I’ve mentioned my love of The A-Team television show many times here on the blog, and I’m super excited about the movie that’s coming out on June 11. But you know what? I’ve also learned a lot from watching The A-Team — things that have helped me in my writing. Seriously. So without further ado, I give you this blog post, or Everything I know about writing, I learned from The A-Team:
Characters are the most important thing: Hannibal, B.A. Murdock, Faceman. All Vietnam vets and all with their distinct personalities. Hannibal was the thinker, the leader, and just as crazy as Murdock if you ask me. B.A. was the muscle, the guy with the bad attitude who’d just as soon punch you as look at you. Murdock was the crazy one with the overactive imagination and sly twinkle in his eye that hinted that maybe he wasn’t quite as loony as he appeared to be. Faceman was the pretty boy, the smooth talker and charming womanizer who could get his hands on anything, anytime, anywhere.
One of the reasons that I think The A-Team was so successful was that each one of these characters was distinctive, entertaining, and quirky in their own way. By themselves, they were all interesting enough, but put them together and watch them play off each other (especially Murdock and B.A.), and you had something really special.
The same thing applies to writing. My books are only as good as my characters. That’s why I give Gin Blanco and the rest of her gang different personalities, hobbies, and interests in my Elemental Assassin urban fantasy books. Gin Blanco is the strong one, the woman with the magic, the muscle, and the will to get things done. Finnegan Lane is the charmer, the shady investment banker who likes ferreting out other people’s secrets. Jo-Jo Deveraux is the wise healer, while her sister, Sophia, is the quiet, wounded one.
Every character has a role to play, different skills that can be of use, just like Murdock’s ability to fly anything with wings, Faceman’s ease at charming/conning anyone, Hannibal’s uncanny knack for getting the team out of tough situations, and B.A.’s just being tougher than anyone else around.
Sure, the individual characters matter, but sometimes, the real magic is in how they play off each other. How many times did B.A. threaten to annihilate Murdock? And how many times did we laugh and smile, knowing that in the end, they’d still be part of the team at the end of the day? I try to do the same thing in my books. Gin, Finn, and the others may have their squabbles, but they’re still a family when it matters most — and Gin will do anything to protect her family.
Action, action, action: Car chases, gun battles, kidnappings, rescues. If there was one thing that The A-Team had, it was plenty of action. One of the reasons that I don’t care for literary fiction that much is that nothing ever seems to happen. People talk about their feelings, mope around, and talk about their feelings some more, but that’s about it.
Well, not in The A-Team. You could always count on at least a couple of action sequences in every episode, whether it was the team running from the military police or taking down the bad guys in the end with whatever improvised weapons they came up with. Seeing what they created out of used gum and shoestrings was half of the fun.
I think it’s a winning formula. Car chases, gun battles, kidnappings, rescues — any of these things is enough to drive the action and propel your characters forward into even more danger, especially if you’re writing slam-bang urban fantasy like I am.
I always try to include a few fight scenes in each one of the Elemental Assassin books, a couple of small scenes that gradually lead up to Gin taking on the big bad at the end. Each scene, each fight, gets her into more and more trouble, until she’s forced to rely on all of her toughness, skills, and magic to defeat the villain. The only thing that Gin doesn’t do is make weapons out of scrap metal, bottles of soda pop, or kids’ toys — all things that The A-Team used at one time or another.
The better the villain, the better the story: My favorite episodes of The A-Team were always the ones where the team was really pushed to the limits by the villains. Like in Season #2 in Deadly Maneuvers when the team was threatened by a group of mercenaries, who captured Murdock, Faceman, and B.A., and poisoned Hannibal. Or the two-part When You Comin’ Back, Range Rider?, also in Season #2, which introduced Colonel Decker, who was easily the best and most capable of the military policemen sent after the team.
In other words, your heroine is only as good as the bad guy that you put her up against. That’s why in each one of my Elemental Assassin books, I give Gin progressively tougher and tougher opponents to test her and get her ready for the inevitable confrontation that’s coming up with her lifelong nemesis. Along the way, Gin has to come up with new ways to get out of her latest scrap, as well as learning new things about herself and realizing that her magic/powers/confidence are growing.
It’s always good when stuff blows up: There’s something really beautiful and artistic about a well-done fight scene, whether it’s in a TV show, movie, or book. The slow-motion explosions, the cascade of bullet casings, the dancing leap of smoke and flames into the sky. The A-Team excelled at blowing stuff up. Folks always complain that no one ever seemed to get hurt on the show, but that wasn’t the case. B.A. was injured a couple of times (most notably in Black Day at Bad Rock in Season #1), and Murdock almost died of a gunshot wound in Curtain Call in Season #2. Not to mention all the punches that the guys took and threw over the years.
I may not blow as much stuff up in my books as they did on The A-Team, but I really enjoy writing action/fight scenes, in finding new and different ways for Gin to overcome her enemies, and trying to make it fun and readable all at the same time – even if there’s no bombastic theme music playing in the background. And yes, I love The A-Team theme music because it’s upbeat, catchy, and infinitely hummable.
Have some fun and mix it up: One of the things that I enjoyed the most about The A-Team was that it was just a fun show. Hannibal, Faceman, Murdock, B.A. Whether they were on the run from the military police or about to square off with some bad guys, none of them took things too seriously, especially not Murdock, with his invisible dog, Billy (mentioned in several episodes).
Also, something else that I appreciated was the fact that the guys went somewhere new and got involved in something different every single week. During the course of the show, the guys did everything from take charge of a soda-bottling plant (Trouble Brewing in Season #3) to work as firefighters (Fire in Season #3) to get involved in racecar driving (Blood, Sweat, and Cheers in Season #4).
The same thing applies to my books. I’m not writing the next great American novel, and I don’t want to. My Elemental Assassin books are genre fiction, and my goal with them is just to entertain folks — to give people an action-packed escape to another world, if only for a few hours, just like The A-Team did for me as a kid.
And I try to mix it up a little with every book. The overall formula stays the same, but I try to take Gin and readers to new places in Ashland, my gritty Southern metropolis. For example, in Spider’s Bite, readers got to see the Ashland Opera House. In Web of Lies, folks will go to Country Daze, an old-fashioned country store up in the mountains above Ashland. You always want to expand your world a little with every book that you write and give your characters new places to explore.
I love it when a plan comes together: Say what you will about The A-Team, but you always got a satisfying conclusion at the end of the hour. The bad guys got what was coming to them, the good guys were free to prosper, and the team was thumbing their noses at the military police yet again, before racing off in the van to help someone else.
In other words, give your audience what they want. If you’re writing romance, you gotta have that happily ever after in there, or your readers are going to feel cheated. The mystery has to be solved, the world needs to be safe once more … you get the idea. That’s why at the end of each one of my Elemental Assassin books, Gin has defeated the bad guy, learned a little something about herself and her magic, and is looking forward to her next challenge.
Hannibal always loved it when a plan came together, and I feel the same way about my books — especially when I finally get to type The End.
So there you have it — all the things that I learned about writing just from watching The A-Team. Comments? Questions? Ask away.