Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What I learned from watching TV

I’ve been writing for a long time now so I am always watching for techniques and tricks that work in writing. TV can be very predictable and boring and give a writer more than enough examples of what doesn’t work. But occasionally if you’re patient and watch closely enough, you’ll notice a few things that do work, even when they are done badly.

Turn on your television and you’ll find little else than suspense and cop dramas in which the bad guy is discovered because he coughed while driving to the victim’s house. Or the dog spit up on the carpet in 1998 after licking the wound of a victim and the DNA is still on the floor even though the carpet was used to wrap the body and burned in another state.

Nothing gets by these super-detectives and investigators. I’ve been told by those in the know not to use primetime TV as research. Real life doesn’t happen that easily. DNA results takes months and local authorities seldom follow Fido around to see if he’s carrying a victim’s DNA in his digestive tract.

But you can pick up a few tidbits.

Successful TV dramas these days are high wire tension. But they don’t maintain the nail biting tension for an extended length of time. You must give the viewer—or in our case the reader—a chance to breath.

The next time you are watching your favorite nighttime drama be mindful of how they cut from scene to scene. Just as the high tension scenes aren’t long, neither are the ones that slow down the action and get into the personal lives of the participants.

It’s all about balance. Create a high tension, edge of your seat scene and end on a cliffhanger. Then just like they do on TV, switch to a scene where the hero must visit him parents. His mother makes a stunning announcement. End your scene before he even has a chance to react and cut back to high tension.

Play around with these techniques and see what works for you and your book. Keep the story moving. You want to jump back and forth, but not so much you lose the reader. These techniques are carefully honed skills but you can learn them. Pay attention to how those making the big bucks do it. Your writing will get better and more appealing to the elusive agent and publisher.

Happy writing.

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