Breaking Bad Storytelling: 5 Ways to Make Your Story Pop!



A few years ago, I was flipping channels and came across the AMC show Breaking Bad.  I started watching the first episode and almost fell out of my chair during the opening sequence.  (Yes, it’s that good).  Here’s the scene:


Gripping, right?  But how do you capture an audience right away and keep them hanging on when telling your own stories? 

It’s not as tough as you think.

To help you out, here are “5 Ways to Make Your Story Pop!”.  Follow these rules and you may have a genuine Heisenberg on your hands.

1.  Start with a big opening line.  There’s nothing like a great hook to draw attention to your story.  The opening line is important because it reveals something about you as a character (i.e. you run from wild animals) while hinting at the larger problem (imminent death) that you intend to address in the forthcoming story. 

One easy trick is to begin your opening in media res, which roughly translates from Latin to “in the middle of the action.  By starting in the middle of the action, you show the audience the stakes (what the central character stands to gain or lose) and eliminate unnecessary details (back story).  It’ll capture your audience right away.

2.  Know the backstory.  Backstory may not be important for the opening line, but it’s important for the story as a whole.  Your audience needs to understand why you do what you do, so make sure to write down everything that happens before the opening line. 

Once you know the full backstory, you can fill in your audience with everything else.  Just remember to be brief!

3.  Break your story into scenes.  I hear a lot of stories that have this predictable arc: “X happens, then Y happens, then Z happens.”  As interesting as this may be to you, it won’t do much for your audience.  To make your story pop, identify the scenes in the story.  Each scene should reveal something about the characters or raise a question about the larger problem.   The best scenes incorporate both elements.    More interesting already, right?

4.  Keep your narration brief.  Narration is the glue that holds scenes and stories together.  That said, a little bit of glue goes a long way.  Show respect for your audience and tell them only what they need to know.  This part takes practice and patience.  Just remember to be generous with yourself and ruthless with your storytelling.

5.  End with a big closing line.  The last line of the story is your final chance to make an impression on an audience, so make it count.  The way to find a great last line is to look back at your first line, see how your story has addressed the central problem, and show the audience transformation.  Remember how Walter White is driving erratically at the beginning of the Breaking Bad pilot?  

Well, here’s the last sequence (skip to 56:00)

Pretty gripping, right?