By Mandi Bierly
September 09, 2010 at 08:12 PM EDT

Image Credit: Annette Brown/The CWThe Vampire Diaries returns tonight with its season 2 premiere (The CW, 8 p.m. ET). If you’re contemplating tuning in for the first time but worry you’ll be lost, read through our catch-up gallery, which has everything you need to know — plus a look ahead from executive producers Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec. You won’t be sorry. This show has the kind of swift, satisfying pacing that makes you want to hug your television, because the writers aren’t afraid to give you answers — they know they’ve got plenty more questions to raise. We asked Williamson and Plec for their secret. Other TV writers take note!

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your mindset for season 1?

KEVIN WILLIAMSON: It was a conscious decision that we wanted to move the story forward, and we didn’t want to be that show that just offers up 20 questions and no answers. I felt like we kind of latched onto this big huge story when we were sitting in the writers room, and we were doing everything we could to tell it all. If you look at all 22 episodes of the first season as a whole, the first four or five were not so much all of that adrenaline. It was a little more of a girl meeting a guy and thinking he has a secret and trying to figure out what it is about this guy she loves that she doesn’t quite understand. And then she figures out that he’s a vampire. And then we ran those few episodes about the uncovering of the town realizing vampires are back. So what episode was the tomb?

JULIE PLEC: Nine or ten.

KW: Nine or ten was when we actually sort of spit out what Damon’s true agenda was. I feel like once we did that, that’s when it was off and running. That to me is when we entered the sprint race, and every episode was baboom, baboom, baboom.

JP: We started this season saying we can’t do that again, it’s too hard. It makes the stories too hard to break. The sprint is so hard to execute. We tried to slow down in the first episode, and then we read the script, and we’re like, nope, nope, kinda speeds back up. [Laughs] For some reason, we stumbled into a formula that really works for us, which is cliffhanger upon cliffhanger, moment upon moment, big epic game-charging moves, and as much as we — for our own sanity — would like to slow that down a bit, we can’t and we won’t.

What I love is that your episodes always live up to their promos. I hate it when a well-teased episode ends and I’m way more interested in talking about the promo for the next episode because nothing actually happened in the hour I just sat through.

KW: We grew up watching serialized shows where they had all the cliffhangers. Nothing was better than a Friday afternoon episode of General Hospital. [Plec laughs] Knots Landing was my favorite show. I just loved all those “ohmygod” moments at the end of every episode. We kinda sorta added that to the genre, the murder and mayhem. We wanted to be sort of a Southern Gothic Dark Shadows with a bunch of cool twists.

JP: And hot boys.

KW: And hot boys. We love our twists. We also wanted to make sure the show was emotional, and it seems to me you don’t have a lot of time to blend the drama, the characterizations, the mythology, the scares, and all the interweaving storylines in 42.5 minutes. So sometimes it takes those big “ohmygod” twists to make your point. It just works for us.

More Vampire Diaries:

Vampire Diaries season 2 primer, with a look ahead from producers

Ian Somerhalder talks Sexiest Beast title and season 2

Vampire Diaries producers explain why Katherine will be a Sexy Beast contender after the season 2 premiere

Ian Somerhalder talks Vampire Diaries and why we want to slap him, then kiss him

Ian Somerhalder politely declines your request that he bite you