Lessons I Learned From The Writers of Cobra Kai- Part 1
Updated: Apr 7, 2022
Confession Time: I’m obsessed with the Netflix series Cobra Kai. Growing up in the 80s with a huge crush on Ralph Macchio, I’d devoured all 3 of the original The Karate Kid series. So when I saw my kids watching the new Netflix series, I reacted like many people of my generation did: by being terrified they were going to ruin my cherished classics.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Once I gave the show a chance, its wonderful balance of comedy and drama impressed me. I loved both the poignancy and the lightheartedness it portrayed. After the first episode, I sat on the couch shaking my head at the TV, stunned by how the writers had so deftly manipulated my emotions. How was it possible that I was now rooting for the bully Johnny Lawrence and wanting to punch my former hero Daniel Larusso in the teeth? (Although allegiance switch may have had a little to do with the portrayal of Johnny by the lovely Billy Zabka. I mean, have you seen the guy? Ralph who… am I right?)
My obsession with the series (and yeah, I’ll admit, with Billy too) led to me watching countless hours of interviews with the cast and writers. Being a writer myself, I was endlessly intrigued by the interviews with the creators of the series, Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (who we in the fandom refer to as The Big Three). I couldn’t believe they had me wondering if Johnny, not Daniel, was the real Karate Kid. (A view hilariously promoted by Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother, which went on to be hotly debated on fan sites for years before the Netflix series aired.)
During an interview, Josh Heald stated how they’d wanted to turn the prism on the original Karate Kid story. In other words, take the same circumstances as in the movie, but change the perspective so the audience now saw those experiences through alleged ‘villain’ Johnny’s eyes. And boy, did they do a good job of that! I can tell you firsthand from that changed viewpoint the beliefs I’d once held so steadfast and true, about situations I’d truly believed were starkly black and white, were instantly challenged.
At the time I heard the Cobra Kai creators discuss their prism-turning concept, I’d been writing my first novel for almost five years. I had no idea what was going to come of my endeavor. I was just loving the process of writing; enjoying the feeling of my creativity flowing through me; basking in the freedom of being the “God” of my own fictional world.
Although I’d taken several writing classes and revised the heck out of my story multiple times, it was, by all industry standards, way too long. And yet, despite knowing it was too long already, something deep inside called me to write even more. On my afternoon walks scenes from an epilogue would come to me, delighting me with their emotion and clarity. Then an epilogue to the epilogue popped into my head. And then an epilogue to that epilogue. And well, you get the picture. The valve just would not shut off. Story was just oozing out of me all over the place, metaphorically speaking.
As I was gnashing my teeth about what to do with all my vivid ideas, I got hooked on another Netflix series, Normal People. In the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s wonderful novel, the story of the two main characters’ romantic relationship is shown at different points in their lives. Seeing the similarities in the epilogue style scenes coming to me, I decided to just go ahead and let my ideas develop in the way in which they were demanding. What the heck? I thought. I was having a ball writing this. What did it hurt if kept going for a while? I decided to just follow my gut and write it because the process felt so good, further emboldened by the fact that I doubted anyone would ever read my story, anyway. So again, what did it matter?
So there I was, with my too-long story, a Cobra Kai obsession and three brilliant writers planting a seed in my mind about turning a prism and seeing something differently. What did I do? I’m going to end on a cliffhanger, divide up this blog post, and tell you what happened in my next installment. Which is not only a good way to wrap this up, but also a clue to the answer that came to me next.