Stories that Matter

What Can Writers Learn from Television?

I meant to be good this year. I don’t normally watch a lot of television. But then I started watching Once Upon A Time. And then I started watching Hart of Dixie. And then…as I was innocently browsing around Facebook late yesterday afternoon…someone who shall remain nameless but not innocent who also happens to be my agent, mentioned Downton Abbey.

As I said, I don’t tend to watch a lot of television. When the set is on, my hubby is usually watching something. Like Food Network or Antiques Roadshow. The only time he’s ever watched PBS  is probably about a few decades ago when we had toddlers in the house. So this one has somehow slipped past me. However, being the curious type, and because my agent said she loved it, I decided to check it out.

As I live in a British Colony, hold a British passport and claim to have been partly educated in England, I love anything made by the Brits. Anything that features rolling hills, sweeping estates and stately manors has me sitting down at once. So sit I did.

Downton Abbey did not disappoint. A wonderful cast of characters with enviously authentic British accents. People of privilege who know how to use a knife and fork properly and which side your wine glass belongs. And there are those who serve them. The struggle of the social system of the day (just pre-WW2), a study in duty and honor and what is right. Along with a few deliciously horrible villains to spice things up. A wonderful plot. And let’s not forget the romance. All these things combined provides a treat for this writer’s soul. And then, to my horror, I discovered I’d missed an entire season of the blasted show. So of course I did what any sensible person would. I downloaded Season One and began watching immediately. I still have a few hours to go, but I believe I can catch up before next week’s episode.

Now before I get into trouble because this is television and not a book – let’s clarify. Any well-written television series starts with a writer who has an idea they are passionate about. It simply has to. Lord knows, there’s enough junk out there to decry this theory, but when you do come across that pearl hidden amongst the swill, doesn’t it renew your faith in mankind as a whole? When you’re glued to the screen, trying to out-think the writer and guess what’s going to come next and realize you’re totally stumped because it’s one surprise after the next, doesn’t it inspire you? Doesn’t it make you want to rush to the computer and start your own best-selling series? As soon as the one you’re watching is over of course.

Great writing, whether it’s a book or a movie made from a book or a television series that everyone’s talking about, excites me. It tells me I’m not alone in the quest for the next great story. I’m sharing my  passion to see another world come alive in front of me with thousands of other like-minded individuals. I am inspired. Awed. And I start taking notes.

I remember when my daughter told us about LOST. We spent months watching the entire six seasons together as a family, and it was a great time. My mind couldn’t keep up with the twists and turns going on in that show. It was genius. And I wanted to be genius too.

I think that as long as we’re watching the right things, writers can learn much from television. Even after just a few hours yesterday, I’m now thinking about my own cast of characters and the particular importance of having that one character that everybody loves to hate. I’ve not been particularly good at including these types in my writing thus far, and I’m challenged to do so. I’m not only entertained, but I’m being educated. It’s not a waste of time, it’s like a necessary extra-curricular.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I shall continue to watch and learn and be inspired. And then I will write. And it will be good.

What about you? Do you learn from television? 

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  1. manymediamusings on January 11, 2012 at 2:01 am

    Thank you for this post; it clearly articulates why I love watching good TV. I am an aspiring writer, and I admit that I enjoy studying books, movies, and TV. I find that storytelling on television, when done right, can be just as amazing, intricate, and thoughtful as storytelling through other media. I also think that Downton Abbey and Lost are two phenomenal examples of television; both taught me that having a large cast of characters isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as each character is fully realized (and both, of course, can be quite addictive).

  2. mmgriep on January 26, 2012 at 9:14 am

    I LOVE Downton Abbey!

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