Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Writing Advice From TV

"Flying car two...now with wings!" (Same film as the last quote...fresh autumn apple to the first to guess in the comments!)

Multi-tasking is the answer to the fundamental life question, "How can I work and have fun too?" Ok, it's fundamental to me. So I wash dishes with the Ipod on, iron while watching a movie and whenever I'm walking, reading, talking or watching, I'm on the lookout for writing advice. Sure, you have to sift the grain and chaff...maybe be a little imaginative. Here's an prime example of working while enjoying hubby-couch time.

This summer, a new dystopian alien series came out *hurray!* with the John Carter from ER, Noah Wyle *double hurray!!*  Falling Skies finished its first ten-episode season in August. Produced by Steven Spielberg himself (though really, he's been pushing alien buttons long enough that if he hasn't been mind-switched already, it's due to happen), the series describes the life six months after an alien invasion. The survivors are banded together outside of Boston. They're not satisfied with surviving and form a militia to fight back. Noah Wyle plays a history professor and father who has become the second-in-command of the milita.

I'm fairly easy to please, but I like to watch with a critical ear (mixing metaphors?). Here's some my notes from Falling Skies .I'm gonna try to limit the spoilers and just whet your appetite.

-Surprises are fabulous. More so if we had a clue a while back but forgot because it didn't seem like anything. In the very first episode, a little girl wonders why the six-legged, reptile/spider aliens, called Skitters, made two-legged, two-armed robot warriors called Mecs. Nothing more said or done until the 8th episode or so. Cool.
-Conflict needs to keep moving forward. If we were sure that Noah Wyle isn't ever gonna find his son, his efforts would feel futile...we'd be as frustrated as him and lose interest. The militia's measured success in finding out more about their enemy and learning new ways to combat them keep us sure that despite losing a battle, the war is progressing.
-Twists and turns. Having a different element to each episode, or linking two on the same problem, keeps things lively. A renegade who looks out for himself comes onto the scene; a captain from another unit offers a safe hiding place for the children; a medical operation for a recovered prisoner; the capture of a Skitter alien. 
-I wanna see monsters! Not just hear about them or see an arm or a shadow in the dark. Falling Skies paid the special effects guys, so the aliens get some nice screen time. Yes, off-screen can be scarier. However, I think since this is what the people are living with for months and months, not just a brief nightmare, that it's important for us to connect emotionally by seeing what they're dealing with. And it's just fun. I don't like it too scary.
-Defined characters. Ok, we'd all love to write a great Severus Snape. But even though we're not ever sure which side he's on, he was clearly defined from the beginning. I mean, you could pick one word to describe him. From that, his actions could follow the definition created, or branch from it, surprising everybody. Same here. Noah Wyle's character could be defined as loyal or "Boy Scout"... but you never know what that'll make him do. Wa ha ha. The lovely pediatrician is kind and caring, dealing well with the situation...or is she? The impulsive commander wants only a fight...or is there something else driving him? The jerk renegade is always gonna look out for himself...until... 
-Casting. This is maybe beside the point, but I loved John Carter in ER. The nice guy face, the reality that he can make mistakes/be a jerk...he had heart, he had soul. Noah Wyle is bringing that back in Falling Skies and it's just delightful to watch him. Be sure your characters are people you wanna hang out with for 400 pages, even if they're in the middle of a character arc and still learning to be a better person!

What have you "learned" while watching TV lately?


  1. Ok - I'm hooked - let's get the discs & hit the couch, Teens! Michelle - (still can't figure out how to comment as someone!)

  2. Quote Prize goes to.....Michael Ruebke!!! Crunch, crunch, crunch!
    Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs!!!

  3. Good job on the movie quote! There's a window that says Comment As. Normally, if you are signed into your gmail account it will offer that as your first choice...