Category Archives: Creativity

Signal – what Korean dramas can teach us about telling a compelling story AND keeping you on the edge or your seat.

With this blog post, I want to continue my series of posts about what Asian dramas can teach us about storytelling. You can check out my first post about it here.

This time I want to use the example of Signal, an ongoing Korean drama that, so far, is the best example of a crime procedural done right. It tells us a compelling story which includes an overarching arc relating to the characters, but also the “cases of the day” so to speak and it manages to do so with so much heart and suspense that you can’t help but get invested in every case. More than that, it makes each hour long episode a heart-pounding, edge of your seat, adrenaline ride.

Signal, a Korean Drama by TvN.
Signal, a Korean Drama by TvN.

Here is a brief synopsis of Signal:

Park Hae-Young, a young profiler and detective in 2015, manages to connect with Lee Jae-Han, a detective from the past with the help of an old walkie-talkie. Together they try to solve cold cases.

That sounds intriguing, but nothing stellar, right?

Well let’s add some more details to that. The walkie-talkie only works at 11.23pm and stays on for about one minute. And it doesn’t do that every day either. Neither cop knows when the connection will be possible again.

Also, while time for Hae-Young is linear, for Jae-Han it’s not. The first radio transmission connecting the two detectives happens in August 2015 for Hae-Young and in August 2000 for Jae-Han. At that time, Hae-Young has no idea what’s going on and thinks this transmission is a giant hoax, but Jae-Han knows exactly whom he is talking to and even calls the present detective by name, like they had spoken several times before. The next transmission Hae-Young gets though connects him with a Jae-Han from 1989, back then just a rookie cop, and it’s Hae-Young’s turn to persuade the other detective that he is not pulling his leg.

Moreover, Lee Jae-Han, the cop from the past, went missing shorty after that very first (or very last, depending on the point of view) transmission in August 2000. His official file says that he had been under investigation for embezzling money and fled the country, but the more Hae-Young digs into that, the more he suspects that it was just a carefully crafted cover up. So this is the first mystery driving this series. What happened to Jae-Han and what can both cops do to change his fate?

And finally, any changes made in the past tend to generate a ripple effect that leads to unforeseen (and often disastrous) consequences in the present.

Butterfly effect.
Butterfly effect.

When Hae-Young warns Jae-Han about the location of the next victim of a serial killer, Jae-Han manages to save her, but because of that the killer accelerates his killing spree and 3 more people die that were alive in the unaltered version of events. And one of those new victims was someone Jae-Han liked.

When Jae-Han begs Hae-Young to give him some tips about a string of burglary cases that remained unsolved even in 2015 and uses those profiling tips to catch the culprit, the repercussions are even more severe – the culprit’s daughter dies in front of his eyes in the past and he goes on a revenge killing in the present that takes the life of another cop…

This sense of immediate repercussion adds urgency and suspense to the stories, because you never know if by messing with time, the protagonists will make things worse or better. They might save lives, but they might make it so that more lives are lost as well. So both have to choose just how much to reveal and how much to leave out during each of their radio transmissions.

Timey wimey stuff
Timey wimey stuff

What adds to the suspense of this series is the fact that all the cases, even the case of the day, are tied to the members of the cold case squad one way or another either by what happened in the past or by the ripple effect of the time-altering intervention, so the viewer can’t help but be emotionally invested in the investigation because all the main characters in this series have their own backstories and lives which we get only small glimpses now and then, but which make them more than just “member X of the cold case squad” but real people with their own problem, aspirations, and heartaches.

Take the very first case, for example. Fifteen years ago, a 10 year old girl was kidnapped from in front of her school and found dead a few days later. The culprit was never found and the statute of limitation on that crime expires in 3 days. This case is very important for Hae-Young, because he was the only witness of that kidnapping, because he was the girl’s classmate and happened to see a woman lead her away. He even went to the police station right away, but nobody would talk to a 10 year old boy. He came back year after year, but nobody was interested to listen to what he had to say. That case shaped his character – he became a profiler and a cop to right a wrong, but he despises cops he works with, because in his experience, they are more worried about closing cases quickly and looking good in the public eye than actually trying to find the truth. So he doesn’t mince his words and clashes with most of his colleagues. There is no love lost between him and the other detectives, even though his profiling instincts (and the help of a magic walkie-talkie) help them solve cases.

This is how you make a series that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let you go – engaging characters that feel like real people instead of walking labels, intricate and interesting story with stakes that are actually important for the characters, and a certain amount of unpredictability that is still consistent with the inner logic of this created world.

It’s the end of the year! Time to look back at 2015 and see what’s ahead in 2016.


I can’t believe it’s the end of 2015 already! It feels like this year has gone past me at the speed of light. Whoosh! Gone. So I think it’s a good time to look back and see what I managed to accomplish in the past 12 months, and what I had planned to accomplish but never got around to do. And of course, now is the perfect time to set up goals for 2016 as well! So without further ado, let’s start.


What have I managed to accomplish in 2015?


  1. Well, I finished The Choices we make, or at least the first draft. This is a personal accomplishment for me because Choices had started as a mess of a draft somewhere in 2012 then had been abandoned after I barely put in about 25k words. This is the first time I pick up a discarded story and run with it to the end. Of course, I threw all of those initial 25k words out of the window and did an actual outline this time, so that might have helped. And as a bonus, while I worked on it, I got the idea for a sequel. So that’s a project for 2016!
  2. I finally finished the chameleon of a story that are Mists of the Crossworlds. It went from a 4k short story to a 20k novella and then to a 50k novel. But at least now the whole story is there. I have nothing else to add to it. And it’s gone through at least 2 rounds of revisions and rewrites. Now I’m just waiting for the final remarks of my beta extraordinaire to put some finishing touches on the draft. After that, it will go to my favorite grammar Nazi ahem editor and will be ready to be put out into the world for everyone to see.
  3. I have outlined two more short stories in the Eye of the Norns cycle, but I never got around to write the drafts. Bad me. I need to do better in 2016.
  4. I have outlined and started writing the first draft of a new novel called Shadow Hunters. It’s over 60k now and I’m still working on it every day, though slooooowly creeping along to the finish line.
  5. I participated at NaNoWriMo again this year and I won, though I must admit that I had a harder time muster the excitement for it this year, maybe because November proved to be one of the busiest months at work as well.
  6. And finally, I got another novel-length idea that I would tentatively call Ghost and the Good Doctor for now. All I did is jot a few notes and character profiles down. I haven’t even started truly mining that world or story yet.


Well, now that I look at that list, it doesn’t seem all that shabby, does it? I guess it’s easy not to notice everything you’ve accomplished when you have your nose to the grindstone all the time, so stepping back and taking stock is a good thing.


I have also managed to keep my full-time job for another year, read some truly wonderful books (post about the best books I read in 2015 coming soon as well), watch some amazing TV shows and movies, and play a couple good games. So all in all, not such a crappy year after all.


Now it’s time to make plans for 2016!


  1. First of all, I want to finish the first draft of Shadow Hunters and I’m hoping to be done with them by end of January.
  2. Once that’s out of the way, I will put the final touches on Mists and self-publish them on Amazon. This will be my first self-publishing experience, so I foresee lots of research and panic attacks in my future. And blog posts about it of course.
  3. I would also like to sit down and write those three short stories I had outlined for the Eye of the Norns That would bring the story count on this to 5 and it could be published as a standalone volume.
  4. Then I want to start editing Choice. Not sure if I will be able to go through the whole draft next year because I edit at a snail’s pace, but I would like to at least get a head start.
  5. Brainstorm and maybe outline the sequel to Choices.
  6. Brainstorm, outline and start the first draft for Ghost and the Good Doctor.
  7. Make that my NaNoWriMo 2016 project.


Pfew, that’s a lot of plans for the next 12 months! Let’s see if I actually manage to get any of that done.

On that note, Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy New Year! Make your plans and don’t forget to dream big.

All the World’s a Stage.

Picture taken from
Picture taken from

I have been thinking about this expression a lot lately.

Most of us writers are the ultimate introverts. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually go out of my way to interact with other people.  I get all the human interaction I need at work, so by the end of the day all I want is to be left alone. When most normal people go out on Friday evening, I’m perfectly content to spend the evening with a good book or playing with my imaginary friends and writing my own stories.

If the house becomes too silent, I can always have a meaningful conversation with my cat. I swear, that little s&^t talks back to me too! More than my husband does, who has by now learn to leave me alone when I’m in “the zone.” 🙂

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that it’s easy to get too comfortable in our little world where we are the god and master of everything, and  the only human interaction we have is via Twitter with other fellow writers.

That’s why I think it’s important to remember that there is a vast and wonderful world  just waiting to be explored and experienced. All the world’s a stage, and it’s waiting for us just outside the doors of our tiny office.  I think that we need to venture out there from time to time, especially when our muse seems to lose steam or our creativity is low.

I know that it’s not easy to step out of our comfort zone, and sometimes we might even think that we don’t need to do it. After all, we have plenty of books, TV shows, movies and the whole vast Internet to draw our inspiration out of… But I would argue that the best ideas are not found on the Internet, but in the streets of your city or along a forest trail. You just have to be there to pick them up, because if not, somebody else might pass on that trail and get the idea for their new bestseller before you do.

Picture taken from
Picture taken from

That’s why it’s so important to step out of our comfort zone from time to time. To go sit in a café and just listen to the conversations around us. It’s amazing how many plot bunnies you can get within just 10 minutes of sipping your coffee in Starbucks!

On a bigger scale, we should never be afraid of new experiences. Go to the gun range and try as many different guns as you can. Rent a four wheeler and go ride in the woods. Go hunting, diving, paragliding. Take a pottery class or learn how to draw. Start learning a new language. Listen to a genre of music you never tried before. Instead of going to the same tried and familiar spot for your vacation, choose something new.

Don’t shy away from those new experiences. Embrace them instead. Accept them with open arms because everything you experience will be fuel for your creativity. It’s surprising what kind of ideas your brain can come up with after watching the total lunar eclipse for example. And yes, I wrote at least 3 new plot bunnies down while I sipped my wine and watched the mood disappear Sunday night 🙂

So how about we make a resolution this fall – Let’s go out and be adventurous at least once a week, shall we?