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5 Things Watching Too Much Television Taught Me About Writing

Most writers have day jobs, which feed into their writing. Here I ask writers what unexpected lessons their day job or hobby has taught them about the craft. Today's post is by author A.M. Manay, who writes urban and historical fantasy with strong female leads. Her series The Hexborn Chronicles and November Snow are available on Amazon, and you can also read my review of Hexborn here. Unclean, Book 2 in The Hexborn Chronicles, will be released February 19, 2019 and is available for pre-order.

Check out her five points below, and find more info about her books on her website.

Some writers and avid readers eschew television. “Oh, I don’t even own a television,” they claim with false modesty.

I am not one of those writers.

I’ve always loved television. I watched hours and hours of it every week as a kid. My parents were not the sort to restrict “screen time,” as we are all admonished to do these days. Now, I adored reading, too. Don’t get me wrong. I was never without a book-in-progress, growing up. I made my father take me to the bookstore every Saturday. And we all know that the best way to learn to write is to read voraciously. Television, though, gets little credit for helping craft storytellers, which I think is a bit unjust.

I don’t just watch television, though. I ponder it; I overanalyze it; I read discussion boards and chat with friends. And, in the process of adoring the small screen, I think I’ve learned a thing or five about writing. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from television that I think have made me a good writer.

Lesson #1 : The importance of characters

You can forgive a lot of things in a television show, or a book, if the characters grab you. If there are people you want to spend time with every week, you can overlook a plot hole or two, or a long hiatus. To keep that kind of hold on the audience, characters have to be vivid and engaging. They have to have some charm and evoke some empathy from the audience. And I think the same is true of books. TV has the advantage that a good performance or perfect casting can elevate bad writing. Books have no such crutch, making characterization in a novel doubly important.

Lesson #2 : The importance of good dialogue

Have you ever been watching a show and exclaimed, with irritation, “Who talks like that?” There are shows (like Deadwood, for example) that soar on dialogue that is unrealistic but so well-crafted and melodic that you can forgive it. But most of the time, dialogue should be written to sound like people actually sound. Poorly written dialogue takes you right out of the moment, on TV or on the page. And watching really good television is a great way to hear just how lots of different kinds of people sound.

Lesson #3 : The importance of humor

Even the most serious of TV dramas need moments of lightness to break up the pathos. Otherwise, they just become an unpleasant slog. The same is true of books. A little humor makes all the difference. Effective humor rises from deep characterization as well as from situations in the plot, and it requires a writer to know her own work as well as to have the ability to not take herself too seriously.

Lesson #4 : The challenge of providing satisfying resolutions

Don’t you hate it when your favorite series gets cancelled before a plot or a point of tension is resolved? We’ve all muttered in frustration upon getting the word that our show didn’t make the cut. The payoff is key in novel writing as well. All buildup and no plan to pull it all together does not make for a happy reader. That’s not to say you can’t have a cliffhanger. Setting up the next problem on the final page is fair game on TV and in novels. It’s almost expected. And it is effective. But you have to give some resolution first, or else risk the reader’s ire.

Lesson #5 : The challenge of creating beauty

The look of a show is important. Some shows are visually very boring, and it detracts from the viewer’s enjoyment. Others are so lush that the production design is a character unto itself. Television, as a visual medium, can provide so much beauty in a five-second shot. In a book, creating that beauty is much harder to do without becoming too verbose. Finding a way to bring that visual pleasure within concise prose—that is the sign of a great writer.

Have you learned anything from television? Feel free to share in the comments.

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