Kill Your TV…

My friends who are writers are tired of hearing this one. It’s not meant to be a political statement, or a counterculture slogan. It’s simply that if you want to write novels or short stories, fiction of any kind, slavery to television is your enemy.

Most people who watch it have certain shows that they never want to miss; they will arrange their schedules around these shows and sit down eagerly on the couch, whereupon their brain switches off. That’s what I mean by slavery to television. People spend hours with their eyes pointed at the television. Why is this bad?

Writers need to have their senses open to the world around them. Everything counts toward your ability to write: everything you see, everything you learn, everything you do, everyone you talk to. And most especially what you read! You cannot, absolutely cannot be a writer unless you read copiously. All of those things help you in your work. Television does not; I will go so far as to say that it undoes some of the good done by doing everything else in life. The stories on television are not the type to positively influence writing; they are shallow, have weird and stretchy story arcs that do not work in fiction writing, and generally have cardboard characters who do things *out* of character whenever it’s needed to move the plot in some bizarre direction.

Furthermore, television is enslaved to advertisers. Not only are commercials boring, annoying and frequently baffling, they drive the stories that you see on television. They define the length of time the show has to work with. More than that, selling advertising is the entire purpose of the show, so it becomes warped in directions that serve this. If a writer is working around a television habit, it can likewise warp their concept of what a story ought to be, the structure and purpose of fiction.

Even shows that purport to be intellectual ones, like CSI or House, are there to sell advertising. They are not showing you an accurate picture of reality–not only in the obvious areas, as in Perry Mason winning every case that comes his way, but in less obvious areas too. The shows frequently save time and the effort it would take to teach, by getting their facts and their science wrong, which goes into the general fund of knowledge, creeps into the work and makes editors giggle at the writer. That’s probably not what you’re after.

Worst and most subtle of all, the attitudes shown you on television are hurtful to you as much as to your fiction. There is a great deal of negativity, a strange and warped attitude toward romance and love and jealousy, a very noticeable violent streak. There is a complete disregard of the fact that most people are in fact ordinary, want to be good in most ways as long as it’s not too inconvenient, and sometimes even if it is, and that there is beauty and joy and heroism all around us. Those things are not reflected in the twisted world of television, whether it’s news, drama or comedy.

You can get news from the internet or from paper news. You don’t really need to know which brand of toothpaste is recommended by four out of five dentists. Strangely, they all seem to be. And you really, really don’t need to know what Judge Judy has to say to that stroppy housewife. And don’t get me started on ‘reality shows’.

I will point out, however, that if what you want to write is television scripts, then by all means watch it. You, in fact, should watch more of it. Just like what a novel writer should be doing with their time is reading novels. A lot. Not watching television.

Disagreements? Defense? Wild applause?


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Caroline
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 10:48:55

    “…….You cannot, absolutely cannot be a writer unless you read copiously……..”.

    This should be inscribed on the walls of the little rooms of writers everywhere.

  2. carnegietales
    Feb 18, 2012 @ 17:09:51

    Standing ovation!

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