Sunday, January 9, 2011

What I learned from watching television

I am an avid television watcher. Television was my companion when I was single and my buddy when my husband works crazy shifts. Long before I typed a line for my first book I watched love stories and soap operas. On more than one occasion the images on the screen rescued me from the boredom of housework and gossiping on the telephone.

When I started writing, I joined a critique group and one of the member's comments involved my lack of description of my characters. Many times the members of my group asked me how did the character feel? How did they move? What expression did they have on their face? At first, I didn't have an answer. I tried to explain how I envisioned them and yet it never transferred to the pages of my manuscript. My lack of description talent greatly hurt the story.

While watching my favorite soap opera, Port Charles, the light bulb finally clicked on for me. As I watched Eve struggle with a painful explanation about a difficult time in her life, I studied her body language and facial expressions. Her pain ripped open my heart. The pain in her voice grabbed me and I silently cried for what she had suffered. I remember thinking, that's what I want my readers to feel.

Honestly, the writers go over the top with soap opera emotion. Fortunately, it made me understand what my critique members were trying to tell me about my writing style. I don't believe television can always help you, but for that day and particular character, it worked.

Some of the shows I now watch are driven by action and less by emotions. I can't say that Dancing with the Stars or the Bachelor will help you round out your characters' emotions. There are programs with emotional depth that can help you express the feelings you want to convey. There is much you can learn from television and its programming.

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you. E-mail me at or click on the link below.

Remember, don't be a stranger.



Charles Gramlich said...

I watched more TV when I was young, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Star Trek, and I'm sure they shaped my ideas of stories and characters. Good point that you really have to be careful in trying to translate a visual medium into prose. It can lead to some confusion.

X. Dell said...

I didn't watch so much television, but movies. I came to fiction writing via screenwriting, where descriptions of how the characters feel and think can only emerge in their actions and dialogue, while you get three words (and only three words) to describe a character initially.

Obviously, actors and directors add considerable interpretation to the dry words on the page. So if you can visualize a dramatic interpretation of your idea, and then describe that interpretation, then you've probably found something that works.