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How to Watch TV Like a Novelist Part One–4 Questions About Characters

I like to watch TV. Everyone knows this. (I even blog about it.) Sometimes I have an excuse to watch, like I had a hard day, or someone is over and wants to watch something with me. But sometimes I really don’t and should be reading a book or working on one of my two current works-in-progress instead. To make myself feel a tiny bit better, I sometimes put my writer’s cap on and at least think a little bit harder about what I’m watching.

Next time you find yourself watching TV when you’re supposed to be writing(of course you never procrastinate, right? right?) here are some questions to ask yourself:

1) Who is the main character of this scene? And why? Just like in books, TV shows often have a POV (point-of-view) character. Often, the main character is shown by using different camera angles (for example, if the character is sitting at a desk, many shots are shown from the angle of sitting at the desk) or even through voice-overs (which is a little clumsier, I think). For TV shows with multiple main characters, try to figure out why they chose to show the scene through a certain character’s eyes and pay attention to the POV shifts. Did switching POVs add to the plot or just complicate things?

2) Which character(s) do you like? What makes them successful characters?

Obviously you don’t want to copy a character exactly from a TV show (I think people would notice if your character was exactly the same as, say, Blair from Gossip Girl). But you’ll notice that often your favorite characters are the most multi-faceted characters on the show and sometimes this means your favorite character is the “bad guy”. The best thing about bad guys is that they’re allowed to do bad things, where “good guys” often don’t or can’t.

3) Which characters do you hate? Are you meant to hate them? Or are they unsuccessful characters?

Often, it’s the one-sided stereotype characters that I find boring, like the blonde ditz, or the overbearing mother-in-law, (or the one-sided mean girls on high school shows). There is sometimes a point to having these kinds of characters–they move the plot forward, or just add color to a scene, or, like the “Redshirt” characters in Star Trek, someone has to die…(okay maybe that’s not a great example).

4) Would this scene be better with or without a certain character?

This relates a lot to #3. That character you found annoying–did they really need to be there? And is there a character like that in your novel, a character that you could possibly eliminate? Once you’ve crafted and named a character, it’s really hard to let them go, but if they really don’t add anything, it’s best to let them go (again…like some of those Redshirt characters…) If it makes you feel better, maybe you can save them for the “deleted scenes” portion of your novel’s DVD? :)

So next time you’re watching your favorite guilty pleasure show (for me it’s the new Pretty Little Liars) try and think a little bit harder about what you’re watching and use what you’ve learned to inform your writing.

Next time: Questions about the Plot

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