Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Learn Writing Tips by Watching TV Shows

Sounds too good to be true, right?

I don't watch a ton of TV, but there are times I just need to clear my mind and be entertained. After all, it's research--or so I tell myself. I do learn a lot from characterization and plot and try to use what I learn in my writing.

We don't have cable and only get one channel on TV, so we see our favorite shows online. There aren't many commercials on sites such as Hulu, which is nice, and of course there are none on Netflix. Because of this, the places in a show where there would normally be commercials stand out.

This week, I learned something.

Producers pause the story where they have the best chance of getting the viewer to stay on the channel, to come back to find out what's happened. There are many things that lure a viewer away during commercial breaks, for example, checking email, Facebook, getting a snack, or surfing around other channels to see what's on. The producer has a huge challenge in bringing the viewer back to their show after all this, so they stop the story at critical points, or hooks.

Think of a TV show as a book and where each commercial comes in as the end of a chapter. There are a lot of things that compete for readers' attention. We want to make it difficult for them to put our books down at the end of a chapter. I think good places to end a chapter may be the same as what's going on in a TV show just before the commercial break.

I've come across a few different themes lately where shows are paused, and I'm sure there are many more:

Someone is about to get hurt (physically or emotionally)
Someone has just gotten hurt (physically or emotionally)
Something major is about to happen, like thieves about to crack a safe
Something major has just happened, like thieves who cracked a safe and are fleeing from the police
Information is about to be given, like when an FBI agent's phone rings, he answers it, and someone is about to give him critical info
At the end of an intense emotional situation, like a kiss--to make us want to find out what happened after they connected
Just after something horrible is discovered
And so on, and so on.

So the next time you watch a television show, keep a lookout for tips that can help in your writing.

And in case you need a double whammy, why not watch a show about a writer? I highly recommend Castle. *wink*

I'm going to watch last night's episode tonight, so if you've seen it, please don't spill the beans!


Donna K. Weaver said...

This is something I'm working on right now, trying to find the places where it would be a chapter break to keep the reader going. HOWEVER, we need to avoid those really lame, orchestrated breaks where we're set up with something suspenseful that turns out to be lame once you start the next chapter. =D

Rebecca said...

Donna, I COMPLETELY agree. In fact, I call that cheating. Lame is right!

She's in the kitchen! said...

Even though I am not a "writer", this is all so interesting to me. I had never given thought to the breaking process for tv shows! It makes sense that a lot can be learned that would apply to writing skills! You're a genius! :)

You are in for a really good Castle tonight. And I won't say another word about it! :D

Kimberly said...

This is a brilliant post! I haven't watched Castle yet (It's not available on Canadian netflix - the nerve) but I can't wait!

Betsy Love said...

Great blog! Lots of invaluable tips.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

I haven't seen Castle either, but I've heard it AMAZING. I'll have to Netflix it! ;) Great blog! New here! *waves*

Steve Westover said...

Stephen King actually recommends watching a lot of TV in addition to reading. Watching shows like this helps a writer understand the flow of the story, building characters and escalating plot and conflict. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

And you are absolutely right about the hook. Leave something unresolved at the end of the chapter so the reader has to turn the page and start the next.

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

I love this post. I am copying and pasting that list into my hints and tips folder. Brilliant!

I have learned a lot from watching TV and films over the years.

Some of it is good. Some not so good.

But I can't deny that fact that I have a better vocabulary (go figure), a better idea of story sense, and a broader view of the world because of the media that I watch.

M. K. Yarbrough said...

I like to watch movies, but I mute the sound and then watch the actors reactions. I've learned a lot about characterization that way.