my head of a t.v. cop who follows the rules is Sgt. Wu from NBC’s Grimm. In other words: DO YOUR RESEARCH. If you’re writing contemporary fiction please know what the proper procedure is in a situation – especially when police or other related professions are involved. Your readers will know.

And that’s it. It’s a lot longer than I intended but I think these are all relevant to writing in general. Do you agree or disagree with any of this? Let me know in the comments below.
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  1. Good list and I agree! I need to watch this show.

  2. I recently got into Castle. I'm not sure I find it totally believable that an author spends most of his time going around solving crimes, but I enjoy it anyway. :)

    1. Oh, I know. In terms of realism when it comes to crime and writing, it sort of gets worse over time but it's still good. And the books themselves are really good - I think anyways.