Friday, January 27, 2012

Top 5 Tips Writers Can Learn From Reality TV

All right, I have to admit it. I love reality TV. I watch The Bachelor, I watch Project Runway (Allstars is awesome by the way! Anyone see Miss Piggy?). I get caught up sometimes. Not with all of them, but I enjoy these shows.

Maybe you're not a television fan, or at least not reality television, and that's just fine. Because you have ME to tell you writers out there just what it is about reality TV that keeps the fans coming back for more. Or even better, what YOU can take away from reality television and use in your own writing.

Relatable (or Unrelatable) Characters

Yeah, so sometimes I can't really relate to someone who is trying to wow Mr. Bachelor with her stellar flirting skills. But what we weekly watchers can relate to is that these women, or men, on these shows are real people. They're vulnerable. Like when they give you the back story on American Idol and you exclaim, "Oh, man, now I really want Monique to win!" And even we we don't exactly like they way certain people play the game or portray themselves on national television, we still have some sort of emotion toward them. They have feelings, they have aspirations and dreams, and we all know what that's like!

Conflict (or Drama!)

Reality TV is full of drama. Sometimes that's precisely why people DON'T like it. But one thing that's for sure, that's what keeps the ratings up. There's always something in every episode. A family emergency, a new character stepping onto the scene, the past rearing its ugly head in someone's life. Or someone simply showing their vulnerability, having a bit of a break down, and changing the course of the show. We want these things for our stories. We want conflict!

The Unknown

This is also what we want for our books! Reality TV has the penchant to catch us off balance, and that's not a bad thing - particularly not for writing books. There are plenty of times you have no idea what's going to happen and that's a characteristic of a good book. We don't want cliche storylines or settings (which is why I'm seriously going to try hard with my new WIP to NOT write even ONE scene in a coffee shop).

The Unexpected

This kind of goes along with the unknown. This is all about characters. On these reality shows, people have bigger than life personalities, they act in ways we don't expect. Yes, we want our readers to relate to our characters, but we also have to give them insistent personalities. Characters that aren't going to just let life happen to them, but are going to make things happen.

Cliffhangers and Hooks

Oh yeah. Leaving us hanging is a reality (or even regular TV) shows greatest tool. They hook us before commercials and hook us at the end of the show. As someone who isn't fabulous with hooks, I could learn a lot here. Ending chapters or scenes at just the right time, with something for the reader to hang onto, will help keep up pacing and give your readers (like reality television watchers) something to tune in for.

So if you're not a fan of The Bachelor, is this making you want to try it? It's okay if it isn't. We're writers, after all, and we're supposed to be focusing on writing, not TV. After this season is over, however, I'll probably get a LOT more writing done.

What about all you writers out there? Have you learned anything about writing from television, and which tip is easiest or hardest for you in your writing?

***photo courtesy of ABC


Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog,


Jeanne T said...

Good thoughts, Cindy. This will sound very countercultural, but I don't remember the last time I actually turned on the tv to watch a show (besides a football game, that is). :) I think it was when I bottle fed my youngest (now 7 1/2) and watched Extreme Home Makeover. ;)

Love your points though, on adding the unexpected into our stories to keep the readers hooked. Thanks for the analogy of reality television to bring it to life. :)

Lindsay Harrel said...

Hi, my name is Lindsay Harrel, and I'm addicted to The Bachelor. :)

I think I watch reality tv because it is a train wreck waiting to happen...and like any rubbernecker, I gotta see what that is. Must be those cliffhangers and that drama you were talking about!

I read recently that we need to have hooks throughout our stories, not just at the beginning. Reality tv is good at that!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Jeanne. I definitely need to learn from your example and watch LESS television. I can say it's in the name of research but we all know that's not always the truth :) Thanks for stopping by!

Hi Lindsay! You're right, it's totally an addiction :) I'm glad I'm not alone! But again, those hooks are great. We can definitely learn something from them. Have a super weekend!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Cindy,

The Bachelor is my guilty pleasure, too. Hubby HATES it!! I just stumbled on this new one called "Sweet Home Alabama" with a cute southern belle trying to decide between a bunch of cute city guys and some hunky cowboys. Geesh ! What a decision! (Not sure when this one airs, just tripped over it!)

How clever of you to pick out all the reasons why we watch these shows and how we can relate it to our writing. From now on, I'll just say I'm doing RESEARCH for my next wip!! LOL.


Mary Vee Writer said...

Susan you are a hoot. I like using research for my reason as well, but I must confess, I am not a bachelor viewer.
Either way, our favorite tv programing hooks us and holds us captive, unwilling to let us rest until we return next week in some way.
Great tools of the writing trade, Cindy. Thanks:)

Casey said...

I have family that when I said I loved The Biggest Loser gagged and asked me WHY??

Hehe, for all the reasons Cindy mentioned and one more: we want the people to get a HEA. Or reach their goal or succeed.

Great post, Cindy!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Sue! Yay, another Bachelor buddy! I've heard of the Sweet Home Alabama one but haven't watched it. I'm totally with you on the research claim - we writers will do whatever it takes to get our stories right :)

Mary, you put it well. Those programs (or a good book) will hold us captive, so we want more! I hope my books do this for readers :)

Casey, yeah! Love those HEA's. And even better, they're for real life people.

Beth K. Vogt said...

I don't get to watch a lot of TV, reality or otherwise, but I enjoyed this post. Lots of good, good ideas.
For me, being open to the unexpected -- that's what I've got to go for.
I've planned out my WIP. But I have to leave room for my characters to romp a bit, ya know? Surprise me with who they are ...

Tracy Krauss said...

Hooray! I can now watch reality TV guilt free since its actually 'helping' me to write! :) I do love Project Runway myself - and yes, I watched the Miss Piggy episode. lol