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May 21, 2013

Watching TV Is Good for Your Writing

Being in a writers’ group is great because:

  1. You get feedback on your writing.
  2. You practice your editing skills by giving feedback on other people’s writing.
  3. You get book and article recommendations from folks as serious about writing as you are.


Today I’m sharing “Six Things Prose Writers Can Learn From Television” by Matt Debenham. There’s gold in here, readers. Six elements of good television writing that can easily be transferred into a mini-workshop on prose writing. Take a look and see what you can apply to your current WIP.


I tend to get stuck on Item 2. My characters, especially my protagonists, start out really nice and well adjusted. I have to work to mess them up. A number of the writers I’m working with now seem to have the same problem. None of us wants to write about characters we’ve all seen before, some textbook psychology that we can all see playing out from page one. We want to create relatable characters, put them in challenging situations, and then have them behave unexpectedly. But at the same time, there must be a believable (not necessarily logical) motivation behind every action of every character for the writing to work.


Debenham says it well,


Active doesn’t mean always happy, or manic, or illogical. Active means a character who wants something, who does things relating to those wants — oftentimes when that is exactly the wrong thing for them to do.


That’s where tension, conflict, and just plain good writing come from.


Which piece do you have the most trouble with? How are you working through it?

  1. forgingshadows says:

    I have to admit, I found the article a little bit condescending. What does he care if people only write for themselves? If they produce something good that other people like, they can have whatever motivation they want. Same goes for whether people spend a lot of time on plotting and structure. Maybe some people don’t worry about it because their writing is more orderly than, say, mine.

    That being said, there was some good advice in here. I think my biggest problem is, ‘Don’t take forever.’ At the moment I spend a lot of time ‘thinking’ about where my work is going rather than getting it there. Though my characters often need work as well.

    • Thanks so much for your feedback. I do think you make a bit of a contradiction: if someone is truly writing only for himself, why would he let anyone else read his work? How would he know if anyone else liked it? I think what Debenham is trying to say is that we need to be honest with ourselves as writers. Why are we really writing? What are our goals? And are we working in a way that pursues those goals? (I’d add, and having fun along the way, of course.)

      Thanks again for reading and for keeping up the conversation!

      • forgingshadows says:

        I see your point when you mention the contradiction. If you write with the goal to get published, then of course someone will be reading what you write, and you can’t have that goal without the ultimate thought in mind.

        However, when I ask myself, ‘why am I really writing?’ it’s not because I want my husband or parents or currently nonexistent millions of adoring fans to read it. It’s because I have an idea and I want to put it down, and I want to put it down in the best way possible. If someone asked me whether I wrote for myself or for other people, I would absolutely say, ‘myself.’ And I truly believe there’s a difference between writing something for someone and writing something that, eventually, someone else can read. As far as goals go, I write with the goal of getting published because I think I can, and because I like writing better than any other job I’ve had so far 🙂

        Even though I didn’t like the source article, I enjoyed your blog post and I’m enjoying the discussion!

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