Why Jack Bauer Never Takes A Piss: A Lesson In Efficient Writing
Growing up one of my favorite TV shows was 24.
The series chronicled days in the life of counter terrorist agent Jack Bauer. The gimmick of the show was it took place in “real time”. This means each season Jack had 24 hours to thwart a new threat to the country.
The show was widely watched, and heavily criticized. Mainly, for its indirect endorsement of torture. But also for this stranger reason:
During the course of 9 seasons Jack Bauer never once stopped to take a piss.
An omission which seemed unrealistic to a fan base that had no problem believing a 40 year old Keifer Sutherland disarmed nuclear bombs, prevented presidential assassinations, and stopped multiple World Wars.
But really. What gives? Why did Jack Bauer never take a piss?
The reason Jack Bauer doesn’t piss is because it has nothing to do with the story at hand. People tune into 24 each week to see Agent Bauer catch terrorists, not empty his Urinary Tract.
This fact should be obvious to even the most dim-witted 24 fans; but it’s one that many writers forget.
Even seasoned writers have what I call “Bauer Pissing Moments” in their work.
These are added details that don’t move the story forward. They are the plot lines that never pay off. The auxiliary character who doesn’t play a role in the action. The added space on the page that only bores or distracts the audience.
Storytelling is more than chronology. When we tell a story we are not merely mapping out every event that happened in a period of time. We are carefully selecting details that strengthen our narrative. And viciously omitting those that don’t.
In most cases “less is more”. Extraneous details detract from the message we’re trying to get across.
Think of your long-winded friend, who can’t tell a story to save their life. The reason they falter is often because they over-explain. They bore us with details we don’t need.
Their superfluous syllables are akin to Bauer pissing. Yeah, it may have happened, but it doesn’t make for an exciting story.
So forget your friend and take a page from Jack Bauer’s Golden Bladder:
Don’t piss on your work with unwanted details!