Wednesday, January 16, 2013

5 TV Shows for Writers to Watch

I watch a lot of T.V. and in many ways I prefer television shows to movies. You get to know the characters better and, ultimately, you get to see them more. Especially if it's a popular show with many seasons. Recently, I've been watching these shows not as a passive observer, but as a writer. I take note of the conflict, dialogue, and pacing that the writers of these shows use to tell their story, because writing a novel is basically the same thing. Same idea, different medium.

So here's a list of five shows that exhibit excellent writing and are worth watching both for entertainment and as a writer.

1. Sherlock
Sherlock is the modern re-imagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's timeless mystery series following the antics of genius detective, Sherlock Holmes. The T.V. series takes place in modern day London, placing the characters firmly in the real world yet still managing to stay true to the original plots. Aside from the stunning acting done by Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson), this show is exceedingly well written. The sharp and intelligent dialogue between the two lead characters is engaging and addictive, while the lead characters themselves are immediately relatable and interesting. The show's constant flow of wit and excitement keeps the pace up through the hour and half long episodes placing the watch firmly in it's thrall. Sadly, there are only three episodes per season.

2. Homeland
Homeland is the best psychological thriller on T.V. It brings what is a very popular genre in books to the world of television. Following the paths of C.I.A. counter-terrorist agent Carrie and alleged captive-turned-terrorist Lt. Brodie, Homeland has swept a nation already hooked on thrillers in book-form. Not only is this show exciting because of its basic premise, but the writers do an excellent job of gradually reveling information. They don't present everything you need to know right away, instead drawing both past and present events out through the eyes of the characters. Trusting your audience to figure somethings out for themselves and only giving just enough hints to keep them going is essential to any "thriller" story, but even in other genres adding a layer of hidden depth with make any story better.

3. Doctor Who
Doctor Who has been a staple in the Sci Fi genre for decades, but the most recent reboot (starting in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston) has gone further than the original. While the initial seasons still have genre-specific themes and questionable graphics, Doctor Who really shows itself to be deeper than many outsiders can understand. The most recent seasons are especially well done crossing all genres including Science Fiction, Mystery/Thriller, Drama - even tossing in a bit of romance for good measure. But what the writers do best in this series is the characters. The characters are vibrant, original, and very much their own. Dialogue, clothing, and idiosyncrasies are expertly woven together to give life to these characters who are at their worst, human, and at their best, still very much human. 

4. The Newsroom
From the creator of the West Wing, the Newsroom is a sharp, intelligent exploration of the characters involved in the media today. It follows idealistic news anchor William MacAvoy and an ensemble cast of a fictional cable news channel dealing with and presenting actual news. The writers do an excellent job of weaving fictional characters around fact-based events, while at the same time using their story to present the watcher with harsh truths about today's world. A constant stream of witty dialogue, actual catastrophes, and almost slap-stick personal problems creates a story-world that is exciting, scary, hilarious, heart-wrenching, and deeply relevant to its audience. 

5. Downton Abbey
Downton Abbey is the runaway hit that follows the inhabitants of its namesake through the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, and beyond. Placed against the beautiful back drop of an Edwardian era manor house, an ensemble cast of characters ranges from the lowliest kitchen maid to the Earl of Downton himself. Each character is amazingly well-cast with individual and vibrant personalities. The interpersonal conflict is what drives the story forward without the need for contrived melodrama or explosions. Reaching beyond its genre's usual audience of Jane Austen lovers (count me as one of those), Downton Abbey has managed to hook all kinds of watchers. As a writer, it is very much worth watching for the snappy dialogue, what is said, as well as the underlying tensions, what is not said. This series excels at touching overarching themes through the characters lives and subtle pacing that draws the watcher along until they are completely addicted.

These are five of my favorite T.V. shows and the ones that I think would benefit any writer to watch.

What are some of yours?

Friday, January 11, 2013

An Ending

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.
- Robert Jordan

I finished the final Wheel of Time book last night. (Don't worry. No spoilers.) For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series, the Wheel of Time is an epic fantasy spanning years and continents, filled with unforgettable characters, universal themes, and some sort of highly addictive substance that is likely to be banned if scientists can isolate it. 

Robert Jordan tells the traditional child-of-the-prophecy/coming-of-age story, weaving the arc through a unique conglomeration of familiar and foreign cultures, maintaining constant tension with thrilling battles, intense conflict, and clever riddles hinting at something larger and darker than we can imagine. Oh, and he writes women well. 

But this isn't an entry about the series. This is about me.

I started reading this series when I was thirteen or fourteen. I was a sophomore in high school and my first boyfriend gave me a copy of the first book, The Eye of the World. Needless to say, my relationship with the series far outlasted my relationship with the boy. Now I'm twenty-three. I've been reading this series for a decade of my life. Each book is somewhere between 700 and 1000 pages long and there were eleven available. I burned through them.

On September 16, 2007, Robert Jordan died. I was furious. He'd died before he could finish the series. He left me hanging on the edge of a literary cliff, desperate to know what was going to happen to the characters I'd fallen in love with. How dare he. This was the instant reaction of my seventeen-year-old self and it took me a while to come to terms with his death. His books had become an important fixture in my library and in my mind. Thankfully, Brandon Sanderson took up the unimaginably daunting task of finishing the series. 

And he did.

And now I'm done.

Where do I go from here? I spent two days completely engrossed in the final book. About three quarters of the way through I began to think about what my literary life would be like post-Jordan. I was excited at the prospect of reading new epic fantasy series (something I'd denied myself while in Jordan's thrall). I was excited to be finished and relieved that the last book had finally made it to my hands. And then I reached the end. 

Many of you will understand the type of melancholy that arises upon reaching the end of an especially beloved book or series. I made it through fourteen harrowing volumes and suddenly it was over. I feel an emptiness, knowing I will never see these characters again. In many ways I will miss them more than actual people that have come and gone through my life. But then again, I spent ten years with the characters of the Wheel of Time. I have seen their beauty and their flaws and their strength. They reverberated in my mind, reaching out of the page and changing who I was and how I saw the world. I loved them and they never disappointed me. 

That is the power of a truly spectacular series. It lives in its readers forever and refuses to let them go. Even at the end. But then...

There are no endings, and never will be endings, to the turning of the Wheel of Time. 

But it was an ending.