Growing up, I would often hear this pronouncement of doom from those who had studied this sort of thing… “TV will stunt creativity”

Even now, ‘cultured’ people often shake their heads and say disdainfully, “Well we don’t even own a television.” Among some writing groups, to admit that one is going to watch a movie would earn one scandalised stares.

I’m sure that TV does stunt creativity. I’m sure that the mindless imbibing of low-grade movies would be the equivalent of staring at the wall, until our couch potato selves started shrivelling and beginning to smell.

Maybe I’m just strange, but I have always found that visual entertainment was one of the inspirations for my creativity. When I was younger, I would imagine amazing adventures based on the TV program I had just seen.

I was an integral part of the Airwolf team. (second season, not the first season with irritating Stringfellow Hawke)

I even flew the helicopter a few times, on those occasions where the stars of the show had been kidnapped, and I had to rescue them. I perfected my technique of inching the helicopter out of its mountainous hiding place in MonumentValley.

I was a Ghostbuster!

Now that I’m older, I relish a well-made TV series or movie for different reasons. They are tools to make my writing better.

Movies may be visual, but they all have something to do with writing; they all have a screenplay. So if we think of a movie as just another form of expressive writing, it really isn’t far removed from a novel, and we can learn all sorts of interesting things from them.

1) Every movie or TV program (like every book) starts with a good idea…

A man and a woman fall in love while emailing. In real life however, they are enemies. Then the man finds out that the woman he loathes is actually the woman he loves –

A lonely widower meets an amazing woman in a bookshop. He goes home to tell his family that he met someone special, only to find out that she is his brother’s new girlfriend –

And one of my favourite teen movies, based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

“Everybody has a secret…

Duke wants Olivia who likes Sebastian, who is really Viola, whose brother is dating Monique, so she hates Olivia, who’s with Duke to make Sebastian jealous, who is really Viola, who’s crushing on Duke, who thinks she’s a guy.”

2) You can listen to examples of clever dialogue.

The snappy one-liners and banter in the Avengers movie brings humanity to action, and makes it more than just another two hours of explosions and sword fights. It will be the dialogue that will probably be remembered, more than the special effects.

And in a movie, you can pause and listen more closely to dialogue than you can in real life.

“Excuse me, Total Stranger. Do you mind saying that again? I’m trying to copy it down.”

3) Memorable characters.

Studying what makes movies characters lovable or villainous can help our writing. Some movie and TV characters will live on for decades; a good thing to try and emulate with our book characters.

I had the opportunity recently to take a delightful walk down memory lane when our local TV station delved into their archives and screened the first season of MacGyver. (not shown on our TV channels since about 1986)

Mac, as he is affectionately called by friends and fans alike, was my ultimate crush in my early teen years, and now, as I watched a very young Richard Dean Anderson ‘MacGyvering’ his way out of multiple problems, I couldn’t help but sigh, and admit to myself that I still find him gorgeous.

Characters are so important in any story. I stopped reading the classic Vanity Fair a few chapters in because I did not care at all for Miss Becky Sharpe, and I had no interest in finding out what happened to her.

Our readers need to care about our characters, to the point of not being able to sleep until they find out what is going to happen to them.

Our characters need to be ‘human’, not stereotypes. They need to be interesting, and their story needs to be interesting. We must not disappoint our readers like one romance novelist I read, who took me through all the agony of two people trying to get together, and then wrapped it up in three lines of trite dialogue.

Most important of all, our characters need to be memorable. The mere mention of “duct tape” 25 years after seeing MacGyver on screen still conjures up images of exciting escapes that just can’t be forgotten.

(although I DO try and forget that regrettable hairstyle he had in later episodes!)

And he is famous enough to use to sell stuff in 2012!




Fast forward to my second favourite TV show of all time…






The writers of Chuck have made their characters into living, breathing people who will be remembered (and quoted) by fans for years to come.

What is so special about them are their quirks.

Chuck’s “girlish scream”                                                                                                  Captain “Awesome”                                                                                                              Casey’s grunts.                                                                                                                  Jeffster’s dramatic and awful singing.

But more than that, the characters grow and change.

Chuck becomes more like a spy. Sarah becomes more like a normal woman. Casey finds his very hidden soft centre. Morgan becomes responsible…

Yet throughout their changes, they still retain what made them unique as people.

So often while watching episodes, I get a satisfied spark when the writers get a character to say and do the perfect thing for them.

We need to do the same with the people in our books.

We need to get them.

4) Show not tell

Advice always given to writers, and so easy to see with visual media. A good exercise is to take a very visual scene from a movie, and describe what we see. It’s good to train our minds to be able to paint picture with words.

5) Study structure

In her book From First Draft to Finished Novel, Karen Wiesner talks about story sparks. Something intriguing that ignites the plot.

The structure of While you were Sleeping is an excellent example of brilliant plot structure, with a number of story sparks…

An answering machine message, a man waking up from a coma, a new love.

They make the watcher go “OMG” and want to stay watching to see what happens.

6) Movies are economical

In a movie, every second counts. Every action by a character is important.

By remembering this, we can make our writing tighter, and remove unnecessary padding.

Blog inspired by The Avengers, during a busy Saturday evening  at the Pavilion Shopping Centre, somewhere near Durban.