by Shirley Hailstock
I don’t watch much television. At least I didn’t think I watched a lot of it. But I’ve discovered I watch a lot of television. I can write through the noise. Growing up with a lot of sisters and one brother, the television, record player (we had records then), and radio could all be going at once, not to mention conversations. I learned to either tune it out or work with it.
I thought working with television began when CSI-Crime Scene Investigation debuted on the small screen. They would show what happened inside the body when an event occurred, like a bullet penetrating a lung. I thought of it as research, giving myself permission to watch it for writing purposes. But then I remembered back when I was in high school, I used to used Walt Disney Presents (Sunday nights at 8:00) to get ideas for book reports I would need in the future. It wasn’t until later that I discovered books and movies were different. Luckily, I stuck with the legends, so I was all right.
Going to the movies was something a friend and I did often when I lived in D.C. When the movie ended and everyone else was leaving the theater, my friend and I were still sitting there after the credits rolled, discussing the film, its meaning, what was true, possible, or impossible. It wasn’t just what Hollywood had sent us. We’d dissect it every part of it. And this was long before I began writing and dissecting what made a good book. I didn’t know it at the time, but sitting in that theater, analyzing what happened, was training for becoming a writer.
Movies also sent me to books. If a story was intriguing, I often wanted to know more about the characters portrayed or I wanted to know what was in the book that didn’t translate to the screen. By now I’d learned that what I saw was only a fraction of what a book could tell me. These were often biographies. I wanted to separate the truth from fiction. Amadeus was one of the first ones I watched and went almost immediately to the library to check out several books on the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart isn’t my favorite classical pianist. That would be Chopin, but the story behind Amadeus was so intriguing that despite the wonderful music, I wanted to know more about the man and his relationship with his wife, his absent mother and his stern father.
Books also send me to learn more about other people’s lives. The book Emily’s Secret by Jill Jones led me to learn more about the Bronte’s. Emily’s Secret, a work of fiction, was recommended by the publisher through a teaser booklet. I read the teaser and then haunted bookstores until the book was released. After reading it, I discovered it was one of those books that you tell everyone they have got to read. And of course, I did.
But let’s go back to television. I’m not a reality fan, but I watch some shows for the science or the technology. McGyver and his ingenious use of whatever was available was one of my favorites. I have the entire series on DVD’s. I was a chemistry major in college and still wondered if some of the improvised concoctions he used would work. Years after it went off the air, there was another program where they tried the physics and chemistry of McGyver. Most of it didn’t work. However, the takeaway from this is that there are things my characters can do with only what is available. And before you ask, no, I never used anything I saw McGyver do on television in my books. But he was certainly good to look at. And still is.
I watched Scandal with Kerry Washington from the first to last episode. She’s a fixer. Until I saw Michael Clayton with George Clooney, I’d never heard of a fixer. I thought they’d have a sexier name. I can’t think what, just that they would. The problems they have and the solutions they come up with are amazing. As a writer, it’s a not to be missed program. And of course, NCIS is on my list program that I watch over and over again.
So, when readers ask me where did the idea for a book came from, sometimes it came from something I saw on television. Of course, it’s not exactly the same, but the germ of the plot can spark an entire book. Sometimes only one line in a movie gives me an idea for a story. I have to quickly write it down, so I won’t forget it. Once I got the idea for a book from a bumper sticker on the back of a truck. All it said was Summer Thunder. I thought of writing a book about the permanent residents of a summer resort. They referred to the influx of hard bodies during the season as Summer Thunder. It’s still in the idea file, waiting for me to write it.
The idea for one of my books, His 1-800 Wife, (not a Heartwarming novel) did not come from any television program. It came from commercials. There were so many late-night commercials for people to call 1-900 numbers. Those were for more exotic and they had a pay-per-call feature. Right after I saw one, another came on for some mortgage company and their number began with 1-800. My thought was about the 900 number people looking for love and installing a phone to find it. And that's when the characters Catherine Carson and Jarrod Greene entered my mind.
Catherine Carson needs a husband...temporarily. Devising a plan to keep her sister and mother at bay, she installs a phone to find the perfect man -- no the imperfect man. One she could marry and happily divorce in six months. But Jarrod Greene has other plans. And Catherine must discover what she really wants...a future with Jarrod.
As I said, the germ of an idea can come from many sources. Since we have movie-size televisions and pay for premium packages, we tend to use the medium for entertainment, but it's also a source for writers. We notice when programs are well written and when a twist on a plot is new or unexpected. And we also garner some of our best ideas for the stories and series we write.
So sit down and watch television program. Some of the best programs are based on books – or the other way around.
As always – keep reading.
It is interesting where we writers get our ideas. As for movies, I remember my mother taking me and my brother (in a stroller!) to matinees because she loved movies so much. That definitely instilled a fascination for the big screen in me, too. Thanks for this trip down memory lane!ReplyDelete
I remember the only movie we saw as a family. I have 5 sisters and a brother, but there were only four of us then, the youngest still an infant. The movie was Dragnet and we saw it at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C.Delete
We belong the same club--those who write with noise, or can. I started writing with kids 4 and 5, so they were making noise all the time. I've noticed how reality TV has made its way into books these days, either as a theme or something one of the characters talks about. Now that we can watch TV series one episode after another, it's given me insight into why people like soaps. Both are like turning pages to another chapter in a long book. What a golden time for stories of all kinds.ReplyDelete
My television is often on for the noise, but I don't put on a movie that I haven't already seen. Usually, it's reruns of shows I like, especially if I can do them on Netflix without commercials.Delete
So much food for thought in here - whether I can write with noise in the background, whether I dissect movies as much as I used to when I was dating my husband, and how writers draw inspiration from what's around there. Thank you, Shirley, for such a great post that gives me so much to think about. I do like music on in the background when I write, but my mom, who didn't have many rules about television, did say I couldn't have the tv on when I was doing homework. And your post reminded me of so many fun dates with my now-husband when we'd go to a movie and then spend hours at a restaurant (there was one dessert place in our college town) talking about it. Thanks for sharing all of this.ReplyDelete
I love the dissecting of the movies, figuring out what significance certain scenes had, what was the reason for the movie in general, was there a theme, a story that needed telling. . .just so many questions and so much conversation. I still do it, but now it's usually with an online community.Delete
Actually, I don't always "watch" television. It's on part of the time as background noise. I was also a McGyver fan. I like old movies, but have discovered in watching some of the ones I saw as kids that they don't always reflect everything I believe in--the image of women can be pretty dated. And why is it that women are so often shown as screaming their heads off? Even in War of the Worlds, the intelligent, educated working woman screams bloody murder and turns into a trembling violet at times--but I still love the movie. I tend to dissect films and TV shows, for story strengths and weakness, characterizations, and for what values they consciously or unconsciously portray. I did it some before I became a serious writer, but now, when I do watch, it's hard not to analyze it all.ReplyDelete
I totally agree with everything you said. I always wondered why women were even in those old movies. They always fell down at crucial moments, wore the wrong clothes and shoes and were just in the way. Later I discovered it was the sex appeal, but she was still the shrinking violet -- ugh!Delete
You've mentioned a couple of my old favorites. I don't watch a lot now, but it is funny what can spark an idea. I've also seen names in the credits that I think I should use, but I usually forget them before I write them down.ReplyDelete
I do this too, but I usually pick a first and last name from different people. I also keep a file of names and put an asterisk next to the ones I've used. Great minds think alike.Delete
Shirley, this was such a great post! I write in silence. I had so many years with kids, television and music playing that I'm now enjoying the bliss of hearing myself think! As my mother would say. I do get clips of ideas and especially learn how dialogue should be delivered from watching movies. I start everyday on my exercise equipment with a DVD movie playing. And like you, I seldom watch a movie I haven't seen. However, in the new landscape of the world we live in, I have bought a few DVD's for research that were unchartered territories. Until the theaters truly re-open and it's "safe" for us to go to a theater--we'll probably all be watching more DVD's and streaming entertainment.ReplyDelete
And---confession--I DO absolutely watch the credits and use some of those interesting names for my characters' names.
And I thought I was the only one who used the names from the credits. Once I had the idea of names my characters all after the names one of my favorite stars had in all his movies. His names were terrible, so I scraped that idea.Delete
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