What I Learned about Writing from Lost

I was kinda late to the Lost party. Eight years (from the premiere) to be exact. See, when Lost aired I was in college and had no time for TV. But after incessant nagging from my brother, the Mister and I finally started watching Lost last summer. And raced through it in a matter of months. In fact, I’ll always associate Lost with my first pregnancy (we even watched an episode during labor. Hah!).

Needless to say, I loved it.* Even months later, I still think about it, and last night I decided I need to re-watch the final episode because that last scene kills me. My brother (the literal genius I’ve mentioned many-a-time on here) wanted me to watch it because of its literary value. Yes, Lost is a very literary show. He wanted me to apply lessons from the show to my writing, and let me tell you: there are lessons! So what did I learn about writing from Lost?

1) The Important of Narrative Flow – obviously I know how important it is, but Lost showed me how changing it up can have a big impact on not just how the story is told, but how the story feels. Lost is told in present time, with flashbacks, flash-forwards, and flash-sideways (depending on the season). Not only does it make the show extremely engaging to watch, but it also fits with the mystery of the island. The way the writers play with time on the show is mirrored in everything, including the way they structure their story. So when you choose how your story’s narrative will flow, think about what will be fitting, as well as entertaining and engaging.

2) Also, About Narrative Flow – it can be a useful and interesting tool for character development. The flashes always center around one or two characters per episode. In the first season, that’s how we get to know who these people were before they came to the island. In subsequent seasons, the flash-forwards and flash-sideways serve as further characterization. Obviously, they also further the plot (which makes them extremely economical narrative devices), but they really shine (especially in the beginning) in the characterization department.

3) The Power of Recurring Elements – again, another thing I know but seeing it executed so well makes me want to implement it in my work. There are all kinds of recurring elements and themes in Lost. It’s part of its brilliance. From literary titles (many of the characters are seen reading several times throughout the series), to literary allusions (Dante’s Purgatorio and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, to name two), to character’s names (John Locke, for example)–there are all kinds of nuggets sprinkled throughout the story. And each one, when you notice it, makes you think: why was that placed here and what parallels can be drawn? The result is a deeper involvement on the audience’s part. You are constantly analyzing everything you watch not only on the surface, but on the layers beneath. This is so much more than watching a sitcom–your mind is actively engaged.

4) Finally, Resolution overs Answers – Lost opens a lot of questions, many of which aren’t answered. Now, I’ve always been okay with that. In fact, I like it when not all of the questions are answered in a story. That’s more like real life, and less like deus ex machina. The grassy knoll? Marilyn Monroe? Area 51? How about in your own life? I’m sure you can think of many questions that you’ll never know the answers to. So, while it bugs some people that we’ll never know why exactly Ben Linus got cancer while Rose was cured, it doesn’t bug me. But last night while reading through Wiki pages (yes, I’m a nerd), I read a quote from a review on the season finale that sums up why questions don’t need to be answered: “The important thing … is not answers. It’s resolution. And ‘Lost’ provided that in spades.” Resolution is far more important than answers. If we feel that the characters and story lines are resolved … well, if some answers are missing, it’s not that big of deal. Because as humans we crave resolution. And that’s why Lost works so well.

What about you? Are you a Lost fan? Or, did the show burn you? Have you learned anything about writing from it or another TV show?


*I fully believe I was able to love the show more than most who watched it as it aired because I watched it so quickly. There are some filler episodes, and watching them real-time would’ve been very frustrating. But when you watch two or three a night? Not such a big deal.

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I write speculative fiction inspired by mythos from around the world, complex family dynamics, and my own experiences living with mental illness. After earning my BA in Linguistics from Brigham Young University in 2008, I received my MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College in 2012. I live in Denver, where my husband and I spend countless hours chasing our three young sons (and sometimes catching them!). I collect tarot decks, dye my hair mermaid colors, and procrastinate by decorating my home. My debut novel, Feathers Sharp as Knives, releases on May 2, 2023.

6 thoughts on “What I Learned about Writing from Lost

  1. Yay! I finally know another person who liked the LOST finale! If you want to really delve deep into the literary elements of the show, theories, etc., check out Jeff Jensen’s archive on EW.com.

  2. I hated Lost. HATED.LOST. Hated it. Now, to your very last point, I def agree, but with a condition: Resolution is critical, it is something we creave (yes, creave) (no, it’s not a word, it’s a typo) but while resolution satisfies the mind, FAIRNESS/JUSTICE satisfies our hearts. That is why you cry at the end of …(fill in the name of your favorite story that ends with your protag finally, ultimately, excruciatingly winning)

    Resolution can define good writing, but justice defines heart-writing. (No, it’s not an accepted literary term, I just made it up)

    I hated Lost. HATED. LOST. Hated it.

  3. Oh, Lost. Such an awesome first season but it just went downhill. It would’ve been better as a tightly plotted mini-series. It felt they came up with loads of awesome ideas but wrote themselves into corners and had to give up. I gave up somewhere during season 3 ^^; I’m glad you enjoyed it though :D

  4. I totally agree that it is a show best watched in quick succession. Me and my husband got into it about a year after it ended, and it was amazing. We still quote it all the time. I think if I had watched it while it was on, some of the elements would have annoyed me more but since we didn’t have to brook any weird cliffhangers, it allowed us to focus on the cohesiveness of the story.

    And I really did feel like it was pretty cohesive. It got a little muddled toward the end, but it all still worked in one way or another, unlike some shows that just go off the rails after a few seasons and never find their pace again.

    Lost did an amazing job using names and allusions to deepen the story, but I do think that’s a bold choice for fiction. For me, forcing too much depth onto everything can become tedious after a while, at least while reading. At some point, things become too allegorical and lose sight of an interesting narrative and character development. But it can definitely be done well, a la JK Rowling, who uses that technique a ton in HP.

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