LITTLE JOLTS OF PLEASURE
A Storytelling Technique You Can Learn From Hit Korean Series HOMETOWN CHA CHA CHA
HOMETOWN CHA CHA CHA is a charming 16-episode Korean drama series that tells a simple love story between a city girl and a village boy. City girl worked as a dentist in Seoul. After she fell out with her boss, she quit and decided to open up a clinic in a small fishing village known as Gongjin. The Gongjin village by the sea is filled with locations that seemed tailored for Instagram posting. The sea is blue and sparkling. The sky is warm and inviting. There’s even a red lighthouse that when set against the moonlit coastline, presents a beautiful background for lovers to stroll. The village, with its friendly and good-hearted residents, is the perfect refuge from the rat race of city life.
Watching the series is like having a bowl of fish soup that your grandmother made for you. Warm, nourishing, and comforting. It’s the complete opposite of Squid Game in terms of anxiety inducing scenes. And yet it managed to sustain my interest in every episode with a very simple technique.
The Power Of Mystery
Agatha Christie is one of the world’s most popular authors. She’s aptly named the Queen of Mystery. You never read a Christie novel for its scintillating prose. Or to admire a sentence or a brilliant turn of phrase. You only read a Christie novel to find out and be delighted by one thing only. The resolution of a mystery. The question — Who is the murderer? — holds you in its spell. You turn every page, breathless, until the question is resolved. The need for that resolution is an irresistible and annoying itch that readers must scratch at all costs. It is why mystery remains the most popular genre in the world.
And Hometown Cha Cha is full of mysteries.
The Art Of Doling out Information In A Story
Writing a good story is really about mastering the art of withholding information.
The main character, Chief Hong, is much admired in the village. He’s smart, able to make good coffee, kind to seniors, a great handy man, a versatile cook, and wine maker. In fact, he is such a good man that he seems too good to be true.
Who is he, really?
What turned him into this paragon of goodness?
What’s his mysterious backstory?
When a writer plots a story, he has the task of providing information. Who is this character? What is she hiding? What is he not telling her?
These are questions that concern the storyteller, but they are the same questions that sustain the attention of an audience for the duration of the story. By slowing down the pace of a reveal, a writer is thus able to keep the audience constantly on a leash, never delivering complete and utter satisfaction of a resolution until the very last page or the last frame of the final episode.
The writer for Hometown series revealed story information in an interesting way in every episode. After an episode ends, you are shown a scene that either explains an earlier plot point or gives you more insight into the characters. Your mind is engaged as it puts two and two together and you realized, oh she already met him then but she did not know or aha, that was how he found the shoe.
In one episode, he had managed to clean and return a designer shoe that the girl had lost. It’s a nice romantic scene that furthered the love story between them. However, during the episode, when the girl asked “how did you find it” — Chief Hong never really answered. And then the story went on and we, the audience, had filed that question somewhere in the back of our minds, not really caring about it…Until the episode ended and then you’re shown an earlier scene — how he found the shoe but more importantly the lengths he went to painstakingly clean and restore the luster to the shoe. Seeing his efforts after the episode ended, was more effective because it resolved an earlier mystery (How did he find the shoe?) and it furthered your understanding of his character. He’s a modest man who cares deeply about her.
This realization not only resolves a mystery but also delivers a jolt of mental pleasure. These little jolts of pleasure are what Hometown Cha Cha excels in providing with every episode. Pretty soon, I realized I was looking forward to the episode endings and was wondering what revelations they were going to reveal. As well as the answer to the biggest question of all.
How long can I binge before my bladder bursts?
But seriously -
How did Chief Hong end up in the village and why is he such a good man?
Lessons You Can Take Away As A Writer
Godard said that a story has a beginning, middle and the end, but not necessarily in that order. Godard is a French director who smokes and wears dark shades and exudes cool with every puff of smoke so I would assume he knows a thing or two about unconventional storytelling. Likely, two.
Part of good storytelling is mastering the timing of the reveal. When you reveal is just as crucial as the content itself. This is also true when it comes to dating. You never give away your every flaw on the first date. Let the girl know that you snore but only after she likes your sense of humor. Learn to give just enough exposition to understand almost but not quite the full story of a character. Inject small mysteries within your narrative and answer them as you go along.
And deliver to your audience those little jolts of pleasure.