Monday, September 12, 2011

Why Bones Is the TV Show to Watch if You're a Writer

The best piece of writing advice I ever got was this:

TURN OFF THE TV.

We all know how TV and the wonders of the internet can completely consume your focus and whatever time you've set aside for writing and reading. I've seen every episode of How I Met Your Mother, Friends, MASH, Star Trek Next Generation, Gilmore Girls, Avatar, Eureka, Early Edition, Wonderfalls, Lie to Me, Chuck, In Plain Sight, Freaks and Geeks, My So-Called Life, Dead Like Me, Cougar Town, and all or most of the episodes of dozens of other shows. That's thousands of hours of at least semi-attentive TV-watching.

But most of us aren't ready to cut the TV cord entirely. I know I'm not (even after finding myself horrified at the list in the previous paragraph). But why couldn't I at least make TV time more productive? (Or at least make myself feel better about it?)

So I started paying attention and asking questions. What makes this character unique? When something surprising happens, why is it surprising? What evidence or clues led up to it? How does each scene deepen character and move the plot toward the climax? How would I describe this setting?

They're writer questions, the same ones we ask when we study literature and revise our own stories. But the vividness of TV can help us sharpen our skills and learn a thing or two from professional writers of a different type.

This works best with good shows.

Daniel and I are re-watching Bones, and corpse close-ups aside, it's wonderful. The plots are pretty typical mystery-format with misdirection, clues, and real and suspected motives--all things to learn. But the characters are the best part. Every episode reveals more of each character's story in a natural way, the way that you would learn about someone you just met. And the romance! Angela and Hodgins have kept me fascinated for years. I still love to go back to the beginning and watch them fall in love again.

At some point, you really do have to turn off the TV and write. But in the mean time, find a good show and let it inspire you.

What other shows would you recommend for writers and why?

2 comments:

  1. That's a good question! I think I need to go...do some research. LOL

    I would say that you can benefit from watching the movie version of a book you enjoyed. There are always details that are left out that make fans crazy. Why are those details important? How did they contribute to the original story? Which changes are good and which bad?

    If you're feeling particularly brave, consider what would be edited out of your own writing were it made into a movie.

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  2. I suppose that I would mostly suggest watching something of a similar genre to what you are writing. I agree that finding aspects about a show or movie that work can help to improve writing and storytelling. I think, though, what I find better for me is finding what doesn't work and try to prevent myself from making the same mistakes.

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