I cheated and looked ahead and I know what Brett’s post is about tomorrow, and in a way, it’s connected to what I want to talk about today.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here (probably have), but I’ve changed publishers and am now writing a book for Dutton, the first in a series about demons and angels and the destruction of earth and a couple of characters who find themselves caught up in it all and have to fight like crazy to keep it from happening.
It’ll be a fun book — it’s been a blast to write so far — and, hopefully, a thrilling one as well, but it’s also an ambitious book for me, bigger in scope than anything I’ve attempted before, and in preparation for the book, I actually wrote a very long outline. VERY long. Something I don’t normally do.
Writing that outline was, quite possibly, the toughest thing I ever had to write. Because outlines are all about plotting and figuring out story logic and character motivation and when it comes down to it, it’s real grunt work.
As I was writing the outline, I found myself hitting walls over and over, not sure where to go with the story or how to flesh out the shorter outline I was working from.
In the old days — before strict deadlines — I’d find when I hit a wall in my writing, it always helped to sit down and read a book. Well-written books are a great inspiration for a writer. In fact, they’re what inspired us all to write in the first place.
Unfortunately, as much as I love to read, I find it difficult to find time for it much these days, and almost impossible when I’m smack in the middle of trying to work out a story. Reading takes a dedicated amount of time, and a lot of it. In order to get through a book, it could literally take me a week or more of stealing moments here and there, and the experience would likely be disjointed and unfulfilling.
When I read a book, I like to be able to sit down and read it in a few hours or a couple of days. Solid reading, until it’s finished.
But, again, I can’t do that while I’m writing. So when I hit those walls, unless I want to take a few days off, I’m shit out of luck.
I did, however, stumble upon a solution to my problem:
Right now I think we are going through a period when television drama is at its very best. There are many, many shows with solid production values, terrific acting and superb writing.
One night, when I hit a particularly solid wall, I said screw it and sat down to watch an hour of television. Actually, I had a series on DVD that I’d always heard good things about but had never watched, so I popped the first DVD in and was suddenly swept away. (DVDs or Netflix streaming, by the way, are the only way to go. Commercials are so intrusive, they interrupt the flow of the narrative.)
To my surprise, as I watched the show with it’s amazing plotting and great interplay between the characters, I found myself becoming more and more inspired. And when I finally went back to the keyboard that night, I was on fire.
It wasn’t so much the subject matter than inspired me. But the TECHNIQUES the writers used to advance plot and character that — because a typical TV drama is only 44 minutes long — was IMMEDIATELY evident to me. Techniques of craft that I could apply to my own writing.
These weren’t new techniques. I knew them already. But to see them used so brilliantly, to see how they can bring a good story to life, was as thrilling to me as reading a book by Stephen King.
Watching that TV show made me WANT to write, just as a great book will. And whenever I got stuck again, I’d go pop in another episode, or mix it up with another well-crafted show, and find myself inspired all over again.
Some of the shows that have inspired me are:
Law & Order
All beautifully crafted, beautifully written shows. Not every episode is perfect, of course, but if I pop one of these shows in, I’m bound to find myself itching to get writing.
So am I alone in this? Do other writers in the crowd find inspiration in their favorite TV shows — and, if so, what are those shows?
And you readers — do you ever find that watching a great show inspires you to pick up a book?