How Lost Kept Me Hooked

Hugo "Hurley" Reyes
Hugo “Hurley” Reyes

I was, and still am, a professed Lost devotee. Although I was less than thrilled with the series finale, the show remains one of my favorites.

At the end of each episode I experienced a strong, almost compulsive drive to know what happened next. No show made me hunger more for answers. And when an answer was given, it felt uncannily gratifying.

So how did the writers of Lost keep me, and millions of other viewers, addicted to their program through six seasons?

Supernatural Draw

Humans are fascinated by the supernatural. Magic, ghosts and the afterlife are ever-popular subjects.  The surging demand for stories about vampires and other undead beings attest to this.

In it’s first season Lost established the island as a place where miracles do happen. Who can forget seeing John Locke step out of his wheelchair, or Hurley chatting with a deceased friend?

By stirring our natural fascination with the supernatural, Lost kindled the imaginations of viewers.

Mystery and Suspense

As well as exploring the supernatural, Lost was also a tale of mystery. Puzzles were presented, and viewers sought to decipher the answers.

Humans are curious creatures.  Once we become involved in a story, we long to know how things turn out. No series in recent memory roused viewer curiosity more than Lost. Virtually every episode ended with a cliffhanger.

A vital component of any good mystery is suspense. By increasingly raising the stakes and delaying answers, Lost ratcheted up the suspense week after week. As a viewer, I craved to know what happened next, because the stakes had risen so high. Early on the fates of our heroes hung in the balance. By the end of the series the future of the world was at stake.

The Timeless Battle

Finally, Lost delved into one of the most enduring fantasy archetypes: the timeless battle between good and evil. Many of the great fantasy epics incorporate this motif, including The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

Lost explored this theme on two levels.

On one level, Lost was a character-driven show. The battle between good and evil played itself out in the lives of the characters. As we know, the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 weren’t so much lost geographically as they were spiritually. As the series progressed some characters found redemption, while others succumbed to their darker natures.

On a larger scale, Lost chronicles this timeless battle as a clash between two otherworldly powers. The forces of good and evil are embodied in the persons of Jacob and The Man in Black, with the survivors being caught in the middle.

Connected to this battle is another classic fantasy motif: the reality of Providence. This is the notion that a power greater than us is in control, guiding the universe towards an ultimate purpose.  As Gandalf once said on this subject, “that may be an encouraging thought.”

In the world of Lost, things happen for a reason. There is a sense that something more is at work, leading our heroes towards some greater end.

Final Thoughts

As fantasy authors, our goal is to write novels of such quality that readers are reluctant to put them down. Lost is the television equivalent of such success. By understanding what made Lost so compelling, we can better perceive what constitutes great storytelling.

This article explains how Lost kept me hooked.  Were you also a Lost addict?  If so, how did it keep you hooked?

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Stephen S. Power
Stephen S. Power
8 years ago

In this TED Talk, JJ Abrams explains how he hooked you and kept you watching: The Mystery Box.

Trayvian James
Trayvian James
11 years ago

I also loved Lost. My wife and I watched the first season on DVD… over one weekend. We found ourselves staying up until the wee hours of the morning just to catch one more episode. After that, we watched the rest of the series week by week along with millions of others.

That being said, I felt Lost was a little bit like the Matrix. I watched it all, but I thought the first season was by far the most amazing and definitely could have stood alone (and the same for the first movie in The Matrix series). 

I loved the article Tony, and I agree with every point you made, but I think the thing that you didn’t mention was the creativity of the flashbacks. I find it difficult in writing, and I’m sure it is in film, to find good methods to give the history of characters. The Lost writers thought of an amazing way to do just that: flashbacks. 

I think the duel story lines made Lost so intriguing. I found myself rooting for the characters on the island and in their real lives. And the (spoiler alert!) flashforward was genius.

The one mistake I think the Lost writers made (and the reason the Finale left me wanting) was putting out too many mysteries and plot threads that they didn’t know how to sum up. I saw a comedy video on YouTube that was 15 minutes long and all it did was ask unanswered questions from the Lost series. 

Sometimes, as a writer, I fall in love with my own creativity and I introduce things that I have to cut later because I can’t tie off that thread. Sometimes less is more, and a great mystery has to be well thought out and fully developed. Its not easy. If you want a few good examples, my two favorites for tying off every plot thread, read Harry Potter (for the two people in the world who haven’t) and Mistborn (absolutely amazing trilogy).

Anyways, there’s my two cents. Great article! 

Antonio del Drago
Reply to  Trayvian James
11 years ago

Thanks Brian!

I agree about the flashbacks.  They added so much to the character development.

I also agree with your thoughts on Lost’s great flaw: they introduced many questions without having thought out the answers first.  That’s why so many of us were at least a little disappointed with the finale.

Map the Dragon
Map the Dragon
11 years ago

Plus I don’t have to wait patiently for each episode like you did!

Map the Dragon
Map the Dragon
11 years ago

Please don’t be mad…

I’ve never seen an episode of Lost.

But, I can attest to that feeling of the need for more, be it from television or traditional literature. That need-to-know desperation is the reason why I loved my favorite characters and settings. My favorite authors made me need to turn the page; this goes beyond a simple ‘like’.

The element of the supernatural, is indeed a great draw. I tend to watch and become addicted to this type of programming more often than other genres. The human endeavor to understand the human condition in any way (natural or otherwise) is the underlying draw here.

Great article.
I need to go rent Lost.

Antonio del Drago
Reply to  Map the Dragon
11 years ago

Thanks Map!

And yes, definitely rent Lost.  If you actually watch it straight through over a few weeks, as opposed to waiting a week between episodes, it actually makes more sense… or so I have been told.