Monday, November 5, 2018

Storytelling Lessons from Orange Is The New Black

So far my husband and I have found the first season to be hilarious, moving and thought-provoking. It inspired me to pick up the book and I am noting how the TV script diverges from the memoir, almost always in ways that make the story more interesting. Here are a few strengths present in Episode 2, when Piper is being starved out by the cook, Red, and has to figure out how to get food. 

1) Introducing backstory to show how the character triumphs

We see flashbacks into Piper's pre-prison life of
   - doing a lemon cleanse: she can think of starvation in terms of something she's voluntarily done before while introducing comical elements and deepening the viewer's understanding of Piper's relationship with her husband
   - making soaps and lotions: shows how she learned to make those things from her friend (while explaining what her career is and showing her being the one who motivated the business)

2) Try/Fail cycle
 - First, Piper uses what works in her upper-middle-class, white world: a sincere apology. Fail.
 - Second, she takes the advice of her cellmate and tries to get Red to beat her up. Fail.
 - Finally, she listens to what Red tells her (do something nice for her) with what she's observed (Red has a bad back) and her experiences (making bath products) to make her a jalapeno lotion. Success!

3) Establish a sympathetic antagonist

Red is the antagonist in this episode, but the flashbacks show her trying to get in with the snobby Russian women because her husband wants her to. The women are mean to Red and this makes us sympathetic toward her. We see her frustration come out with terrible consequences: she pushes one of the women, popping her silicone breast. The husband comes home with news that they owe $60,000, and we are sympathetic to him too, when he points out the men are meaner than their wives.

4) Making the reader/viewer an active participant in figuring out the story

Red's flashback concludes when we see her husband letting the men put bulky, black-plastic-wrapped objects into their restaurant's freezer.  Red and her husband have worried expressions, so we assume it is something illegal. Since we know that Red ends up in prison, we can guess that they were caught and she and her husband were blamed. None of this is shown, which makes the reader/viewer an active participant. My husband and I even had a discussion after watching about what was in the bags; from our cultural knowledge of the mob and what they do, we assumed body parts. But the important thing is we were thinking and talking about it, which made us active participants.

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