Last week we went over how to speed up the writing process. Specifically, we talked about sprinting. You can read that post HERE.
This week, as promised, we’re talking about how binge watching your favorite shows can teach you to write. You know, for a writer, watching TV or movies isn’t laziness, it’s work. No, I’m not even kidding.
I love Netflix and Acorn TV like whoa. LOVE ’em. I also have cable TV. Some would say this makes me an addict. Some would be wrong. I’m learning my craft.
Recently I read this great article by Reedsy editor Andrew Lowe with the clever title of Netflix & Write. Talk about attention grabbing. In it, Lowe talks about the things we can learn from binge watching some of the best shows. Everything from plotting to characters.
So, that got me thinking about how I’ve learned to hide bodies…
Kidding. Sort of.
The truth is, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been inspired while watching a television program. Many, many moons ago, I was watching a Discovery Channel documentary about 2,000 year old mummies found in China. Caucasian mummies. From the British Aisles. HOLY RUSTED METAL, BATMAN! Believe you me, that sparked some ideas. Ideas which have yet to make the publishing cut, but they may yet.
I’ve also been inspired by everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Firefly to Hallmark Christmas movies. I truly believe that as authors, we are inspired by everything around us, including (and maybe even most especially) storytelling, regardless of medium.
In fact, when I decided to start writing cozy mysteries, I wanted to get in the mood, so to speak. Not only did I start devouring cozy mystery books, but I watched every cozy mystery show or movie I could get my hands on. Did it work? Heck, yeah it did. Watching a movie or TV show in your genre can help get those creative juices flowing again. I’ve certainly found it works for me. And not only does it get the creative juices flowing…but if you watch with a critical mind, you’ll often discover what not to do (major plot holes, undeveloped characters, wild leaps of logic) to what to do (clever dialogue, attention to detail, shocking reveals).
When I was working on the early Dragon Wars books, I watched Life After People almost religiously (Gotta know how everything falls apart. Am I right?). But I didn’t stop at documentaries. I also gobbled up just about every post-apocalyptic show I could get my hands on, including Doomsday Preppers and Zombieland. And need I mention The Walking Dead? Yeah. Didn’t think so.
Right now I’m working on a new mystery series set in the early 1930s. I’ve got to do proper historical research, of course. But I also need to catch the “feel” of the time period. Or at least the fiction of it. So, I’m re-watching Poirot and Miss Fischer. I even got my hands on Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and binged on Z: The Beginning of Everything. As I watched, details of character and plot began to slowly unfurl in my mind. Now we’re getting somewhere…
Here are my three easy steps for getting the most out of watching your favorite shows:
- Pay attention to character. Especially in a series with long character arcs. Recently a favorite show had a long-time character do something that went TOTALLY AGAINST what that character would normally do just so the writers could move the plot in the direction they wanted it to go. Big, fat no-no. I lost so much respect for the show.
- Whenever something happens in the plot that makes you go, “WTF???” (and not in a good way), then that may be a failing. Was there foreshadowing? Looking back, can you see that everything led to this moment regardless of how batshit it is? Or is it just a big pile of steaming whatthefuckery? Throwing your readers a curve ball out of nowhere is going to make them throw the book against the wall.
- It can’t be all action all the time. Notice what keeps you the watcher engaged when it comes to dialogue. Snappy dialogue laced with humor, perhaps? Then notice how your mind wanders as two characters take a break to ramble aimlessly about something they’ve been over ten thousand times before. Yeah, not so good.
- BONUS ROUND! If you’re specifically watching something in your genre, pay attention to the atmosphere, setting, wardrobe, and detail. What catches your eye? Insert some of that into your novel to help readers “visualize” your setting.
Of course, watching movies and shows isn’t always about consciously learning. Sometimes it’s just about letting my exhausted brain take a break. And sometimes, that’s when the best magic happens…