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Writing Notes on Brilliant Legacy

So I'm gearing up for Nano (I don't do it by the rules, I just use the momentum to make progress on an existing WIP). Since moving in August and also finishing up a project, I've been doing the refill-the-well bingeing that seems to be necessary between projects and large moves. It's also writing education, and I need it. Right now I'm finishing up a drama from 2009 called Brilliant Legacy (or Shining Inheritance, depending on how you translate it). Among others, it stars Han Hyo Joo, whose work I really like. I keep stopping to take notes on the show, because it's really well written, and I think it does a number of things well that are useful to study if you're trying to push your book into something more. A brief summary:

Eun Sung (Han Hyo Joo) comes home to Korea from studying in NYC to find that her father's company has gone bankrupt. As they are starting the bankruptcy procedures, her father is reported as a victim in a gas explosion. He leaves behind his wife, her daughter from another marriage (Seung Mi, who is the same age as Eun Sung), Eun Sung, and autistic younger brother Eun Woo (they are both from his first marriage). Claiming she has no money left, the stepmother immediately kicks Eun Sung and Eun Woo out of the house. She gives them money (which is stolen the first night), and they are left on their own. It's hard to find a place to live with an autistic brother, but they finally find shelter with a friend, and Eun Sung goes to work serving tables at a bar. While she's at work, Eun Woo wanders off and gets lost. Stepmother finds him, but drives him out of town and dumps him outside a house without telling anyone. Eun Sung starts selling street food in an attempt to survive.

Meanwhile, enter the halmoni, a grandmother who was once poor who built up a restaurant company and still gives back to the poor. She's disturbed to realize that her family loves money and only money. She goes out on the street to ponder what to do, and ends up falling down some stairs. Eun Sung finds her and brings her home to take care of her until her memory returns/she recovers. When she does, she is so impressed with Eun Sung's care that she brings her home, promising to set detectives on the loose to look for her brother. And, she changes her will. She disinherits her family and her grandson Hwan (a lazy, grouchy dude who Seung Mi likes because he's actually nice to her)--and writes in Eun Sung, instead. As you can imagine, tension ensues. Whether it's for money or love, everyone wants to drive Eun Sung out of there, and the one thing holding her in to the situation is finding her brother. It's good.

1. Characters have complete lives and personalities even before the plot starts. The main character, Eun Sung, has actual friends. She has skills and life plans. She wasn't just a void waiting for a plot to fall out of the sky. She was a person, and then a plot came along that complicated an already well-developed life. This is something that is hard to pull off, and also hard to explain when critiquing. Your reader needs to feel like the characters still exist, even when the book is closed.

2. Family relationships are just really well done here. It's kind of part of #1, I guess, but I think it deserves special mention. Families are complex, and I feel like this really goes through all different kinds of tensions and ties that can run through them. I especially enjoyed the noona-dongsaeng (older sister/younger brother) relationship between Eun Sung and her autistic brother Eun Woo. It came across as very natural and loving. (Noonas are important in Korean culture, apparently. I like it because I have girls who also look out for their younger brother, and it's nice to see that recognized.)

3. Stakes. This is one of those kind of plots where it all comes out of the characters. The writer came up with all the stakes/desires/breaking points of each character, then wound them up and let them loose on the table, and watched them crash into each other. Each character has something/someone they'd sacrifice anything for. It's both their strong point, and their weak spot, because other characters can manipulate them through that. Eun Sung's is her brother. Her stepsister Seung Mi's is Hwan, the boy she's liked for 8 years. The stepmother's is money. Some of the characters have multiple values, and what they ultimately stake their lives on might not be what other characters expect.

4. Character growth. The character of Hwan is pretty unlikable at the beginning, and of course he is supposed to grow and learn to be a much more decent person by the end. However, it is a process for him to get there. The thing that keeps the viewer from hating him and makes you want to stick with him is that early on, you see a couple instances of his potential. Yes, yes, it's Save the Cat stuff, but it's handled in a believable way. You see some backstory of some kind things he did before the plot started, and you also see him affected by tragedies of others--which echo difficult things that have happened to him. He doesn't show that empathy for a long time to others, but as a viewer, you see it, so you are convinced. That's what you have to do in writing, too. Even if the other characters don't see it yet, you've got to somehow convince the reader that this character is worth sticking around for. (In writing, though, I think you have to make that claim even earlier than in a drama.) You don't necessarily have to show the silver lining to the other characters, but I do think you have to show the reader.

5. Mirroring similar characters who choose different paths. I really like mirroring; it underlines thematic and character elements so well. Multiple times, you have characters whose setups are similar, but they make vastly different kinds of choices, and create themselves into very different kinds of people by the end.

6. The antagonists are strong. Actually, the writer scares me a little, because I would have maxed out long ago on how to up the ante with the stepmother. Every time Eun Sung makes a move, you think, whew, the girl finally found a way to best her stepmother once and for all. And then...the stepmother finds yet another way to twist the knife and cover her sins. The stepsister, Seung Mi, is a very pitiable character. She's caught with very little choice in the matter, as she's wholly dependent on her mother, and the only other person she has is Hwan, who is falling for Eun Sung. Seung Mi tells the truth 95% of the time, so people believe her--and then she distorts the other 5% because she doesn't want to lose the only thing she has. I'm hoping she comes out with a conscience, but...I don't know yet.

I realize not many people are on LJ anymore, but I just need a place to stick my notes. It's just really useful to study what another book does well, and to take it apart and figure out how they did that.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 26th, 2016 06:35 pm (UTC)
I've never watched Asian drama, but your description is making me want to watch this one! Great points about the writing, as well.
Oct. 26th, 2016 06:56 pm (UTC)
Ohhh, I think you would like it! I don't know about Chinese (I do know that Japanese has a very different style of storytelling), but Korean drama in particular is so very well done, and so very appealing to a western audience. Kdramas are the closest things to books that I know (aside from, yanno, books). There are of course all different genres and some dramas are better than others, but some of my favorites include W--Two Worlds (web comic author's characters come alive for real), Pinocchio (title references truth-telling, not Italian marionettes--about family loyalty versus truth telling in the context of news reporting), I Hear Your Voice (a thriller about revenge vs forgiveness, plus ESP), and Master's Sun (an odd girl who sees ghosts, a department store CEO whose mall is full of them, and faith in things not seen that have nothing to do with money). They're usually 16-20 episodes (1 hour each) long, and really excel in character development. From the kinds of books/movies you like, and the books you write, I suspect you would really love some of these.
Oct. 28th, 2016 09:58 pm (UTC)
I just came back on LJ and this post is just great. Reminds me I have a brain and friends with brains...
Oct. 28th, 2016 10:47 pm (UTC)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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