15 Dec

Leverage for Writers

Posted in Process, TV, Writing

Today I will to admit to one of my guilty pleasures, so please don’t point and laugh at me (you can laugh next to me but not at me).  And please keep it just between you and me, ‘k?  Don’t go blabbing about it all over the internet because then I might cry and sic my pet gremlins on you.  All right, you ready?  I’m about to tell you something super personal and embarrassing.  Here it is in 3… 2… 1…


I know, *gasp* right?  I mean, it’s not high-quality television and yes, I feel like I’ve lost one or two brain cells after I watch each episode.  But it’s so deliciously entertaining, kind of like Ocean’s Eleven, only with a whole Robin Hood theme going on.

It occurred to me that Leverage is actually a really good metaphor for the writing process.  Each episode follows the leverage team as they plan and execute a “job” to steal stuff from rich people and give it back to poor people.  Each character has a special skill that allows him or her to contribute to the task at hand.  What does this have to do with writing, you ask?

Writers need leverage.  They need skills that work together in order to pull off the “job,” which in this case means writing the book.  Every member of the team needs to do his or her job so that they can achieve their desired goal.  The only difference between writing a book and pulling off an elaborate heist is that instead of wearing one hat, the writer must wear all five.  Here are the roles the writer must play in order to get the job done.

Grifter:  Sophie (far left) is the con-artist, the actress of the group.  She is able to step in and out of different roles as easily as you or I might change our shoes.  Writers must be able to do the same thing.  One minute we have to be in our protagonist’s head and understand her motivations, the next we have to empathize with our villain.  Writing convincing characters means being able to get inside their heads, feel what they would feel, think what they would think.  Then make them do what we want.

Hitter:  Eliot (second from left) is the workhorse member of the team.  Basically, if some bad guy needs to be punched out, Eliot’s the man for the job.  Again, this is an important skill for a writer to have.  Sometimes there isn’t an elegant solution to a writing problem; sometimes you just have to use brute force and beat your way through writer’s block.  Of course, we would love to be able to solve all our writerly dilemmas with a flourish of the pen, but sometimes there’s no other way around it: we just need to beat the story with a stick.

Thief:  Parker (second from right) is the acrobat, the daredevil.  She’s the character who plunges off of rooftops or crawls through air vents.  She also has an affinity for all things bright and sparkly, like diamonds.  As writers, we need to remember to take risks and have fun with what we do.  Sometimes we need to jump first and think about finding a parachute after.  And hey, if we end up with something bright and sparkly in our hands, isn’t it worth the risk?

Hacker:  Hardison (far right) is the guy who knows how to work the system.  Whether that means hacking into a complex network or breaking some crazy code or getting the team inside a locked-down building, he’s the guy who gets it done.  Similarly, writers need to know how to work the system as well.  Whether it means learning how to format your manuscript the right way, or figuring out where to send your work, it’s important to understand the network you want to break into and that means doing research and learning about the business as well as the craft.

Mastermind:  Nathan (front and center) is the coordinator, the hub, the nucleus of the team.  He makes sure everyone knows what they need to do and that they actually get the job done.  Again, it’s a mighty important skill for writers to have.  After all, you can play all the other parts beautifully, but it won’t matter if you can’t assess whether your “team” is working together well and doing it’s job.  This means stepping back from time to time and looking at the “big picture” of your writing life.  What aspects are working well?  What areas could you improve upon?

So, how’s your Leverage team looking?  Which areas do you have covered and which skills do you still need to polish?  More importantly, what are you going to do about it?


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