JUST LIKE WALTER WHITE
by Michael Chasin Screenwriting Mentor, IAFT/Miami
Stories are about heroes—so the first objective in storytelling is to get the audience to identify with the hero.
Identification is the audience seeing themselves in the hero—and after they see how similar they are—they will care about the hero—and once they care—they will follow the hero. Anywhere.
Of many techniques to create identification, one of the best is to make the hero a victim of undeserved misfortune—as we often feel we are in our lives.
In the pilot episode of Breaking Bad, hero Walter White is introduced as the victim of much undeserved misfortune.
White is a high school chemistry teacher who tries to instill the importance of chemistry in his students, at one point describing how bad chemistry could lead to birth defects.
The students stare off, pass notes and talk during his lecture—he is disrespected—something the audience can identify with, as we all have felt disrespected on our job.
White is father to a disabled teenage son (which may or may not have been the result of bad prenatal chemistry, as he described in his lecture).
Many in the audience understand the vast responsibilities of parenthood—made manifold by a special needs child.
With a pregnant wife, another child is soon to be added to his responsibilities.
Heaped onto all this, White is diagnosed with terminal cancer—dreaded and undeserved misfortune if there ever was.
White’s life gives the audience many different ways to feel that they are just like him—so what is happening to him—could happen to them.
Identification with White was vital—otherwise the audience would not root for him as he descended into criminality.
First make the audience feel like your hero—they will then follow your hero, even if he breaks badly.