Whenever I ask myself, “How did the Duke of Marlborough personally lead all those winning battles and then handle the whole country’s international relations across Europe? How did Benjamin Franklin have the time to invent bifocals, write Poor Richard adages, and have French mistresses while being a premier politician? How could Jane Austen ignore all the evening’s family and social doings while she wrote her iconic novels by hand in the evenings?” I always answer, “Because they didn’t have TV.”
Limiting TV and computer time will give many writers all the time they need to write a couple of books a year. That’s a vital consideration when you’re fitting a full-time writing career into your full-time life.
But television gives us a broad access to storytelling, much of it told by gifted storytellers. If you’re trying to integrate a full-time writing career with your full-time life, here are 3 ways to use television watching to strengthen storytelling skills, as you take just 5-10 minutes as you’re watching a show — reality, sitcom, drama — and jot down what these genius writers are doing to keep us coming back week after week, decade after decade to see football players learn to tango, boys lose girls, earthlings resist aliens, mothers misunderstand daughters, and fathers underestimate sons.
- The opening images: What elements establish time, place and especially herald the conflict for this particular story? or
- Write down The big problem, linking by the word “but” to the major obstacles and “so” to the choice he’ll have to make. Jack must save the world from terrorists but his daughter has been kidnapped to keep him out of the action – so can he take on both at once? or
- Write down the big reveal. It didn’t come out of nowhere, so how did the writer(s) set it up?
Luckily for writers, people love and desire story. Across the centuries we’ve gathered round storytellers, bards, and gossips to suck up story in whatever amounts we can squeeze out of them. And, if we care to take the time, to learn from them.