Have you watched Heartstopper yet?
If not, let me catch you up to speed.
Heartstopper is the new Netflix Y.A romance show; a cute, boy-meets-boy tale of young love between awkward, nerdy, openly-gay Charlie, and self-styled “rugby lad” Nick. It’s based on a webtoon by Alice Oseman (who is also the author of multiple best-selling YA titles). Before it landed up on Netflix, Heartstopper has also been published in a series of graphic novels. But for the purposes of this post, I want to only talk about the show. And don’t worry–this will be spoiler free!
At its core, Netflix’s Heartstopper is an incredibly simple story. Two boys meet, deal with a little bit of internal conflict, and fall in love. Compared to other shows aimed at teens and about the teenage experience, it’s refreshingly devoid of melodrama, sexualisation of underage characters, and general messiness that makes the genre so hard for me to watch. In fact, its simplicity is what makes the show so compelling.
Along with the main characters Nick and Charlie, we also meet their friends Tao, Elle, Tara, and Darcy, (and Isaac, though we don’t know much about him as he doesn’t have his own individual storyline). Each of these characters has very relatable conflicts. They’re all loveable and approachable, and their subplots, too, are pretty straightforward. In a sequence of eight 30-minute episodes, Heartstopper explores first love, friendship, and the trials of youth, at a gentle pace, with a mellow tone.
So this leads me to a revelation that I don’t think we talk about enough.
When in doubt, just K.I.S.S!
The motto “Keep it simple, stupid!” (K.I.S.S) was told to me in the context of good communication advice, but I think it has a role to play in writing, too. (After all, isn’t storytelling just another way to communicate?)
A lot of the time, writers tend to get worked up about creating elaborate narratives with an ensemble cast of complex characters and intelligent, intersecting subplots. I know I’ve felt that pressure quite often. It’s especially bad, I feel, in the fantasy genre, simply because of the prevalence of intrigue and conspiracy plots. But there’s something to be said for just holding back a bit and keeping things simple.
I mean, maybe you don’t actually need that sprawling subplot that includes 3-5 characters whose roles are poorly defined. Maybe the grand philosophies of good and evil don’t matter enough to create elaborate battle scenes about them. Maybe we don’t need so much backstory!
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t write more involved plots. Of course not! Some of my all-time favourite stories have extremely complex arcs and characters.
But not every story needs to be this way.
It’s perfectly okay to just write about two teens falling in love. It’s perfectly okay to spend thirty minutes talking about who-likes-who. In fact, I’d argue that in some instances, it’s actually better. Heartstopper is not without its moments of angst and intensity. But its easy hand in dealing with the issues it brings up makes even the tense topics more approachable. It gives both the writer and the audience more breathing space to fall more deeply engrossed with the story.
When I was discussing this with a friend, she summed it up perfectly: “simplicity is one of the hardest things to achieve, but it always shines when done successfully.”