Warning: This could be a controversial subject for some. All thoughts/comments are welcome!
In the last year or so, I have become somewhat of a TV-phile. While movies are fun, I love the serialized story-telling of TV shows. As a novelist writing a series, I find that watching TV actually helps me to better understand what goes into telling a story over the course of years.
Let’s take one of the most popular shows on TV today: Supernatural.
Over the last decade (11 seasons!), Supernatural has gone through a wide range of changes–from character deaths, new characters, the weekly monster, the season-long story arcs, and the list goes on. And yet, despite all the changes, the show remains about one thing: the relationship between the two brothers.
What makes Supernatural work? Is it the decent CGI effects, the ever-worsening bad guys, or the epic supporting characters (here’s looking at you Crowley and Castiel)? While all of these things play a role, the show is only around because it continues to explore the central premise (the sibling relationship) from new angles.
The moment I understood that, everything in my approach to writing changed. I no longer tried to come up with a new theme for each new novel in my six-book series The Last Bucelarii, but I stuck to one or two central themes (finding a place in a world where you are an outsider, coming to terms with who you are) and built every story around that. Each new story approaches that theme from a different angle, using different challenges to test the main character.
Watching TV has become much more educational in the last few years. I’ve learned so much from watching TV shows, such as:
- How to keep people interested in the same characters week after week (or novel after novel)
- The importance of changing things up and finding the new, without going too far out to left field
- The value of callbacks–bringing things up at the end of the season (novel) that was there in episode 1 (chapter one).
- How minor details can have large repercussions
- and so much more…
I’m not going to lie: watching TV does take a lot of time, perhaps even a bit more time than I should be spending on it. But I’ve stopped watching TV for pure entertainment value, and I’ve begun to use it as a learning experience. If I can find what makes shows like Supernatural, The Flash, or The Walking Dead so popular and include that in my work, I believe it will make my creative writing just that much better.