Wednesday, June 3, 2015

TV Time for the Writer

The last couple months, I've neglected something that gives me tremendous pleasure: watching my favorite TV shows.

A couple things happened: we got rid of cable and our DVR along with it, and I was in the throws of putting the final touches on my latest book that was published about two weeks ago.

Photo by Paul Townsend
And, I kind of missed the characters I had grown used to watching over the last few years!

So that got me thinking about the reasons I like to watch my shows, and how they're intrinsic to what I do as a fiction author. Maybe some will resonate with you.

  1. Obviously, the characters. If there's one thing I love, it's a well-developed character. Whether that's Richard Castle from "Castle," Deeks & Kensi from "NCIS: LA," or The Doctor from "Doctor Who," they're what keeps me coming back week after week and season after season. When you get right down to it, the humanity of the characters and how they're growing and changing is what I want to see more of. As a sci-fi and mystery viewer/writer, it's not so much the plot that keeps me tuning in, it's how the story is going to affect the characters. So much to learn from as a writer--especially if, like me, you're a series writer.

  2. The plot. I may have pooh-poohed it in my last point, but what better way to learn story technique than to see it expertly done in thirty or sixty minutes? Or, in some instances, not so expertly done, and you can pick it apart after? I've gotten spoiled a bit with Castle especially: I'm used to picking it apart the next day when I go read Lee Lofland's blog where they examine the use or misuse of police procedure. That's always fun to read--and it's educational to boot. But even Doctor Who can be pulled apart, or, if you're like me, you just go scream "Moffat!" a lot after a particularly infuriating episode. (True Whovians will understand.)

  3. The story arc. I'm not talking about the arc in one episode here. I'm talking about the development arc in a season, or, in a handful of cases, an entire series. Maybe Netflix has started to spoil us, but the ability to marathon a season of TV over a day or a week really enhances your ability to keep track of a meta-plot much better than watching it over the course of eight or nine months. The David Tennant and Matt Smith eras for Doctor Who really embody this way of story-telling, but on an even broader level, both Longmire and Bones have used the "we're in it for the long-haul" approach, keeping some elements of the story alive over several seasons. In Bones, we watched the two main characters go from colleagues who virtually despised each other to the opposite: two characters who fell in love, had a baby, and got married (not necessarily in that order.) They've also used meta-plot over several seasons by having criminals go unpunished/free. And who can forget the outcry when Longmire was unceremoniously dumped by the cable channel who shall remain nameless last summer? I wholeheartedly believe that had all the loose ends been tied up neatly in that series, the outcry wouldn't have been so strong. But we had a meta-plot that hadn't been tied up, and gunshots at the end--and we didn't know who had been shot! Of course there was an outcry!

    By being able to watch an entire season of a show in order and in close succession, it gives us writers--especially those of us who write series fiction--a chance to see how to develop meta-plot, especially if you go back and watch a second or third time to watch specifically for it. 
Obviously, as writers, we don't want to spend all our time watching TV shows. But if you enjoy it as I do, using your down time to learn how to craft better stories can't be a bad thing!

How about you? Do you find you watch TV with an eye for strengthening your knowledge of story or structure?
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