I grew up spending hours a day in front of the TV. I went through a period of my life, in my late 20’s and early 30’s, where I gave it up for the most part. I couldn’t tell you who Doug was seeing in the ER, or who Johnny Depp played on 21 Jump Street, or who shot JR. I felt a sense of self-satisfaction at my TV abstinence.
My reasoning was purist–anything consumed in mass quantities is bad for you, whether it’s drugs or alcohol, or something as seemingly benign as Dance Dance Revolution (although that at least has physical exertion associated with it). In short, I didn’t want my brain to waste away from mindless viewing of other people’s fictional lives.
So I have to confess I was a little embarrassed last week when I watched four entire seasons of Fringe in about a week and a half (great show–I’ll write about it in an upcoming entry).
I spent one guilt-filled hour after another consuming every detail of this disturbing yet addictive show. But I walked away from it a better person, and here’s why: it made me a better writer.
I’ve come to view television (and movies, and other books) in a different light since I began to take writing seriously. Nowadays, when I get into a story, I examine it to see what makes it so compelling. Why was I so obsessed with it that I had to watch it streaming from Netflix over my smart phone for hours while I was working an overnight shift? Why did I get so annoyed that I had to stop my binge for five minutes when one of my kids fell and was gushing blood? (This didn’t really happen, by the way–as a writer, I like to embellish a little. Please nobody call DFS) And how can I turn my stories into THAT?
It made me want to drop everything and create that same level of suspense in my story. After I walked away from my eye-glazing trance when the fourth season was over (the fifth season isn’t on Netflix yet–I need to clear a few days from my schedule when it is), I was able to see places in my manuscript where I could throw in little hints instead of giving too much away, where I could create a cliff-hanger here or there, where I could make a little more tension between the main characters.
So for now, when any story sucks me in so intensely, I am going to shrug off the guilt and let the show sweep me away, and I’m going to justify it as a boost to my creative abilities.
Or at least, that’s what I’m going to tell myself. Now leave me alone–I’m off to watch Hannibal!