A HERO'S SPARK: the final book in the Wicked Women series!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Watching TV can be research. Really!

Good afternoon!

I know I don't have to tell you fellow writers out there that sometimes the sheer act of sitting down and writing is hard to to.  Sometimes just sitting down is hard to do.  Real life doesn't always accomadate the writer's whims, does it?

So often I find myself telling people, "I just don't have time to write."

That's not completely true.

There are times in the day when I can, and I do write.  The hour before work starts when I'm sitting in my office because hubby and I car pool and I get there early.  I often crank out a couple hundred words in that hour.  My lunch hour is another time of the day when I either write more into my notebook or I'm reading, which is also a vital skill writers must have.

While nothing replaces the actual act of sitting down and putting words to paper...or flash drive...I have found something that, while it seems pointless and time wasting, is actually a solid basis of research for writers.

Watching TV can be a very helpful tool in avoiding cliched writing, and an even better tool in spotting good writing.

Case in point:  Recently I've started rewatching the early 90's sitcom "Wings."  for those of you not familiar, this was a show about two brothers who ran a tiny airplane business out of a tiny airport in Nantucket.  Surrounded by a goofy cast of characters, brothers Brian and Joe Hackett managed to just avoid bankruptcy and killing each other each week.  Back in the day, I really liked the show.  So, when I found it available on streaming through Netflix, I started watching.

The thing about watching reruns in the streaming mode is that there's really no break and one runs the risk of losing whole days to a "marathon."  Not that I've done of course not!

The first couple episodes, my daughter sat with me and watched.  I asked her what she thought of the show.  She said, "I'm wondering why it sucks so much."  A few more episodes in, she was hooked.

That might seem like a waste of time, watching this TV show that was on the air 20 years ago.  But it's not.  Getting lost in a marathon of episodes, I can watch episode to episode how the characters grew, what made them better, what made the show better.  I can pinpoint the good writing, and note the cheesy cliches, and if those cliches worked or not.  And, as I draw closer to the final episodes, I can see what, if any, mistakes were made that crushed the series and sent it to its demise.  (Some TV series, it's obvious.  "Moonlighting" was horrible the minute Maddie and Dave slept together.  The infamous "jump the shark" concept of TV shows going into that murky water of cheesy writing was spawned by the "Happy Days" episode where Fonzie and the whole gang went on vacation and Fonzie had to "jump the shark" on his motorcycle.)

Now, I'm not saying we should all go and spend endless hours on the couch watching a rerun marathon of our favorite shows.  It might sound like I'm saying that, but I'm not.  What I'm saying is that if you find yourself spending quality time away from the computer, and sitting in front of the TV, use that time to study your craft.  TV, especially sitcom TV, is writing.  Not the sets, which generally don't change in a sitcom.  Probably not the acting, though some people are funnier and better at sitcom acting than others.  Many sitcom actors, however, do well in one part written for them, and then cannot move to another part.  As much as I love Matthew Perry...and I do love him....his Chandler Bing years will never be matched. How many shows has he been given that have flopped since "Friends" ended?  No, TV is generally about the writing. 

So it's okay if you take some time to watch TV.  But it's like with anything, don't say you're working on your writing career if all you're doing is snoozing in front of the tube.  Stay awake and take notes.  Not the hardest homework you've ever been given.

Now, go forth and WRITE!

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