Pardon the Entrails
Will Ludwigsen

Get Lost:
Delivering Mystery and Meaning to the Starving

Dear Author:

Thank you for your interest in the Dickens-Dumas Writing Academy for Serial Fiction. We're proud to have among our alumni staff writers from shows such as Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Scrubs, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Heroes, not to mention dozens more--people who deliver the two things their readers and viewers desperately need:

  • Gossip. Human beings have an ancient and deeply-engrained need for gossip, usually as a means to establish relationships in the tribe by comparing values and reputations. In a society of collapsing neighborhoods and fleeting social connections, the deeply-seated human need for gossip can now best be satisfied by fiction. Continuing series characters in books and on television now provide the common pool of human beings we can all discuss.
  • Meaning. In a society of complicated mysteries, viewers and readers are desperate for any hint that their questions and worries will one day be definitively addressed. We'll never know why Grandpa hated people from Pennsylvania or why we elected George W. Bush twice to the presidency, but we have a good shot at knowing for sure who all of the Cylons are.

Our skilled instructors will coach you through the theory and practice of providing gossip and meaning to starving audiences, regardless of your skill or experience!

Are you weak with dialogue? No worries: Babylon 5 sounded like a high school play written by Ayn Rand, full of heady dramatic pronouncements and clumsy emotion. Yet its continuing story delivered the gossip and meaning its viewers wanted.

Are you less than skilled with story logic and structure? Relax: Lost will have to hire Charles Manson as a writing consultant to figure out a way to reconcile all its mysteries, but millions watch it every week hungry for more.

Whether you're a writer with real voice and vision or a desperate hack just looking to snort cocaine from the ass cracks of famous people, we can make you successful. We'll teach you how to pull the brain stems of your audience with a simple thirteen step program:

  1. Offer an army of characters in a wide range of archetypes (or, less charitably, stereotypes). Give us the friends we wish we could have: the bad boy with a heart of gold, the repressed Asian looking for a cool American to show him how to "let loose," the broken-hearted heroine who just needs to learn to love again.
  2. Imply a bizarre series of interrelationships between these characters, some obviously the result of conspiracy or destiny. Cross and collide and intersect their lives.
  3. Give each character a devastating secret to protect. Let one other character figure it out.
  4. Relentlessly assault your characters with weird circumstances that even you don't understand. Freeform brainstorming and LSD help this process greatly. Polar bears in the jungle? Hot damn! A secret underground city of retired circus freaks? Great! Dinosaurs in the mall? Magnetic anomalies? Club-footed lesbian aborigines? Now you're thinking!
  5. Explain your mysteries as slowly as possible. Trickle your revelations like coins from a miser's hand. The same power of intermittent reinforcement that keeps people pulling the slot machine handle will keep them buying your books and watching your show because MAYBE, JUST MAYBE someone will give them an answer tonight.
  6. Insert at least one doomed romance. Let the characters dance around each other before hooking up briefly. Then estrange them because "it just wouldn't work." Hint that they'll eventually get together anyway, but offer a painfully sincere consolation lover in the meantime.
  7. Make your characters suffer interminably, unrelentingly.
  8. Stretch your series out as long as you can. If necessary, add more characters, more relationships, more mysteries. Maybe even resolve a few. When it doubt, shovel it on!
  9. Kill a character every now and then. Cull the herd. Be sure first to give that character his or her most meaningful moment right before the death, though. Sometimes resurrect a character, too.
  10. Hint that your book series or television show has a secret and finite plan, a complete arc and a certain ending. This even works for God, come to think of it.
  11. When your show lapses in popularity or you tire of contriving weird shit all the time, announce that your plan is complete.
  12. For your final book or episode, retreat with your writing staff to a cabin in the woods. Bring lots of whiteboards, dry erase markers, index cards, liquor, and whatever tattered heap of bar napkins you've collected as your "series bible." Maybe even buy your own DVDs or previous volumes, too. Then spend the weekend watching and reading what you've already done and try to figure your way out. Don't worry: this works just like college--if you sit long enough steeped in alcohol among crumpled papers, something will occur to you. The crazier, the better.
  13. For the rest of your life, nod sagely at all questions about your work and say things like, "Well, that's one interpretation of the Plan."

Now, you can use these tips for good or for evil. We take no responsibility for what you do after emerging from our program. Maybe you'll make another Buffy. Maybe you'll make another Enterprise. Who can say? With some natural taste and talent, you might add to our cultural conversation and wallow in heaps of filthy cash. Without them, you'll just wallow in the filthy cash. It's win-win for you...and for your legions of future fans.

All we ask from our graduates is a small portion of the proceeds, negotiated upon assessing your talent and popular appeal via the enclosed questionnaire. We also accept souls without previous liens.

Thank you for your application, and best of luck with your career!


Will's story "In Search Of," a meditation on the need for mystery, is available in the June 2008 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. You can learn more about Will at his website, www.will-ludwigsen.com.

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