A New Way to Study Writing: Watching Too Much Television

Have you noticed a whole lotta’ lamenting going on that writers don’t want to study craft anymore?

Social media guru Kristen Lamb’s incisive lament.

And the people who run writer’s conferences are flooded with workshop proposals on how to format your manuscript for e-pubbing and sell it on social media. Writing craft workshops? Not so much.

The lamentations are part worry that writers don’t feel they have to care about craft anymore. We all hear mythic tales of novices who hit it huge in e-pubbing and some of us think, “Why bother reading Hemingway or taking that class on POV? I’ll just throw my 480,000-word family-epic-meets-shades-of-Twilight-with-zombies masterpiece up on Amazon. Viola’!”

But it might not be as insidious as that. Maybe taking classes and reading books on writing gets a bit, well, dry after awhile. No offense at all to those teachers who put on terrific craft workshops and write super-helpful books. It might also be that we’re all too ADD from the multi-stimulus age to pay attention for long.

My solution: TV! Also movies and music. (Though not all at the same time.) The visual and aural stimulation of other kinds of storytelling help keep us awake enough to absorb some basics of good craft.

I’ve blogged previously about some great TV show seasons. Also, what writers can learn from Eminem, the Oscars, and story songs.

Clearly, I believe religiously in the cross-pollination of pop culture disciplines.

A good TV writer like David Chase of The Sopranos can go up against the best novelists for creating epic storytelling full of great dialogue, a troubled hero with a tragic flaw and Shakespearean-level stakes.

If Aristotle himself were alive today, you might catch him with his iPod, listening to the storytelling skills of Eminem’s song Stan, or the poetic ramblings of U2’s Bono, or the excellent turns of phrase of Kanye West.

And I wonder if high-brow literary critics like Harold Bloom secretly saw The Avengers this last weekend and recognized some classic themes.

So don’t worry if writer’s craft classes are languishing. Good storytelling goes on all around us and it has since cave paintings and campfire stories. Don’t lament for lost workshops, but turn on your TV instead. You can always find something worthwhile and who knows? You might learn something about writing cinematically, or how to hook a scene so the reader wants to turn the page, or how to create snappy dialogue.

If nothing else, you might catch a fun rerun of Xena.



And speaking of The Avengers: tune in next time on Watching Too Much Television for a Joss Whedon primer.

This entry was posted in Conferences, Pop Culture, Writing Craft and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A New Way to Study Writing: Watching Too Much Television

  1. A great story is a great story, regardless of the medium it’s presented through.

    Best writing exercise ever: pick one of your favorite half-hour TV shows and write it as a novella. Can your text capture what you see? Or, better yet, what you don’t see: the thoughts in characters’ heads.


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