How Jack Bauer Can Improve Your Writing

I couldn’t wait to see it, Monday night. I didn’t know it had been four whole years since the last episode.

There was a set of short commercials during the Super Bowl about this show. I reviewed those here.

What was it? 24: Live Another Day.

Even though there were some hurdles to overcome, I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

For those of you who don’t know, 24 is based on the concept that each season only takes a day–because everything is delivered in up-to-the-second chunks (even accounting for the time taken up for the commercial breaks within each episode).

Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, gets wrapped up in monumental scrapes of all kinds, usually attacks and threats of a national security nature against America–although the plots are all fictional.

In the past, he’s dealt with father-daughter crises, his ex-wife, a girlfriend or two, being chased, shot at, tortured, and more.

Oh, and he’s an excellent tough guy, usually getting his point across with fists, bullets–heck, even the environment or negotiation, if available.

But for this new season of Live Another Day, based on what I’d read, they’d be skipping a few hours here and there (the first hour of the two-hour premiere covered 11:06 a.m. to 12 p.m.)

Just as an example of what usually happens, let’s take a look at what went on with this premiere.

Jack, who’s been hiding in London since the previous shows because of a lethal conflict with some Russians, suddenly pops up, and gets captured by the CIA’s London bureau–not without some bashing, punching, and shooting, I might add, and I mean Jack did all the dishing out, pretty much.

Everyone is excited, but one of the analysts named Kate isn’t so sure he’d be so clumsy. Long story short, his friend Chloe is in an off-the-beaten-path interrogation facility (read that as “torture chamber”) and he breaks her out.


At first I thought it was because they were friends–and they are, because Chloe’s helped Jack a whole bunch in previous seasons. But Jack needs help finding a guy who made some not-so-nice software. And Chloe’s hacker group knows the guy, and can find him more easily.

Long story shorter, they find the guy, but he slips away with his girlfriend. The CIA let them go, because they’re more focused on Jack when they show up. Jack gets shot in the arm, and escapes, eventually joining up with Chloe, who helps them get outta there with help from someone else’s car she hot-wired.

The dude with the high tech computer program suitcase gets killed by his girlfriend, who takes the case. This case happens to control automated planes (and not the RC kind you fly on a sunny afternoon). I mean the kind of planes designed to shoot stuff remotely. This woman works for another British woman, and is going to give her the case for some reason.

The pilot who was supposed to have control of the plane is being framed for doing something he didn’t–namely killing friendly soldiers.

And on top of everything else, Secretary Heller (from the first couple of 24 seasons) is now President, and having Alzheimer’s problems.

I don’t remember Jack telling anyone to “do it now!” But I think they cut down on that, in successive seasons. I was glad with this new season that things got started well–with some shows, things change the longer the show is on air. Maybe the four-year break helped 24’s creators think things over, or what-have-ya.

But why does any of this matter? Watching TV is a fun way to pass the time–and there’s a structure to the plots you can study that can help you in your own writing–especially for you novelists out there. Seeing all the threads separately, and then watching to see when and how they come together–I think that’s the most fun of watching TV and reading–as long as you can see what those threads are.

It’s more than that, though.

Jack’s the kind of character everyone remembers and roots for–not because he’s a nice guy (sometimes he isn’t), but because he has to make the best of bad situations…

And we understand that.

Doing the best you can, with what you have. Trying to keep people you care about safe. Self-sacrifice, the greater good, and doing the right thing.

That’s the distinction between being likable and being understandable. And being a character who zips through plots unscathed and characters who are changed by it–sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

There were also points in the show that used implication and backstory really well. Right before the guy in charge opened the holding cell where Chloe was, Jack said, as he held a gun on the guy, “You know who I am. Trigger an alarm and I’ll blow your head off.” So we see that there’s a kind of mystique that surrounds Jack as a character, because of his tough-guy reputation.

Look for opportunities to make characters real. TV isn’t always the best medium to study, but keep a lookout for parts of shows (and peoples’ words and actions in real life) that impact YOU.

And always remember that you do know Jack.

Until next time,



About Ty Mall

Thanks for stopping by. I've almost always been interested in writing, among other things. Along with discovering pop culture, I've uncovered a lot about the craft over the past 10 years. And whether you're a fiction writer or email copywriter, I'm here to pass on what I've found out. And have a ton of fun in the process.
This entry was posted in Characterization, Creativity, Inspiration, Motivation, Movies and TV and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How Jack Bauer Can Improve Your Writing

  1. Great post, really enjoyed reading this. Personally, I find Jack Bauer too ridiculous to root for and I find his character too much of a caricature of the ‘American Maverick Hero’ to connect with on an emotional level. But then again, I’m British and I just love an underdog! Interesting link between fictional character creation and 24 though!

    • Ty Mall says:

      Hi. A lot of people do find Jack too over-the-top. And a lot of TV shows are mostly about plot, anyway–character is usually the job of the actors/actresses. Emotion really is secondary in these types of thriller/excitement-type shows. I love underdogs, too. Thanks for stopping by, Rebecca. I appreciate it!

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