Saturday, December 13, 2014

TV, Movies, and Lessons in Writing

I am an avid believer that writers should first be readers. I've been a reader since my mother stacked those Little Golden Books up in my room. I've always loved stories and fairy tales. And I have no doubt that my love of reading was largely responsible for shaping me into a writer. But I've also learned a lot about writing from watching TV shows and movies. There is a lot to learn about dialogue, plot, character development, and story structure from watching TV shows and movies. After all, they all began with a script or screenplay written by someone, somewhere.

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I have also been reading whatever I watch for years by activating the closed captions on my TVs. Having the closed captions flashing on the screen drives some people crazy, but I honestly can't watch TV without them. I even read subtitles on Hulu and Netflix. And I can't tell you what I've learned about dialogue tags and descriptive words. It also helps with grammar and spelling.

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Here's my list of the most "writer educational" shows or movies and what they've taught me:

  • From the show, Blacklist, I have learned about character development. Red Reddington is a complicated character, but thanks to excellent development, we know him. And to know him is to love him, despite the fact that he's pretty despicable. Now that's some good writing when you're compelled to root for the bad guy! 
  • Want a lesson in pacing? Watch Scandal. The edge-of-your-seat action woven throughout this show is the stuff true page-turners are made of. You can't look away for a minute or you'll miss something. And believe me, you don't want to miss a thing. 
  • For a good illustration in non-linear plotting, check out How to Get Away With Murder. The plot shifts from past to present and back effortlessly and proves that your timeline can jump around without confusing the viewer or reader...  if you do it well. 
  • For a lesson in tension, do what I did--binge watch all ten million episodes of 24. 24 was easily one of the best TV shows to ever air in my book. And the mere premise of it screamed TENSION! Something horrible has happened. Only Jack Bauer can save the day. But there's a bomb or a loved one in peril or Russia is out to get us at the same time. Tension, tension, tension. Everything, and I mean everything, is done with a sense of urgency. And you feel it. The development of Bauer's character was excellent, as well. You know Jack Bauer, you know how he thinks and what he's willing to do in any given situation.
  • Want to know how to grab the reader's attention and hold on? Want to learn how to shroud your story in mystery? Need a crash course in world-building? Then mosey on over to Netflix and check out Lost. From the first episode, I was hooked! No matter how implausible the plot grew, I couldn't stop watching. The world of that island pulled me in and wouldn't let me go. The array of characters was excellent as well. 
  • Need to brush up on creating suspense? Go knock on Christopher Nolan's door. Okay, to me he is a master at what he does. Have you seen Inception? If not, go watch it now!! It is a mind-bending, suspenseful masterpiece!! 
  • A complicated, convincing love story is hard to create. Well, Shonda Rhimes and crew have done a pretty good job with Olitz. They're in love, Fitz is married, Olivia is the side chick, yet we still root for them because we are strangely convinced that their love is tragic, but real. Now that's some good writing. 

So now you might wonder how watching these shows or movies will translate into better writing for me or you. Like anything else a writer does, this is merely research. What you have to do is pay attention to the emotions these writers evoke through their work and do the same. In short, just write with the intention of moving the reader. Trust your voice. And don't be afraid to think outside the box. Uniqueness is the framework for success.

Be sure to comment below and share some of your favorite, well-written shows. What have you learned from them?

Until later... be blessed!!

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