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Sometimes Good Writing Comes from TV


November 11, 2014 by M. A. Dunham

And I’m sure someone’s already turned away in disgust. What writer watches TV?

One that wants to learn what interests people and captures the interest of their readers. Most readers watch a few TV shows. They don’t live in a bubble. Their world revolves around multiple forms of entertainment.

Should you be basing your story around a TV script style? Of course not. But conflict/resolution which leads to more conflict is something TV shows can show quickly and give a writer another way to reflect on how their writing can be better.

I’m quite a Kdrama/Jdrama fan, and one of the things I love most about them is they have a planned lifespan of 1-2 seasons, where the entire show is wrapped up in a set number of episodes. In US terms, it’s longer than a mini-series, but shorter than a standard series.

The big upside is the writers haveĀ a definite end-game. There’s no playing around with ridiculous cliff-hangers that no one believes (AKA the dreaded false tension), because we know you’re not going to kill off your main character if the show is named after them. I’m looking at you, Castle.

One of the biggest problems long-running TV shows encounter is not back-tracking over their own lore. To me, that is easier to do and more frequent than stale or redone episodes.

I mean, look at Law and Order, SVU. You could argue they only have 5 different episodes: pedophiles, rapists, abuse cases, trafficking, and personal angst. But it’s the ability to wrap these in a new context every single damn time that keeps watchers coming back, no matter how many complain about losing Stabler.

But they’ve managed to not cross their toes with their characters, and that gives them enough leeway to let people coming back and believing.

And above all, along with enjoyment, that is the golden rule: make your readers believe. Because if your readers drops out of that believing zone that makes reading a story real, you’ve lost them.

1 comment »

  1. Jennifer says:

    I probably watch too much TV myself. I find that some of the shows inspire me, especially those that play mind games with me a little (like Criminal Minds). I have noticed the “false cliffhanger” quality of Castle, but I can’t help still love watching it. I think that writers can get valuable things from TV along with books.

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