The Chinese Drama Twist: 7 Techniques to Captivate Readers With Long Form Fiction

Unlock the Secrets of Eastern Storytelling to Elevate Your Fiction Writing
Status: Completed Read year: 2024

In 2018, I sat down to watch my first Chinese drama.

“Rise of the Phoenixes” blew me away with epic action, scheming political dealings, and a remarkable romantic arc with an unforgettable ending. It changed the way I thought about writing fiction forever.

Since then, I’ve seen dozens more.

From the silly, to the fantastical; sappy modern day romances, to fantasy battles among the heavens, elements of the genre are now common in my stories.

In this video, I share the most impactful ones with you.

I’ve also created a supplement to go with it.

The “29-Hidden Techniques of Chinese Drama Checklist” includes 29 items to help you successfully integrate these 7 techniques into your next story.

(Members have instant access to the checklist. Hit the button below.)

Video Transcript:

All right,

hey there,

it's Keith Hayden and I'm back with another quick video to help you improve your

fiction writing by talking about Chinese dramas.

Now maybe this is a genre of storytelling that you haven't really heard much about or maybe you've

seen something online about it but it's not something that I've seen a lot of

authors talk about because frankly they don't have enough experience to talk about

it but I myself have watched over four dozen Chinese dramas full Chinese dramas

like all the way through I watch them a lot

And in that time,

I've learned a ton about storytelling,

and I've picked up a ton of tips that I've boiled down to really the top seven that

I see that they do really well.

They tend to do well in Chinese dramas that in Western fiction,

I don't see a lot,

and it kind of conflicts with...

what I grew up reading and watching and then what I used to write.

Now I've gotten better at implementing some of the things I've learned into my own

stories but I want you to be able to do that and that's why I'm going to go through

this checklist today.

Speaking of checklist, I've created a little resource to go along with this video.

It's a 29 item checklist that breaks down each of these seven lessons into sub items.

So when you're writing your novel or your long story,

this is really meant for longer fiction,

but you can use it,

of course,

if you're writing short stories or if you're writing micro fiction,

but it's really meant for novels.

But when you're writing that story,

you can go through and make sure that you've done these things when you're in the

editing process to make your story even stronger and more memorable.


don't forget to subscribe to my channel if you like more stuff about writing,



just creativity in general,

just kind of a creative guy.

So subscribe if you want to.

With that, let's get into this list.

So the first thing that I say is mix up your motivations.

And what do I mean by this?

When I wrote this, I was thinking of when it comes to character motivations.

In a lot of Western media, the dominant motivation tends to be the characters fight for freedom.

And I'm a Texas boy myself, so I understand that notion and I understand that motivation.

And I feel like down from freedom is mobility, social mobility.

There's also status sometimes.

And there tends to be the bad guy just has a lot of power and he's taking away

power from other people and that needs to be balanced.

That's a lot of Western media.

Not all, of course, but I'm generalizing here.

In Chinese dramas, they tend to be a little bit more diverse when it comes to character motivations.

So maybe the character is motivated by status,

or maybe they're motivated by money,

or maybe they're motivated by just,

they just like adventure,

or they like the thrill of the fight.

These motivations,

of course,

change throughout the story,

but this is just something to keep in mind,

that it's important to mix things up,

and it makes it a lot more interesting when even the characters that are on the

same side have different motivations,

and then seeing how those motivations conflict,

maybe he cares about love,

and all she cares about is getting a better job,

but they're married.

That might be something interesting to explore.

And then find ways to play with those motivations.

How do they come in conflict with each other?

How do they change as the story moves on?

This is something to definitely keep track of that you can steal from Chinese

dramas into your own stories.

Next thing is always make it personal.

You've got to always,


whatever your antagonist is or whatever conflict that your character is coming up with,

up against,

you have to make it personal.

I don't care if it's a rainy day.

It might be God just raining down on them and making them have a bad day, something like that.

But I see this in Chinese dramas where a big part of the story is that it's the character's fate.

It's a very common Chinese drama trope to where they're fighting against fate and...

but it's not just this kind of nameless destiny the destiny will often take

physical forms maybe it's a god that comes down from the the heavenly realm this is

a very common chinese drama trope if you watch chinese dramas you know what i'm

talking about when they come down in human form and then they test the hero and

they put them through all these different trials and things like that and then the

hero kind of has to do that and in that way they challenge fate in that way so

Get creative with how you embody your obstacles and always make it personal.

You've got to make them their brother, their mother.

I mean, these are the relationships that we fight for in real life, in your real life.

You probably have parents or guardians.

Maybe you have a brother or sister or you have a best friend that you would lay down your life for.

Without that,

it's really difficult to get readers invested in your story because they're like,

what are the stakes here?

Like, what are we fighting for?

But when it's personal, there's always a reason to fight.

So keep that in mind.

The next one is create interesting social graphs.

And this is something that Chinese dramas are so strong at doing.

And I'm always like, and you can definitely take this too far, right?

To where it's his mother's stepbrother, but she was in love with his younger brother.

And now, but they're both in different warring nations or different countries.

rival schools or something like that it gets really dicey to where you just you're

trying to put it in your head and it's really hard to figure out okay what what's

the what's going on here point is you don't have to get that fancy with it but you

should move beyond the standard okay mom dad the brother sister this is a common

setup in a lot of western fiction and maybe there's a step parent or step brother

or something but it

typically doesn't go beyond that it's usually pretty linear like family tree and

that's just not as interesting as when you see these different social lines cross

or these different backgrounds or just these different types of relationships that

really spice things up so

Get creative with your social graphs throw some other people in the mix And if you

need some help for ideas go on my website Keith Hayden net I'll put a link in the

description of this video And I've got my story generator that can come up with

different Jobs occupations just different people and characters just to spin up

some ideas The next one is even friends fight and I put I put it this way because I

I was recently reading something to where if they were family or if they were

aligned ideologically,

they never really had any conflict.

And that's just not... One, it's not realistic.

I mean, maybe... I'm sure you fought with your brother, your sister, your mom, your dad for something.

Sometimes it's a little thing.

It's completely insignificant.

Sometimes it's a big deal.

but we have to show that conflict in our stories you definitely should because one

it's realistic two it's just always interesting at least it always gets my

attention when in a story when two people who shouldn't be fighting start fighting

it's just nobody likes that nobody likes to see a brother against a brother or a

sister against a sister or two best friends

going at it.

Nobody really likes to see that in real life or in fiction.

It's always going to get people's attention.

Of course, just like all of these things, got to use them in moderation.

A whole story can't just be all arguments,

but there should be disagreements that make sense with the plot of your story.

Chinese dramas are great at this.

They do it all the time.

In fact, they will just string these together to where

the the family members will be on different sides and then the circumstances of the

plot will shift them around to where okay this time he's got this point of view now

she's got this point of view and what do we do but we don't agree on something so

sometimes it's just an argument other times it's an actual fight keep that in mind

The next thing is slow down,

and this goes against a lot of...

I've been reading a lot of writing craft books and storytelling craft books,

and a lot of Western thinking when it comes to mainstream popular media is that

backstory is bad.

Spending too much time in the character's head or talking about the past,

talking about things that don't move the plot forward is a generally bad thing

because it takes the reader out of the story,

it slows down,

all that stuff.

Part of me understands this because you can definitely go crazy with backstory to

where it just feels jarring and it doesn't fit with the circumstances of the story.

But at the same time, I really like backstory.

Growing up,

I played a lot of Japanese role-playing games,

and I would always look forward to the points in the story where they stopped and explained,


who is this hero we're playing as,

or who is this bad guy that we're fighting against,

or anything like that,

because it does add texture to the story,

and it really catches you up as a player and as someone experiencing that story.

point is in chinese dramas they dedicate a lot of time sometimes whole episodes to

backstory and in a 45 minute show that's a lot of backstory but the way they do it

is is is what makes it memorable and what makes it keep the story flowing without

bringing it to a standstill how do we do this in fiction

Well, my thinking is you can, I do it in a couple of different ways.

One, you can just change the POV.

So if your POV has been your main heroine for most of the book,

change it to her brother or a secondary character or even the antagonist.

And what's that relationship like?

Why are they fighting against each other?

That's always interesting to me,

especially if it's done later in the book when we've already seen them clashing.

Another way you can do it is just totally break the formula of your story.

I did this one time in my first novel series in Lemnick.

I had one chapter where it was just the POV was from a dog's perspective.

And of course, there was no dogs that were the main heroes.

And that was how I introduced another character.

It was a shorter chapter, but it was a metaphor for this character that I was going to introduce.

So that's another way.

Just completely out of nowhere, just change it up.

Just do something random to the reader, but of course have it relevant to the story.

And the other way is just to go full flashback.

Make the whole... There's several ways to do flashbacks.

You can make it a dream.

You can make it the character in an interesting situation,

but where they have time to think,

of course,

where they would actually be flashing back.


where they have time to actually slow down.

Point is,

you should put backstory in there,

and it's one of those things that I...

I conflict with myself as a writer because I understand,

you know,

growing up in the United States,

I understand the need to keep the plot moving,

and I definitely like a fast-moving story,

but at the same time,

backstory is so important,

and I like writing backstory,

and I like...

taking chances and risks with the backstory so keep that in mind.

Next one is blend genres and this is something that I didn't come to appreciate

about Chinese dramas until a couple years after I had been watching them but

It's very common for a Chinese drama to be labeled as a comedy or as an action or as an adventure show.

And then five episodes in, it's a romance or it turns into a serious maneuvering political drama.


of course,

there's things about expectations and audience,

and this is the Western mentality of,


you've got to honor your audience,

and you've got to make sure that if they're looking for a women's romance,

then it should be women's romance 80% of the way through.

Don't throw a gunfight in there or something like that.

I understand that, and that definitely helps tell a tight story, but

exploring different genres and throwing other elements in there and not just,

you know,

one off or something like you throw a gun in there and now it's a crime or

something like that.

I'm not talking about that.

I'm talking about like you dedicate a significant amount of time to adding other genres in there.

I think that can be a good thing if it's well done.

It's easy to overdo it.

It's easy to screw this up.

It takes a little bit more experience.

But the point is, this is something that is common in Chinese drama as to where it will shift.

But the point, the goal is less on staying in the genre lane and more in staying in the story lane.

So if the story calls for action, then there's going to be action.

But if it calls for romance, now it's got the romance in there.

Point is, don't be afraid to dedicate significant parts of your story to different genres.


Have fun.

Last thing is to exaggerate,

and this is something that I really enjoy about Chinese dramas because they will

take the most mundane scene and they will make it into a big deal with certain

camera angles and sound effects and whooshes and whoosh,

you know,

they'll just zoom in on somebody's face or something like that.

Of course,

you can't do this in fiction because you don't have the visual,

but you can what I call control the camera by describing certain camera angles.

The way I think of it is setting a stage in my mind.

I used to do theater when I was in high school,

so that's where I learned about blocking and stagecraft and presence and all these

different things.

And I bring that to my fiction because I definitely think of,


where am I placing these people in space?

I'm not just randomly putting people, he was over here, she was there.

No, I'm placing them in a room.

He's sitting down, she's standing up.

He's in bed, she's at the table.

That type of thing.

Think about that as you're going,

because when you set that stage in your mind,

it allows you to have a sort of camera with your words and control where the

reader's eye is directed.

And I think you can do that with exaggerations.

You can also do that with metaphors and similes as well.

You can definitely ramp things up by using certain metaphors where it still fits

with the scenario,

but it's taking things to a level that you're like,


this is a little bit.

crazy and beyond and i know i tend to exaggerate things in real life and that

definitely helps me with fiction because i i can exaggerate things on the page as


So that's the end of the list.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this video, there's a 29-item checklist that you can check out.

The link is in the description,

and hopefully that helps you stay on track with your story and add some of these

things in.

As I mentioned before, use all of these in moderation.

You should definitely not go through and exaggerate your whole story or have your

whole story be flashback.

You know that, but...

These are tools that you can use that I don't think are very well known in the

Western world because I don't think a lot of Westerners watch as many Chinese

dramas as I do,

or maybe they're not as familiar with the genre.

And speaking of that, I...

encourage you to check out a chinese drama most of the ones that i watch i watch

either through youtube or amazon prime they're not very difficult to access they

have subtitles and they're just a lot of fun they're just a really fun genre so

thanks for watching this video hope you enjoyed it hope it was helpful and make

sure to subscribe and like the video if you thought it was helpful i'll see in the

next one bye

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