More lessons from Korean Television

Kim Sam-Soon: just another K-drama to add to my addiction list…

K-drama, a.k.a. Korean soap operas, dramatic series, and romantic comedy series, are the only form of TV I’ve been watching of late…  Pretty much since I moved to Germany since Arirang is one of our only channels in English (along with Russia Today, Aljazeera, China Central Television, and Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai), I end up watching more than the average American’s share of Korean TV.

As I’ve said before: I love it.

My most recent addiction has been a fabulous show called “My Name is Kim Sam-Soon” (you can watch it all on YouTube!!), which is a romantic comedy series.  Kim Sam-Soon, the show’s MC, is a Bridget Jones-like woman with a desire to lose weight and find a husband (the need for marriage being even more pronounced in Korean society than American), except that I happen to love Kim Sam-Soon a thousand times more than Bridget Jones.  She’s a hilarious, endearing, and out-of-luck pastry baker.

The one thing that has me impressed (and continuing to watch) is the clear 3-act structure that the show follows — and followsseamlessly.  In other words, I recognize the components that constitute a 3-act story, and I’m constantly questioning what will happen next.

Best of all: these are techniques I can infuse into my own stories to add more punch.  Way more punch.  Allow me to illustrate.

Act 1: Sam-Soon’s life is thrown into turmoil when she catches her boyfriend of 3 years cheating on her at a posh Seoul hotel…  In her distress, she runs into the bathroom to cry…only it’s the men’s room.  Here she meets a restaurant-owner who justhappens to be in need of a pastry chef (a handsome, young restaurant owner, I might add).  She walks through Doorway #2 and into the Act 2 when she starts to work for him.

Lessons to Learn:

  1. Kim Sam-Soon actively chooses to pursue a path outside of the ordinary.
    • Does your MC actively choose to follow his/her path?
  2. By stepping through the first doorway (a.k.a. plot point 1), Sam-Soon’s life (and the path of the story) heads in a new direction, and no matter what, she can’t go back to the “ordinary” life she had before.
    • Does your MC take the story in a new direction, and is it a path that, once taken, cannot be taken back?

Now rather than suffer from the sagging middle (or Act 2 that lacks enough plot to propel forward and retain a reader/viewer’s interest), a whole new set of conflicts and subplots enter into the show’s story.

Act 2: A love triangle blossoms as boyfriends and girlfriends from the past enter the fray.  Subplots with secondary characters develop, and the stakes rise as Kim Sam-Soon starts to develop feelings for the restaurant-owner.  She walks through the second doorway and into Act 3 when she….  I don’t want to ruin the story for you!!  I’m sure you can figure this out…it happens in episode 11 (or 16).

Lessons to Learn:

  1. During Act 2, the story reaches the well-known “midpoint” followed by the “black moment”.  These two terms indicate that the Kim Sam-soon has reached her lowest point (there’s no chance she’ll ever get married, the restaurant owner doesn’t return her feelings, her family needs money, and she’s got no job).  But she comes out of this funk with some new insight that propels her into Act 3.
    • Is there a point in your plot where the MC has sunk so low, is in so much trouble, that he/she has no alternative but to transform into a person willing and able to conquer it all?
  2. I had no idea what Sam-Soon would do next at her lowest-of-lows, and at the same time I had no idea what the male lead (the restaurant owner) would do next.
    • Do your readers know your characters well, and yet are still left constantly kept guessing as to what the characters will choose to do next?
  3. I was also left guessing because as far as I could see, Sam-Soon and all the other characters were completely twisted into a knot so tight and confusing that there was no way the plot could ever untangle and reach a satisfying ending.  I keep watching to find out!
    • Do you keep the conflict and tension so tight that the reader has to keep turning the pages to a) find out if the MC can ever get him/herself out of the mess, and b) find out if there’s any way a satisfying end can be reached?
  4. Kim Sam-Soon’s stakes in the story are constantly increased — you don’t have to write a fantasy where the fate of the world hangs in the balance or a spy-thriller where international lives are at risk.  The stakes of the story can be high even in an everyday-life tale.  For Sam-Soon, her heart becomes more and more attached to the romantic lead, external events interfere more and more with her job (and romance), and her chances of marriage (and therefore societal and familial acceptance) are becoming slimmer and slimmer.
    • Do you keep raising the stakes during the middle?  Do you show how far the MC will fall if he/she does not achieve his/her goals?  Do you keep making that fall higher and more dangerous as your Act 2 progresses?

Of course, if you’re not following a 3-act structure in your story, then not all of this will apply to you.  Nonetheless, some lessons apply to any fiction: have a protagonist who acts, keep your readers guessing, and keep raising stakes of the story.

And if you’re wondering why I haven’t discussed Act 3, it’s because I’m not there yet!  I’m the viewer who’s still guessing and biting her fingernails as I wonder how the heck this story can possibly all work out! I’ll keep ya updated. 😉