Story Hidden “In Plain Sight” (the TV show)

If 90% of everything is crap, that rule certainly applies to television. Most of what I see of current television series leaves me woefully unsatisfied, and even a little pissed off. Then, this past weekend, my parents introduced me to In Plain Sight, a show that a friend of mine called “a mid-grade crime procedural.” Interesting take, as I had a significantly more positive reaction.

I’ve only just gotten through season 1 and into season 2 on NetFlix Watch Instantly, in addition to the few season-3 episodes I saw on Sunday. Based on what I’ve seen, this show stands out, in my view, from other crime procedurals. Because it integrates character and plot more deeply than the typical TV crime drama, for a much more powerful result. And In Plain Sight provides an opportunity to talk about Critical Fandom.

In Plain Sight tells the story of Mary Shannon, an inspector for the Federal Witness Protection Program, as she hides and protects the hunted from their criminal would-be murderers, all while dealing with the insane antics of her flaky, dependent mother and sister. To call Mary’s family “dysfunctional” is an understatement, as is to call Mary herself “codependent.”

As a writer, when I read a book or watch a film or television show, I don’t merely enjoy the experience. Don’t get me wrong: I do enjoy it. But I also think about why I’m enjoying it (or not enjoying it as much as I ought to be). Because if I can understand the why, then I can use those insights to reproduce similar qualities in my own stories. This is what I call “Critical Fandom,” not just reading or watching for the enjoyment, but also for the insight, and I believe it’s a key skill writers should develop.

Here are a few storytelling truths that In Plain Sight demonstrates:

I’ve been seeing much more, both that excites me and that disappoints me. The difference between character-relevant drama and melodrama. How each story is actually about something, an art I feared was lost with the decline of SF. That heroic characters, no matter how flawed, have heroic qualities, and villainous characters have villainous qualities. How morality (right and wrong) interacts with intent: “good” characters don’t do good out of a need for status or attention, but for spiritual satisfaction (e.g., charity, duty, or even a need to find meaning outside of oneself), even if to dysfunctional extents. And on and on…

Critical Fandom is not about In Plain Sight, because you may not enjoy that show as much as I do. Critical Fandom is about organizing ideas, ways of thinking about what we see that help us to understand the patterns in them. Whatever television, movies, or books you rave over, look deep for storytelling insights that you can use in your own stories.

Keep writing!


[…] wrote earlier this week on Be the Story about how I was getting into In Plain Sight. Unfortunately, if you’re unfamiliar with the show, I can neither confirm nor deny that it […]

Excellent insights on writing well for television. On the mark in your comments on In Plain Sight. A very good character-driven drama. Thanks

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