The hit series The Americans just wrapped up its final season, going back to 1980's Washington D.C. and the Soviet Union one last time. This hit show about a family that includes two embedded Soviet spies has been called one of the best-written series in television history. The writers took what was, essentially, the tale of a couple of cold-blooded killers and transformed it into an intimate look at an American family. Elizabeth and Philip Jennings may have ended their service in the U.S., but the lessons they teach live on. Modern authors can learn a lot from these two, and not just about how to choose a fabulous wig.
Philip and Elizabeth had an elaborate backstory, designed to allow them to flawlessly melt into American society the minute they landed in this country. They were prepared with vast lists of details explaining all about their supposed history. No matter what circumstances came up, they always had a ready answer and never needed to improvise on their personal stories.
Your character's backstory matters just as much when telling your story. Even if you never use half of what you've outlined, your character's history will inform the way he acts and reacts to every facet of his life.
It's All in the Details
The Americans was set during the Reagan era, and every single prop and detail on that show was authentic and historically accurate. Viewers who were alive during that time period were constantly surprised at seeing their grandparents' cookie jar or the dream phone they wanted in their own teenage bedroom. There was never an off note during the entire series, from fashion to little-known news stories.
If you want to give your book a depth of feeling that will cause readers to come back to it again and again, put in the kind of detail that makes your scenes come alive in their head.
Sometimes Success Takes a Long Time
The series began with FBI agent Stan Beeman moving in across the street from the Jennings house. Tasked with finding the Soviet "illegals", he spent six years as Philip's best friend, never realizing until almost the final episode of the series that he had two of them right under his nose all the time. It took him six years of putting together clues to finally follow the trail to the Jennings household.
Your success in being an author might take just as long. The key is to pay attention to all the details and keep working your plan until you reach the goals you've set for yourself.
Teamwork is Key
Philip and Elizabeth could never have been successful without the seemingly countless support people they had. From handlers to phone operators and everyone in between, it seemed like they could find a team member to help out with any task they had to take on.
Being an author isn't a solitary job, either. From editors to cover designers, you'll need to assemble a dedicated team to help you along your journey. Take your time and choose those you can work with for a long time.
Help Comes From Unexpected Places
Spoiler Alert! In the final episode, Elizabeth and Philip are trying to escape the country, secure in the knowledge that the FBI has found them out and are on their way to capture them. The agent that comes to get them is Stan Beeman, their friend, and neighbor. Philip makes an impassioned plea and turns the welfare of their son over to Stan, who lets them escape unharmed.
When working on your career as an author, you may get help from unexpected places. Other authors may ask you to join in an anthology, or you may be invited to a newsletter exchange that bumps your sales to the next level. Always keep your eyes open for opportunities, from every possible direction.
Keep the Faith and May the Force Be With You!