It’s interesting to watch television in the writer frame of mind. What would be, to the average viewer, an enjoyable and almost effortless opportunity to relax in the world’s of our fictional friends, becomes an intriguing weave of technique, language, structure, and seamless formula; a masterful journey through character development, plot, sub-plot, continuity, hooks and hangers.
I’ve been watching Stargate SG-1 for hours this week all in the name of research. (I wonder if I can write the DVDs off as a tax deduction.) Often the trusty t.v. is the portal through which our brains seep but I’ve found that there are also some incredible lessons we can learn. Stargate isn’t the only television series to offer these lessons. My other personal favorites are Dark Angel, House, Californication, Heroes and Charmed.
What these six television series have in common is their complex meta-story and character development. I’m sure there are other series that have shared this asset. Each of these series starts from episode one, season one and tells a story, through every episode which ties to every thread from the beginning to end of the series as a whole.
Other shows, such as The Simpsons, Futurama, and NCIS each take a cut of life. Their episodes could be watched out of order, with zero continuity and still be as enjoyable but with my favourite six, if you miss an episode you’ll have a significant gap in events. Every episode is important because they are woven together, like a brilliantly structured series of novels.
In the coming weeks I’m going to explore what I’ve learnt in a five part series.
- Part One: Story-Arc, Plot and Sub-Plot
We’ll explore the familiar curves of story arc over episodes, seasons and series then delve into the complex unity of plot and the careful techniques used to tie sub-plot into a cohesive story.
- Part Two: Character Development
We watch the growth of loved and loathed characters as they develop through a series. These characters share their past and present with us; we develop emotional connections that leave us intimately involved in their future.
- Part Three: Action and Dialogue
Why t.v. and movies are a fantastic way to encourage powerful writing. All “Show” and no “Tell”. How can we incorporate this audio/visual experience and translate it for written media?
- Part Four: Hooks, Hangers and the Sequence of Events
How t.v. series writers have mastered the “Story Hook”. They grip us in the first few minutes pre opening credits and leave us hanging as the final credits roll across the screen. How does the sequence of events hold an audience? We’ll explore the finer points of when to push and when to pull your viewers/readers.
- Part Five: Formula – Making A Success Key Mould
The most successful t.v. series follow a very specific formula, so do many writers. What keeps this formula fresh and interesting? How can we make a mould of our own successes so we can replicate them in the future?
I hope you’re as intrigued by the idea as I am. If you’ve been looking for a legitimate excuse to spend a few hours watching old episodes of your favourite t.v. shows you now have one. Consider it homework if you like. Watch t.v. with your writer’s mind fully switched on and tuned in. What do you learn about writing from your favourite t.v. series?