Sunday, May 16, 2021

What I'm Watching on TV and How it Plays into my Writing

 You've heard that good writers read, right? 

This is solid advice. There are so many meaningful lessons you can learn by reading across genres. Watching how another writer puts words together can teach you so much. And so can paying attention to other kinds of storytelling. 

Don't chase me down with pitchforks just yet. I've got some good reasons for thinking this way. Here are 3 reasons that what you're watching can also play into what your writing (in a good way). 

1. Encourages You to Use Other Creative Techniques to Tell Your Story

We're creatures of habit. So, if you're awesome at writing dialogue, guess where you'll find a lot of your plot? Dialogue, of course. But, if you're watching a show that may share some traits with your work in progress, and you notice how they use day/night to transition between scenes, you might just feel so inclined to try out that transition as well. 

I'm currently working on a romance novel set in Seoul, South Korea. Thanks to Covid-19, I won't be getting back to my favorite travel spot any time soon. So, what's let for my research? Korean dramas! Can I use all the visual aspects of what I see on my computer screen? No. But I can pay attention to how the actors look as they wait at big intersections in the midst of a group of pedestrians, and then use that foot traffic pattern to up the credibility of my own novel.

2. Using Words to Create Sounds

I had a brilliant grad school mentor (Douglas Kearney, American Poet), who would ask us to take sounds and turn them into poems. He would ask us questions like, what the Star Spangled Banner played on the electric guitar would sound like in words. I've never forgotten that way of thinking, so I'm asking myself how to create sounds with words.

There's this awesome song that's played at each stop on the metro in Seoul. When I'm writing a scene in which my protagonist is hopping on and off the metro, how much of that song is she paying attention to? And how does it sound to her? Does it sound high-pitched or outdated? Maybe it sounds comforting? But how do I describe that to a reader that's never heard it? 

As I'm watching a Korean drama, what songs and sounds do I hear? How do I use words to create those sounds so that my reader can feel like they're in Seoul?

3. Tropes

We know that every storytelling genre has its own tropes, and while we can't use all of the ones allotted to visual storytelling, we can definitely have some cross-overs. 

Since I'm writing a romance, we expect the characters to be together in the end, right? But what tropes can I borrow from the shows I'm watching, and how do I make those tropes my own?

Often in Korean dramas, the guy and woman leading characters knew each other (briefly) in their childhoods. I cannot even tell you how much I love this fated connection trope. But in a novel where my leading guy and gal don't know each other, how can I take that trope and flip it so that it fits into the story I'm telling?

In case you're interested in binging some of the shows I've seen (and LOVED), here's a Korean drama starter list:

  • Crash Landing on You
  • It's Okay to Not Be Okay
  • A Korean Odyssey
  • The Bride of Habaek
  • Because This is My First Life
No matter what your overall genre preference is, don't skip over good storytelling just because it's visual or theatrical. There are a lot of fun, and useful, techniques you can gather to try out in your own writing if you're paying attention. 

Happy writing (and watching)!


Nancy Gideon said...

Great post, April! Love your suggestions about using sounds and visuals to enrich storytelling and bringing the readers onto the set, so to speak.

Marilyn Barr said...

I love this! Thank you for the solidarity, as I love watching TV for inspiration. I'm a visual thinker so TV is brain candy for me. I love television shows with great world-building because it makes me consider parts of the worlds I build I would otherwise overlook. For example, I loved the fashion of Game of Thrones. Not only did the families have a color scheme and theme but they consistently kept those themes when they traveled to other climates.

Diane Burton said...

Great post, April. Covid has curtailed a lot of research trips. I'm fascinated by stories set in different countries. Probably the only way I'll "visit" them.

Maureen said...

Great post! I get inspired by tv shows or movies and pay attention to how I think the writing looked to create the scene. I also read some different genres.

Nightingale said...

You've got my brain in a whirl thinking about what the Star Spangled Banner would sound like on an electric guitar and how that would translate into words that suggest that sound. What an interesting post, April. I don't watch much TV, but the next time I do, I'll be looking for those sounds.

Mary Morgan said...

Wonderful post, April! Since I can't visit Scotland (at least not yet), I watch travel documentaries, read Scottish/Irish magazines, and take language courses. I love adding a new element to my storytelling voice. Thanks for sharing.