I still hate it, during a particularly emotional scene in a TV show or movie, when my wife looks at me to gauge my reaction. It’s like she wants to catch me crying. Of course, protecting my male ego is of the utmost importance.”The pollen is something awful this year, dear.”
We can learn a lot about writing from those sappy TV shows we love or simply endure. At the risk of being severely castigated for my choice of TV shows, I’ve assembled a list of 7 Secrets About Book Writing You Can Learn from TV.
- Supergirl – Great characters, no matter how perfect or amazing, have weaknesses. Call it the Kryptonite effect. Kara, played by Melissa Benoist, has a big heart to go with her superpowers which can, at times, make her vulnerable to her antagonists. When developing your characters always look at the opposite side of the coin. What makes them weak? Where are they vulnerable? Make characters stronger by exploring their weaknesses.
- Last Man Standing – This comedy starring Tim Allen is worthy of note because it demonstrates the effective use of checks and balances in writing. Tim plays Mike Baxter, a borderline Archie Bunker: super conservative, anti-liberal, highly opinionated but loveable. His wife, Vanessa (Nancy Travis) claims to be a feminist, a liberal, and an avid supporter of Hillary Clinton. One of Mike’s daughters, Eve (Kaitlyn Dever), is a chip off of Mike’s block and shares his political leanings. The oldest daughter, Kristin (Amanda Fuller), is married to an ultra liberal, Ryan Vogelson (Jordan Masterson) . And then there’s the middle Baxter girl, Molly, played by Molly Ephraim. She doesn’t get politics nor does she give a rip. In fiction writing, unless you have an axe to grind, explore contrasting views on delicate subjects. If your characters are strong they will react differently to the topics introduced. One opinion makes for dull fiction. Make characters stronger by contrasting viewpoints/opinions.
- Limitless – From this TV series that was spun from a movie, we learn even more about good character development. What is your hero’s source of strength? Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) gets his power from a pill to become the smartest man on the planet. Move over Stephen Hawking. An important area to explore in character development is the story behind the character. What in the past defines who they are in the present? If he is chronically angry, what fuels the fire? Is she obsessed with cleanliness? Why? Make characters stronger by exposing the source of their strength.
- Scorpion – In my humble opinion, this show is masterfully written. In case you’ve missed it, it’s the Geek Squad Saves the World. A group of young geniuses solve crimes and protect the masses from all sorts of disasters. The beauty is in their solutions to enormous problems which require extreme research by the writers. Yep, research. In my recent novel, Farewell PFC POLK, I was writing a scene set in 1953 where the characters were assigned the monotonous task of counting passing vehicles for 8 hours a day in the heat of summer. The problem to be solved was simple. They were hot…needed water. If you and I were in that circumstance we would reach for a bottle of water but bottled water didn’t exist in 1953. What? Not even plastic jugs? How about a metal bucket and a dipping ladle called a dipper? Attention to detail makes for good writing. An additional element of note from Scorpion is the breathtaking use of twists and turns. Just when you think a problem has been solved another one comes along that is even worse than the first. This process is repeated not just once but several times before the conclusion of the hour. This technique gives motion, adds suspense, and keeps the viewing engaged. Make characters, settings, and plots stronger by qualitative research. Make plots like real life. When one problem resolves another takes its place.
- Marvel’s Agent Carter – The producers have spared no detail in recreating the United States of 1947. From this program we learn the importance of setting. Again, using an analogy from the artist’s canvas, good writing pulls out all the stops in creating imagery that elicits emotion in the reader. It’s the where and when of writing. Applying this technique in historical fiction or futuristic fantasy is a given but “setting” also has its place when writing in the now. Add that color to your canvass. Add color to your story with a believable setting.
- The X-Files – Mulder and Scully are back (maybe only briefly) and out of respect for their previous success I have faithfully tuned in for each new episode. Were-Monster? Really? Last episode was strange enough for me to ask, “Who the heck wrote that?” Even though I was less than impressed I still hung in there for the less than thrilling conclusion. So maybe a program doesn’t have to be good to learn something. What I get from X-Files is that comedic relief when properly applied makes the pill easier to swallow. Mulder and Scully weren’t taking it so seriously. Why should I? Writing should be fun and it is a product of your imagination. So open up and let it fly. To strengthen your plot sprinkle drama with comedic relief.
- Hallmark Movies – Say what? Yep. I watch them. But you say, “Those flics are simple and stupid.” Exactly. That’s the point. So is life. Most of what we call problems in real life are nothing but small blips on the radar. We major on the minors. As writers we want to shock or sensationalize and in so doing sometimes miss the beauty of simplicity. The characters in Hallmark’s fluffy flics respond to problems in stupid ways like breaking off perfectly good relationships because of some unfortunate misunderstanding or circumstance. So I’m sitting here saying, “Stupid, stupid, stupid.” Then it hits me. “Nope. That’s the kind of silly stuff we really do. Overreact. Get in a huff about nothing. Quoting Frank Sinatra, “That’s life.” To strengthen you story capitalize on the simplicity of life.
What about your favorite TV shows? What can you learn from them that will help you in your writing? Enough said. Now go write something.