As you may or may not remember, I have written about different approaches to writing: ie, pantsing, planning, outlining, etc. No two people are exactly the same, and there is no ‘one size fits all’. (There isn’t with clothes, either, but try and convince the clothing industry of that.)
So, what does that have to do with Jon Bokenkamp? Patience, grasshopper.
Not only are there different approaches to writing, there are different styles of writing. There are writers who focus on exposition, and others who focus on dialogue. There are those who rock the stream-of-consciousness thing (think Patrick Ness) and those who absolutely own the grand fantasy with it’s fully realised history/language/quest/thing (yeah, I’m looking at you, Lord of the Rings).
And no, that’s not what I’m going to talk about, either. So if I’m not talking about approach or style, what am I talking about? And what does it have to do with Jon Bokenkamp?
Allow me to get to the point. Besides approach to writing and style of writing, there is another point of difference for writers. That difference is whether you are primarily a character-driven writer or primarily a plot-driven writer. If you’re lucky, or if you work really hard, you can be both; but it’s uncommon enough for me to find such a writer that when I do find one, they immediately spring into my Fluid Top Three Writers category. (Think Kate Stradling, for instance, one of the best indie authors I’ve ever read.) I’m a character-driven writer mostly. I’ve had to work very hard to become so, and I worked myself so hard because I like to read and watch things that are character-driven. Don’t get me wrong: I love a clever plot-line. But if that clever plot-line has no interesting/engaging characters, I’ll lose interest.
This is where I get to my appreciation of Jon Bokenkamp. I started watching The Blacklist primarily because the TV ads appealed to me. They looked cool, amusing, and interesting. Also, James Spader is a great actor. What kept me watching it, however, was a single, great character. Jon describes The Blacklist as a ‘chosen one’ storyline, which interested me very much, since Red isn’t the sort of character one immediately thinks of as a mentor-figure (yeah, take that, Yoda), and since until I heard him say that, I had thought of The Blacklist as primarily Red’s story.
At first it was all about Red for me. But Jon didn’t leave the characterisation at just one cool, fully realised character. He built the others up as well. Lizzy started growing, Cooper developed layers, and even Ressler, who I initially disliked because he seemed to be there simply as the scowling pretty-boy, began to get interesting. As a writer who appreciates characterisation more than almost anything else in a story-line, I found myself delighted.
Now, if The Blacklist had been merely about the great characters, I would have enjoyed it anyway. There are so many little conversational touches used to advance the characterisation; so many implied, unspoken moments that speak to motive and feeling. It’s a beautifully, beautifully done show.
The thing is, it doesn’t stop there. The plot lines (and especially the plot-line for The Freelancer, which I greatly enjoyed) are amazing. There are times when, watching The Blacklist, I find myself grinning like an idiot and saying: “Oh, that’s brilliant!” I don’t want to put down any of the actors (they do a fantastic job) but most of the time, that reaction is purely from the writing of the episode. As a writer myself, there are things I’ve learned from watching The Blacklist that I never expected to learn.
In closing, I’d like to say that Yes, I do know that Jon Bokenkamp is not the only writer for The Blacklist. To all of the writers I could find listed on the internets- you guys are doing an amazing job. But mostly I want to express my appreciation to Jon Bokenkamp, whose writing and direction have taught me things about writing I didn’t realise could be learned from screenwriting.
Also my disappointment that Jon isn’t fifty-odd with a huge beard, cos I kinda expected that.