Non-Writing Shows That Teach You About Writing
The time drawing close to us is a hectic one; I know that as well as the rest of you. Between travel, family, decorating, holiday shopping, and countless other practices that take time out of the day, I suspect many folks will go from the high of putting out words every day during NaNoWriMo to struggling in the vain hopes of finding the time to put out a couple of sentences. Such is the burden of post-NaNo December, but worry not my friends.
As a devourer of all media, I’ve stumbled across a few gems in the past, things that are both enjoyable to watch and also give greater insight to what the writing process entails. That probably wasn’t the intent with most of these, yet they deliver all the same, so as you’re stuck in a car or family gathering, wishing you could sneak off to write, you may take some comfort in streaming one of these selections through your phone. It might not be actual writing, however it does offer a chance to learn, and that’s helpful too.
I’ve mentioned these before in passing, but the series really does warrant its own entry. And fear not, my non-wrestling fans, because they also have some of these that deal with popular movies as well. Essentially, the host (Adam) breaks down an old existing plot-thread, analyzing why it didn’t work, what parts it failed on, and where it managed to shine. Then he repackages it, using only the available talent/characters from that era, and books the angle in a more satisfying way. On the surface, it’s a simple concept, but these are videos I tell a lot of writers to watch because of how much insight they offer.
Re-booking an old match or movie means really digging into the cuts of the story. Dissecting plots, understanding characters, pulling out choices and tropes to turn around in your hand and examine from all directions. Seeing the components of a story laid bare is excellent training to do the same in your own works, clinically dissecting every aspect to make sure all the pieces fit together well. Beyond that though, the re-bookings are a fantastic breakdown of long-term story-telling. Suspension is built, false-starts occur, some wrestlers are made to look strong while protecting those around them from coming off weak, character threads are developed, it’s a really in-depth process.
Whether you go with movie or wrestling versions, you’ll walk away with a better understanding of storyline development, especially if you write anything related to action. Plus the episodes are entertaining in their own right.
Now for this one, you have to pick and choose a little more. Since this video series is about games and their industry as a whole, not all of them are writing related. Be discerning as you choose your episodes, it won’t be hard to find the ones related to stories or writing. Much like our first example, these often focus on breaking things down to their core elements, examining what works, what used to work, and what is starting to work now.
The biggest difference is that rather than do this to an existing story, the host (Dan) applies the process to larger concepts. My personal favorites are ones where they break down different genres. What makes good horror? Is it jump scares? Escalating tension? The unknown? All of these are looked at, as they have established places in the genre. But drilling a genre down to its key elements is a great experience for anyone hoping to write in it, because doing so ensures we’re using the right tools to draw the appropriate reactions from our audience.
I’ll also add that even the non-writing episodes of this one are interesting as someone who merely purchases video games, for those of you even tangentially related to the industry I imagine it would be highly entertaining content, so don’t be afraid to branch out and try a few of the others if you like what the writing ones offer up.
The Good Place (Season 1)
To be upfront, I’ve loved all of Season 2 so far as well, but if we’re talking about learning how to write then Season 1 is the best example I can offer up, for the simple fact that I know it pays off. I’ve talked about this show before in context of a “shit you need to be watching” article, however at the time I was trying to convey how enjoyable it was. The truth is, it’s also a damn masterclass in multi-layered writing.
The dialogue is more than quick and funny, in context of a few characters it’s also literally people having two different conversations at the same time, with those in the dark not understanding what’s going on. Aside from the quality and the lines, what I think shines most about this example is the forethought. This is a season that went in with a specific, planned out goal. Every action, every bit of wacky development or dialogue, served to move us closer to that big finish. And while it does leave us on a cliffhanger, the power of the reveal still leaves us feeling overall satisfied with the journey to get there.
People talk a lot about how shitty Lost was because it opened up ideas and plot threads that it never properly closed, and The Good Place is the polar opposite of that. It is so neat and tidy that every time I watch it, I think about how I could streamline and better direct my plots. This one doesn’t teach you explicitly about writing as much as it demonstrates the power of thoughtful plotting, and personally I think there’s a lot to be learned from such stellar examples. Fingers crossed that the rest of the series plays out so well, but after Season 1 they have absolutely earned the benefit of the doubt.
Okay, so these won’t teach you jack about writing, but they will give you a chance to pound booze with me and friends being silly, and sometimes that’s what you need to get through the holidays. Happy watching!