14 Aug 2021

Can Watching TV Help Writers? 3 Powerful Ways To Put TV to Use

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As any good writer knows, literary inspiration can be found anywhere. But while some places may seem straightforward as a starting point for the writerly creative process, others may seem surprising. Reading a book or sitting in a cafe watching passersby are classic ways to spark the writer’s imagination. Sitting down on the sofa and tuning out to a television show, on the other hand, does not usually remind one of literary prowess.

So, can watching TV help writers? And if so, in what ways?

The answer is, like most things involving the writer’s craft, both a bit simple and a bit complicated. In this article, we will look at how watching TV can indeed help writers- and how it can be a hindrance as well.

Sparking the Imagination

For most people, watching TV provides a fairly mindless form of entertainment. You can turn off your brain and watch a story unfold before you, letting other people entertain you as you relax. And for writers, that also holds true. But TV holds more riches for the writer’s mind if approached with the right mindset.

Watching TV can be a fantastic way to spark the imagination. Noticing the specific details of a period drama can help add descriptive richness to your own historical fiction. Television can serve as an entertaining form of research to complement book research and historical documentation. As you watch, you can mentally catalog the way a certain character moves or speaks, then use that visual and audio inspiration for a particular character in your own work.

Borrowing specific traits from TV characters and archetypes can make your written world come alive on the page with greater accuracy and more literary color. Tracing the course of unfolding multi-character drama can help you solve your own plotting dilemmas. Even for nonfiction, watching documentary programs can help open your eyes to new ideas, or new perspectives on ideas you might already be exploring.

Literary Viewing

Surprisingly watching TV can help writersAnother helpful approach to watching TV for the writer’s craft is to focus on literary adaptations. Plenty of television shows and TV movies have been drawn from works of literature. Classic novels have been transformed multiple times, and even little-known literary tomes have found their way to the small screen.

Take a look at how various screenwriters have adapted literary works and see if those visual adaptations can help you engage with your own writing. Especially if you are already familiar with the original source material, you will be able to discern what changes to plot, character, and dialogue has been made to help transform the book to the TV format.

Take note of what works and what doesn’t in each adaptation. Compare and contrast various adaptations from each other. Understanding which elements of great literary works remain strong throughout various interpretations and re-interpretations can help you pare down your own writing to its strongest elements. How does the writer’s voice affect your understanding of the story? In which places do the visual representation on TV interrupt or augment the reader’s imagination?

Watching TV adaptations of literature can also be an extremely helpful tool for allowing you to think like your readers. Sometimes in the writer’s creative process there can be plenty of ideas that make perfect sense in your own head. But stepping out of the author’s mindset and putting yourself in the place of your future readers can help clarify and hone what you are trying to convey. Watching literary TV adaptations can help you analyze the disparate elements of your work in progress to figure out what is working well- and cut whatever isn’t.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Watching TV can at times help writers in the ways we have outlined above, but it can be a hindrance as well. Like most things, watching TV is all about one’s intention. If you are sitting down to watch the intention of relaxing your mind, sparking your imagination, examining dialogue and linguistic styles, or studying up on visual details, then likely the act of watching TV will serve you well. If, however, you are tuning out, vegging out, and making a regular frequent habit of binge-watching entire series, well, then it can be a bit problematic for your writing career. You don’t want your TV research to turn into a huge distraction from writing.

The more time you spend watching TV, the less time you are actively engaging with your writing practice. Occasional relaxation is not a bad thing, but if the proportion of time spent zoning out with TV series greatly outweighs the time you devote to taking notes, sketching outlines, writing drafts, editing, and even submitting finished pieces, then something needs to shift. At that point, it is generally a good idea to follow the “BIC” principle: “Butt in Chair”. Set yourself deadlines and achievable goals or set working hours to help rouse you from your binge-watching slump and get your bottom into that writing chair no matter what. Then return to the TV shows when you are ready to watch with a more focused goal in mind.

Of course, watching TV to help you relax when you are stuck is a different story. There is certainly something to be said for allowing your writing process to simmer for a while, giving space for new thoughts to settle into place, or new ideas to emerge. Watching TV can be a great way to let go of the reins for a bit so your words can keep developing in the background. Just make sure the habit doesn’t take over the entire writing process; if you want to write, you will have to find a balance between resting and working that suits you.

Final Thoughts: Can Watching TV Help Writers?

So, with all this information in mind, can watching TV help you as a writer? Generally speaking, the answer is- Yes, if you are watching TV with your writing practice in mind. The more you tune your mind towards your craft, the more that relevant details will start to leap out at you and grab your attention.

Characters who could belong in the world of your story will quickly become clear. You will begin to develop an ear for snappy dialogue and smartly written exposition. Plots that drag on forever will provide useful instruction in how not to approach pacing and action.

Just be sure that as you work your TV watching habit into your writing practice, you are not simply replacing your writing practice with watching TV. Keep that in mind and you are sure to find that watching TV can be a useful aid for relaxing, researching, and sparking your writerly creative imagination.

Reading a novel, or listening to an audiobook, is not so different from watching a TV show in the end. After all, behind every TV show, there is a team of writers who helped craft words to bring a story to life.

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