Can Good TV Help Your Writing?

6855051531_5aab68eb90_zI think that the short answer is yes. How many of have heard that too much TV will rot your brain? I suppose it will, depending on what you watch. Your mind is a lot like your body, if you put junk into it, junk comes out. You need to feed your mind, just as you need to feed your body. Sure, you can survive on junk food, but you won’t be healthy.

I binge on TV. We’ll find a show that looks good, give an episode or two a try, and then binge watch the rest if we enjoyed them. Not all at once, but we’ll devour that season or series pretty quickly. In our house, we usually watch shows that contain intellectual, historical, or educational value. These shows generally promote healthy debate and conversation after the fact as well. We’ll spend time discussing an unexpected twist, or researching the history behind a certain event or character. We’ll talk about feasibility, technicality, and accuracy in almost any show that we watch. It sounds boring, doesn’t it? But the shows that we watch are actually quite interesting and dramatic for the most part, and I love a good discussion.

Some of our favourites include: The Borgias, The Tudors, Deadwood, Rome, Vikings, and Lost. Of course, we like some normal shows too, but for the most part, we aren’t into junk TV. If you haven’t figured it out already, we really like Micheal Hirst. (Just a note: those shows all contain violence, sexuality, and so on. Don’t take it as a recommendation if that’s not your thing).

The shows mentioned above help me to think about the way that I write. They help to show me clever dialogue, fictional settings, character relationships, historical accuracy, and imagination. They help me to visualize plots and people and places. I look at good shows and think “how would one write that?”. How would you describe something in writing that took up half a second on screen? Of course, it would take longer, but looking at how good writing shapes TV shows can help you to cut back on your detail and your descriptions. It can help you to determine what is important and what is not.

For example, say you are weaving a cliffhanger through the story that will leave the reader at the end of the book with that “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!” face. It’s hard to decide how much the reader will need throughout the story to actually understand the ending. If you don’t give enough, they’ll just be left feeling really, really confused. Too much and they will be saying “Duh”. In TV shows that have this, you can actually see it happen, allowing you to gauge how much you need to write in hints, how small they should be, and how often.

Look at GoT, for once we have a brilliant show based on brilliant books. Amazing, eh? If you have read the books, think about how similar, and at the same time, how different the book and show are from each other. Both have gleaned a crazy amount of success, and both are appreciated in their own right. But both of them are based on the same thing. Sometimes, I like aspects of the show better, other times I am much more enthralled with the books. The TV series shows me how things could have been done differently, and how some things could even have been left out or changed.

What do you think? TV or no TV? Are you like me in that you see writing everywhere? Any good books that were turned into good shows or movies?


30 thoughts on “Can Good TV Help Your Writing?

  1. I’m very pro-TV. Not only does TV give me some great ideas, but I think we can learn a lot from TV and movies on writing, storytelling, and characterization. In fact, I’m planning on writing a blog post about this during my lunch break.
    And by the way, Hannibal is also a great adaptation of some really awesome books. I wouldn’t recommend it though for the faint of heart or those who get queasy from fake gore.

    • I’m already watching it and love the new season. Last season was a bit slow for me, but this one really interests me. Dexter is great too, if you haven’t watched it.

      I’m glad you find TV helpful too, I’m a visual person, so it shows me things that I might not have thought of.

  2. I fully believe that TV (and also movies) are great inspirations for writing. I mean, the whole point of inspiration is to get inspired by things around you — who says it just has to be real life events? And like you said, other forms of media are a great way to kick-off thoughts about story structure, cliffhangers, character development, etc. More than once I’ve been watching a show and thought, “God, that was a terrible plot twist. I could do it better. How can I do it better?” and then I start working it through in my mind. True, watching TV takes up a lot of time … but heck, I love watching TV, and I get lots of out of it, so why not?!

    • I do that too! Sometimes, when we are watching a show, it will be far too predictable for me, and I will guess half of the show before it happens. My husband finds it amusing, thankfully, but it makes me think about how I would have done it differently, and what exactly made it so obvious.

  3. I agree that it’s less a case of if you watch TV and more a case of what you choose to watch. TV shows start with a script meaning that like books, their source is always the written word and most writers try to visualise their stories anyway, so I think TV is just another output for creativity and does no harm in moderation 🙂

    • This is true. I really like to think of the writing behind the shows, and how it started, what I would change, and what makes it so awesome and how that could translate into written words.

  4. Recent Time article discusses new research that shows that reading literature and watching movies actually affect our brain in positive ways; for example, we become more empathetic. It points out that watching TV does not produce the same effect. However, I agree with “callummciaughlin” that it is all about what is being watched and how one chooses to engage mentally with it.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    Here’s the Time article, if interested: This Is Your Brain On Great Literature

    • I’ve seen that one, it’s really interesting, eh?! Who knows what my brain looks like after all of the books I have jammed into it. I wonder why not TV, though, since we can now watch an entire series at a time if we choose. Sherlock is a good example, since each episode is about 1.5 hours long, about equal to a movie.

  5. I think TV should be binged on occasionally. Nothing like a good Homeland or West Wing marathon to soothe the soul. I think TV that is well done develops imagination and your suggestion of thinking of details is a great one!

    • House of Cards is a good one, too. I think it’s good to use it to develop your brain and to learn new things, so we try to watch useful TV that will teach us something or at least make us think.

  6. Iv enjoyed many of these shows, the more intelectual the better. I do feel more inspired in my artwork after watching some show, such as Vikings, the visual and emotional inspiration is enforced by the often high tention plots and motivation. These leave your brain buzzing with ideas and energy. Channeling this into a creative endeavor is another pleasure that they can cause. Though a book has many of these aspects, save that visual stimulation often creates a longer impression.

    • I love both, and I am always pleased when I see a movie or show based on a book that I visualized in almost the same way. Visual impressions are just so much more forceful. Books still leave you thinking, but they are just so much more personal.

  7. I agree with pretty much everything you said. It was dead-on target for me. However, I would like to add that each different medium requires a different type of writing. For example, Stephen King’s books are normally long and descriptive. This is how he is able to scare the hell out of us when we read much of his work. I do not believe that his typical theatrical movie is nearly as good as his typical theatrical mini-series. I feel that the mini-series format works better for him for the simple fact that he has more time to convey his story visually. With the theater movies, he had to cram a lot of material into only around two to two and a half hours. And doing this simply failed to give his visual story very little justice if any at all.

    Writing for the screen is definitely a lot easier — in my humble opinion — than writing a book or other type of paper document. For books, writers are expected to be able to paint a descriptive masterpiece with their words using the pages of the book as their canvas. With screen scripts, normally the settings are tasked to someone else. The screen writer does not have to take nearly as great pains to describe settings and really has it quite easy. Descriptive settings are easily replaced by descriptive dialogue and character movement and facial expressions where screenplays and scripts are concerned.

    At least this is the way that I perceive it. Most of the scripts I’ve ever read seem to reflect this, anyhow. There may be one or more of you out there that have had an entirely different experience than me on the topic.

    • I’ve never written a script, so I can’t say which I think is easier. I have read and written a good amount of horror that is short, though. I write horror flash fiction and horror shorts that don’t need a lot of description to scare, I suppose Poe would be a good example. I do like Stephen King, and I really liked Under the Dome, but I really dislike the TV series.

      I just like to look at shows and imagine how they would be done in book form, not exactly how to write the script behind them. It helps me with dialogue especially, since I can hear how they make it realistic, how often they use names, how they use accents, etc.

  8. Different things work for different people. As someone who tends towards creative non-fiction writing, I’m better without television. For me, the worthwhile “show” is in the real world. But I completely believe you in your claims that watching good television can be a way of bettering your own storytelling. It’s just that I’m a reporter of reality, not a storyteller.

    • I get that. It’s all depends on what you are writing. I like to write and read fiction, so TV helps with that. I think it would be interesting to get into your “view” for awhile though. I tend to look at everyday things as just that—everyday things.I have never thought about looking at them as a show or story.

    • I adore both of those shows. I just finished the first season of Sherlock and I am definitely hooked. I grew up watching Coronation Street, but I’m not really into it anymore. It still left me with an appreciation for British TV!

  9. I have to admit that most of my free time is spent writing and at the expense of TV/movies. I love writing and reading, combining that with working a full-time job and there’s not much time left over to catch up on TV. I agree that I would rather watch quality TV programs as/when I have the time 🙂

  10. I absolutely agree! Good TV––intellectually loaded ones––can be as good as any book. My favourite TV show of all time is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I know, sounds like a child’s television show, but it has some of the greatest most complex character development and deepest themes I’ve seen in show or book.

    • I’ve never been into Buffy, but I know what you mean. I love to figure things out and from reading and writing, I sometimes drive my husband nuts because I will know what is going to happen in a show before it does. It’s mostly about perception, which I have developed from watching shows and reading books that enhance my ability to judge relationships, characters, and circumstances more accurately.

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