Why watching TV is damaging your writing progress

Posted by on Oct 14, 2015

Why watching TV is damaging your writing progress

Well, duh, Sturgeon. If you are watching television, your fingers aren’t on the keyboard, churning out chapters. Everyone knows that, so this blog post is pointless.

Ah, but this isn’t a time issue for me. As a development editor, I’ve noticed a creeping perspective among the TV and movie buff authors: They write as if their book is a movie. Granted, someday it may be recreated on a big screen with Chris Hemsworth as your hero, but that is not yet reality.

Television and movies dominate the entertainment world because they are great at what they do: allow the audience to witness events and action and emotions. He grabs her in his arms and she puts her arms around his neck and they kiss until someone in the room clears their throat and the lovers break apart, looking pleased and embarrassed simultaneously.

But the key word is “witness.” At no point are you not sitting in a seat observing the actors in motion, whether they are hiding behind a castle wall or trying to get one last burst of speed out of their engine on the race track, or sitting at their desk in a posh office, deciding whether to fire someone.

A book’s strength lies in allowing the reader to be the character. You are the one with your back against the cold stone wall, or gripping the wheel in your hand to feel the gravitational pull toward the fence, or holding the pen and hesitating to sign the personnel papers. If you aren’t offering your reader the opportunity to wear the clothes, taste the food, deal with the crisis, experience the emotions, by default, you are competing with The Big Bang Theory or Arrow or The Vampire Diaries for attention in that moment. Books aren’t equipped to go up against film media on that scoreā€”visuals win that showdown every time.

The good news is, the reverse is also true. Movie directors who try to put you in the character’s shoes end up with dizzying variations on The Blair Witch Project. They have definitely learned their lesson about encroaching on our territory; we have a clear playing field to dominate our creative playground.

So start strapping a GoPro camera to your characters’ foreheads, if you will, when you write. You don’t have to say “she looked around the room” because detailing the scene makes that obvious. Nor do your characters have to announce they are thinking, hearing, smelling or another sense. They won’t sum up what happens as the first sentence in the paragraph before the actual events happen, because hey! How do they know? This ain’t a movie they watched last week on Netflix, pal.

But while this post isn’t about time, you do realize I suckered you on the topic. TV v books is another way to explain that illusive “show don’t tell” advice we editors love to write in the margin of your manuscripts. I’m hoping the results on your WIP will buy your forgiveness.

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