Plot Complexity and Missing

Posted May 3 2012, 9:21 am in , , , , , , ,

When Ashley Judd’s new showed premiered, I knew I’d give Missing a try because I’m a fan. The basic premise of the show is that Judd, a former CIA operative, is searching for her son who has been kidnapped while in Europe. If you want more details about the show, check out Tiffany White’s rundown here.

I really like the show. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the show on Twitter because some aspects are unbelievable. For me, I think I’m more accepting of the unrealistic parts because I love the idea of a capable, intelligent, kickass mom. Rebecca Winstone is that character. Some of the characterization is a bit overdone, but I can excuse that.

The more I watch the show, though, the more I am in awe of the plot structure. As an English teacher, I usually pay attention to how a story is put together, whether it’s on TV or in a book. As a writer, I have to be aware, but because I can’t plot and outline to save my life, my structure is fixed after I’m done writing. I push the story out and then make sure the structure holds together during revisions.

I get the basic structure that we’ve all been taught:

image from

In Missing, I can’t imagine how far out the writers have had to plot. I wonder if they have the whole season mapped out, or if they’ve gone farther because every little detail has played together so beautifully. In some shows with complex plots, like Revenge, you don’t see the layers of complexity because each episode kind of tackles its own issue. In Missing, we’re dealing with a huge who-done-it where things that we saw three episodes ago and thought nothing of pop back up as an important detail.


When the show started, I never would’ve guessed that Paul, Rebecca’s husband, was still alive. As viewers, we accept the reality that is Rebecca’s, so as her world falls apart, we fall with it. While the CIA doesn’t believe that Rebecca didn’t know, as viewers, I think we side with Rebecca.

A few episodes back, Rebecca followed a lead to figure out who had her son. A sniper took out the person she was speaking to, and he had the shot and could’ve killed her, but didn’t. As a viewer, I chalked it up to the ring leader wanting her alive because he wants something from her. Now, we see that Rebecca had a connection with that sniper when he was a boy. She had the chance to kill him but didn’t. So now, I wonder if he let her live because she didn’t take that shot 15 years ago.


My point is, even with knowing Rebecca’s backstory (as any good author would), the writers of this show must’ve plotted out the series in great detail because both Paul and that sniper returning to Rebecca’s life felt seamless. Shocking, yes, but it fit the puzzle.

This is why, although I’d love to write a mystery (I even have a great idea for a series), it will probably never happen. I can’t see how you can write aimlessly like I do if you want the mystery to work. It’s not just the dropping of hints and the well-placed red herring, you have to know what’s happening next and next and next.

I can’t imagine writing like that (but it might be a nice change).

Do you notice the structure of the plot when you are watching or reading? If you’re a writer, do you plot? And if so, how detailed do you get before you write?



3 responses to “Plot Complexity and Missing”

  1. I could never write a whole novel until I got the Storybook Software. It lets you build the whole plot with threads and themes, characters and locations. It really helped stitch the story together. Then I detailed the plot two to three chapters ahead of where I was writing.

    It almost seemed easy that way. Well as easy as writing a novel can ever be.

    • See, you just made me a little dizzy talking like that. I barely know what’s going to happen in the next scene before I write it. Chapters ahead? Can’t imagine.

  2. livrancourt says:

    “I can’t see how you can write aimlessly like I do if you want the mystery to work.”
    I try and do at least some planning, and I still don’t see how I could get a mystery to work! And I’m in awe of people who can.