This is my anniversary piece, Blog #1, as I am opening this site today with my first post. Since it is the day of the American launch of the sixth and last season of Downton Abbey, I choose to comment on the incomparable Lord Julian Fellowes.
What a masterful writer! And he seems an unassuming gentleman, something we Americans probably expect from Englishmen, right? He is an extremely accomplished human being, a film director, actor, novelist, and holds a seat in the House of Lords.
If you want to become a better writer, I daresay a great writer, fix your eyes on the screen of the Downton Abbey programs. Don’t miss a beat. You will peer inside the mind of a creative genius. As you watch, try to think like Julian Fellowes does, as a writer. It is easy to get lost in the story lines and the fascinating, multi-faceted characters and all the subplots and intrigues. But, try to focus on the actual process he used to create this outstanding work.
I remember when I got hooked on the characters. They started feeling like real people to me. As a viewer, I got a little perturbed with their creator. Some of my favorite people were constantly harassed, their lives were threatened with ruin. I started getting angry at him (not really), but disturbed. Why was he not letting up on them? What was his past like? Had he met nothing but evil-plotting people whose main reason for existence was to destroy others?
And then it hit me. Yes, those people exist and he was using them to his advantage, casting them in his Downton Abbey creation. And, not to be missed, this is the finest example of antagonist use I have seen in a very long time.
Lord Fellowes does not need explosions or shock scenes or gore. You don’t need that when you are a great writer. In fact, I dare you to write something today that omits those things. Focus on character development and story line with subplots galore. Add animosity between some family members, add an unstable character (or two) hell-bent on the destruction of others. Destroy those characters, too, while you’re at it. Or redeem them.
I’d like to share an activity with you that I employ which improves my writing. Watch an excellent program like Downton Abbey with your laptop in front of you. Keep your eyes on the video screen as much as you can. Type as you watch. Translate what you are seeing into words on your page. It’s a sort of exercise of reverse writing. It is a way to dissect a creation, to go back to the beginning of the author’s creative process. This is a mental exercise. Your mind will subconsciously allow you to improve your writing, to be a quicker thinker in your own creations, to better understand many facets of character interaction and more.
This reverse writing practice is a tremendous method to avoid writer’s block, to get your own writer’s juices flowing. When you immerse yourself in a great creation like this, you are learning to hone the craft of writing. The more you know, the easier it is to put your words on a page.
I can’t leave without saying this. What is Julian Fellowes thinking? He is putting the brakes on a series that could go strong another ten years. He is quitting after six years? I don’t know the background motivation for this decision, but think about it. Isn’t this what we writers salivate over in our dreams? We want to be big, successful, well-known writers who produce magnificent works.
Well, Julian Fellowes is all those things. I am grateful to him for his creation of Downton Abbey. For you fans of his work, he is releasing a new historical drama as a downloadable app (what a modern guy!) in weekly installments. It starts in April and is called Belgravia.
I still want Downton Abbey to continue so I can revel in more years of this exceptional entertainment and all because Julian Fellowes has mastered the art of writing.
Are you as sad as I am to see Downton Abbey end?