When writers talk about guilty pleasures, it usually involves chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, donuts, book purchases, or simply taking time off to have fun.
My guilty pleasure is much plainer. I watch TV. My husband does as well, so it’s our habit to emerge from our respective basement offices anywhere from eight-thirty to nine and watch two or three recorded shows. (Does anyone sit through commercials anymore?)
I know that writers are supposed to read and write a lot, and I do, but my creativity fades away after seven-thirty on most nights, and I save reading time for before bed. So, I was very happy to read a blog by Shaunta Grimes where she states if you want to be a writer, you should be watching TV.
Genre writers, especially those writing contemporary fiction need to have a handle on pop culture from one year to the next. Tapping into issues people are talking about is important.
Grimes is also quite right when she says that some of the best writing out there is happening on TV. Many of the stories are limited six or eight-part series. A entire season is only ten to thirteen episodes these days, which reflects the quick style of storytelling and diminishing attention spans that’s happened in North America. Watch the old Hawaii Five-O crime drama, then watch the new version and you’ll see what I mean. It’s certainly happening with books as well.
Watching great TV is like sitting in on a great writing class. I think about what I’ve seen, ask myself why I like it so much. What’s drawing me back every week and why? How is the plot being constructed? Which twists didn’t I see coming? Terrific characters, intriguing plots, tremendous conflict, superb buildup of suspense and tension, and the need to find out what will happen next are crucial ingredients to both viewers and readers.
In case you’re interested, here’s what hubby and I have been enjoying: Sons of Anarchy, Hell on Wheels, The Good Wife (one of the best written dramas I’ve seen in years), Madam Secretary, Banshee, Continuum, Haven, Penny Dreadful, Person of Interest, Rizzoli and Isles,. The Game of Thrones, The Blacklist, (some of the recent X-Files, although they could have done better). And, heavy sigh, I still miss Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
When we want a break from drama, we mix it up with sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, Veep, and Silicon Valley. As far as “reality” TV goes, we watch Gold Rush, Yukon Gold, the Voice, So You Think You Can Dance, and hockey (or at least my son and I do). Honestly, non-dramas are guilty pleasures. The other programs are homework. So, find yourself some compelling TV shows, then study them. You’ll be amazed at how many storytelling techniques can be incorporated into your own work.