Watching TV Makes You A Better Writer

Have you ever considered a trip to the movies to be writing research? Or that weekend binging Xena, Warrior Princess?  If you haven’t, I’m about to explain why you should consider changing your mind.

We can learn a lot about writing from movies because one, movies are written before they’re filmed, and two, it’s a great way to learn about pacing and characterization, especially if you watch movies with a full vest of spy gear on like I do. 😀

Think about it. Have you ever watched a movie and thought the pacing was slow or someone’s motives were unbelievable? Of course you have. To be honest, that’s how I learned about pacing – from watching a crap-ton of movies. A lot of it was not intentional, I’ll admit, but who says watching a bunch of movies is a waste of time?

One of the things people would say to me sometimes growing up was that I watched too much TV – this would always be in response to something crazy I said. For one, I actually got that crazy stuff from books, and for two, what did they think I was watching? For three, if I did get it from TV, why would that had been a bad thing? Especially as a writer.

People who write novels obviously learn from other novelists. But we also benefit from short fiction and screenplays. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Married with Children are the greatest shows of all time – according to me – because of the writing – not because of the acting, though they were superbly acted.

Case in point. Ever heard of a show called Dollhouse? If you haven’t, it’s because it was on FOX (haha) for only 1.5 seasons. I bring it up for two reasons, the first reason being that it was produced by Joss Whedon, creator of the Buffy show and one of my most favorite people. The second reason I bring it up is because it excellently illustrates my point.

The premise of Dollhouse was fantastic. People get their brains “wiped” and are imprinted with personalities that make them assassins and dare-devils and spies. Unfortunately, they’re also imprinted with near-sighted tutor imprints, dead lovers, and other boring crap. But the premise? Solid. The acting? Awesome. The actual plot? Meh. Season one was great until the last couple of episodes. Then it was just dying a slow, painful death.

Yep, the thing that killed that show were the people writing the script. It was dumb. The show didn’t live up to it’s potential, and not all of the imprinted personalties were adding to the plot. It was just kind of random sometimes. Like someone was just like, “Oh, that sounds fun. Let’s have Echo get chased in the woods by some psycho – something that has nothing to do with anything because she’s not going to remember it anyway once we wipe her brain at the end of the day – and then throw in two minutes of interesting background stuff that has EVERYthing to do with everything.”

No. Bad writers. You absolutely do NOT have to chase someone through the woods to be interesting.

Married with Children is my number one favorite show of all time because whoever was writing those episodes were hilarious and consistent and awesome. If Bud moved into the basement in one episode, he was still in the basement in the following episodes. No one had any sudden and severe shifts in personality. The dialogue was fantastic! It was just 11 seasons of greatness, and how many shows get to go out as good or better than they started?

You need good actors too, but not even Leonardo DiCaprio can save a boring screenplay. Honestly, an interesting plot and good pacing can make even terrible movies decent experiences. I Know What You Did Last Summer is a great example of a terrible movie being grade A in the entertainment department. 😀

8 Responses to Watching TV Makes You A Better Writer

  1. Totally agree with you! I find myself reflecting and analyzing what I love or don’t like about things I watch and find I learn so much about plot and pacing. My current faves: I just finished watching Alias Grace (unreliable narrator in the best possible way), and TURN (each season got better and better because the pacing and tension was always there). I currently reread one of my fave books as a teen (Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac). It’s character-driven, but the MC is so flawed that I sometimes can’t stand her, but I understand why she’s doing what she’s doing so I can’t help but watch her be a train wreck and the LI in there is so flawed and so depressed. IDK why but I find it sooooo fascinating, especially being in her head space. Maybe it’s because the characters are so messed up they actually feel like real people.

    • That book sounds really interesting! I already have it pulled up. Lol! I love characters like that. I sometimes poke through old favorites, and so far I’ve been relieved and so happy to find that I still love them and they’re still so good!

  2. I just finished watching season two of The Crown. Love that show. But yeah, I agree with you to a certain extent, since I don’t actually watch a lot of scripted television and even fewer movies these days–lack of time and interest–but it is often easier to see plot devices or pacing or how/why the tension works in a movie than in novels sometimes.

    • I have The Crown on my watchlist. I’ve been in more of a games and movies mood lately, but I’ll get to it sometime. I have too much stuff on the list right now, I can’t find anything.

  3. I agree! The whole time I wrote Chasing Echoes I was picturing it as a movie. Not because I thought it’d ever be a movie, but because it helped me with pacing SO much. If I could see the events unfolding in my mind like moving pictures on a screen, I figured I was on the right track.

  4. I find visualizing scenes and letting them play through the mind can help smooth certain aspects out. Not always, but every scene has its own quirks and needs. And yep, movies and shows are as much research as reading. There’s always something to discover in the way of plot building, world building, character attributes. . .plus, it’s a lot easier to eat buttered popcorn while watching something than when reading a book. 😉

    • 😀 It takes a good writer to write a good screenplay. It’s almost frustrating trying to balance a bowl of popcorn and a book. LOL!

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