“Stay away from screens – they rot your brain!” everyone cries. And this is certainly true – getting too much screen time day after day brings a slew of terrible side effects for both mental and physical health. But, just like most activities, watching TV isn’t inherently bad (unless, well, what you’re watching is inherently bad). It’s all about balance and using your time wisely.
Actually, as writers, I think that experiencing storytelling in different mediums helps us learn how to tell better stories. I will always advocate for books as our primary source of learning, but movies and TV give us a different perspective on storytelling that can help us understand the process better.
If you’re ever stuck with your story, I always advise trying to learn from a different storytelling medium. Here’s why.
What Movies Can Teach Us
How to Write Short Stories
Though it may seem odd, I think that movies help us understand short stories better than novels. You only have two hours to tell a complete story in a movie – how do you decide what’s important and what’s not?
We face the same challenge when writing a ~15,000-word short story. How do we convey critical information? Set up the world without bogging down the story? Good movies can give us answers to these questions and more.
Show, Don’t Tell
Good movies rely on the “show, don’t tell” principle. You might think it’s a bit easier to make sure this is done in movies, but I’m not so sure. It’s all too easy for movie makers to rely on dialogue for “telling,” which, as we’ve talked about before, is still telling, not showing.
But when a movie does this right, it’s a fantastic learning experience. How does a character “show” their emotions? Pay special attention to body language and tone of voice – how can you incorporate those into your book to show how your characters are feeling? How does the protagonist’s journey align with the theme of the story? When you can take these “secrets” from good movies and apply them to your story, you’re on your way to writing an engaging book.
What TV Shows Can Teach Us
How to Write Novels
Funny – you would think that short-form TV would teach us about short-form written stories, right? While we can get short story insight from individual episodes, I think that looking at an entire TV show season gives us exactly what we need for a good novel. It teaches us how to string scenes together into one engaging, cohesive narrative.
Rise and Fall of Action
Each episode of a TV series is a mini-story. There’s an inciting incident, rising action, climax, then resolution. But this pattern also plays out on a larger scale throughout the entire season.
The same is true for novels. The number one problem I see in novels nowadays is that authors don’t understand the rise and fall of action. The action happens all at once and the rest of the book is dead boring. By studying TV shows, we can learn how to keep our readers’ engagement throughout an entire “season” – the whole book.
Give Screens a Try Now and Again
Sometimes, all we need to succeed is a little perspective. Seeing a visual story gives us a whole different view of storytelling that can help us create an engaging, action-packed written story that readers can’t put down. And when I say “action,” I don’t just mean exploding cars and fight scenes; a protagonist’s inner journey of self-discovery can be just exciting when done right.
What have you learned about storytelling from TV shows and movies? Let me know in the comments! And if you need some more help, make sure to check out my services. I offer both feedback and book coaching backed up by years of experience in the wonderful world of storytelling.
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Photo by Sebastien LE DEROUT on Unsplash
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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.Donate