Why Watching TV Can Actually Be Good For a Writer

Guilty that you spent some time last night watching TV instead of writing?

Don’t feel too bad.

As a handful of authors discussed in the “Is Reading Really Considered Working?” panel at ThrillerFest Saturday, writers can learn from more venues than just books—there’s literary merit in taking in some TV.

Jim Kearney, author and former TV executive, said that the writers who have influenced him most are TV scribes such as David Milch, Steven Bochco and Matthew Weiner. (Weiner created “Mad Men,” which Kearney cited as an excellent lesson in verisimilitude.)

Moreover, Kearney pointed out that TV writing is a study in form—and why writers should take a page from TV scribes and spend a great deal of time with their outlines.

“These people really know structure,” he said. “This is what they do.

… “If the story structure is completely built, you can just soar with your dialogue.”

Kearney also said he’s been watching a lot of TV news, and it—notably, political anger—feeds back into his books. He’s trying to bring in the current culture—and “television helps bring the culture to us. … [Watching TV] is never a waste of time.”

Another boon of the small screen: tone. Kearney looks at TV as an analysis in audience, and how writers can make their work accessible to the public. If an author wants to hit a broad audience base in their work, they can analyze the tone of various programs, and what’s popular (or not), and potentially incorporate those tones into their work to similar effect.

Author Kate Brady said she likes to watch cooking and do-it-yourself programs—and she’s learned a fair amount about pacing and suspense from such simple things as someone preparing dinner—the pot is overflowing; the host’s mother is on the way—

“They’ve turned something totally mundane into high suspense,” she said.

As author Amy Rogers warned, though, while TV can be great for studying elements such as structure, there’s a danger in taking away too much from the medium. Rogers noted advice by author David Morrell, who earlier in the week [LINK http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/david-morrell-on-the-key-to-settings] pointed out how film has had a negative effect on writers as it relates to sensory description and settings.

So don’t let the medium seep too deeply into your craft on the page, but don’t think all TV time is wasted time. Just be sure you know when you’ve crossed the line of procrastination.

How to tell?

Author Nate Kenyon said he knows he’s gone too far when the spark of writing inspiration hits … and passes … because he’s gotten a wee bit too wrapped up in an episode of “Dance Moms.”

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6 thoughts on “Why Watching TV Can Actually Be Good For a Writer

  1. Clarissa

    I absolutely agree with this post! I have a hard time injecting humor into my writing–I can feel when the story needs a chuckle, but I have to work at the comedy itself–so with notebook in hand I’ve watched shows like Psych and Gilmore Girls, and even old reruns of Barney Miller and the Golden Girls to get that all-important timing and language down. The only thing I’d add to this post is for writers to be careful with POV/perspective – cutting from one character to another in a novel the same way they do on TV just doesn’t work. You can change perspectives, but it has to be done much more smoothly in a novel; otherwise things can get confusing.


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