creativity / writing

How Television Made Me An Author

A lot of people spend a lot of time worrying about TV’s influence on children. It’s something I’ve begun to be asked about as an author, and I know the answer I’m supposed to give. TV rots the brain and saps the imagination. It doesn’t stretch you or challenge you. It’s the enemy – to paraphrase Roald Dahl, we ought all to throw our TV sets away and install lovely bookshelves on our walls.

It’s a brilliant poem and it’s a heartfelt sentiment – but, for once, Roald and I have to disagree. To me, TV isn’t the enemy of books, or imagination, nor do I think that it ought to be banned from children’s homes.

test card fBecause I love TV. I’ve been an avid TV watcher since I was very young. Aged five, I was so obsessed that I used to sit and watch the test card before cartoons came on in the morning (remember the clown test card, children of the 1980s?) – and what pulled me to it, and kept me there, were the stories. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sonic the Hedgehog, Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers (and now you know exactly how old I am) – I watched every episode and used them as the starting point for my own bizarre and complex fantasy worlds. Aged six I spent about half my time as Princess Sally and half as Dick King-Smith’s Sophie, and I don’t know which I enjoyed more.

It was the TV shows I watched, rather than the books, that first inspired me to write my own responses. As a teenager, I spent days in my room watching Supernatural, Veronica Mars, CSI, Grey’s Anatomy and Stargate Atlantis. I read blog round-ups of each episode, I watched fan videos, I read fanfiction … and then I began to seriously write my own.

Basically, my lifeBefore this point, I’d always struggled with writing stories. I was good at making up ideas and characters, but not great at what to do with them once I had them. I didn’t know how to spin a tale, and so all of my original fiction attempts died somewhere around Chapter 3. Fanfic changed all that. I realised I could take baby steps into plotting by mimicking the beats of an episode, or creating a story scenario that felt manageable and safe (X and Y go to the fair. Hijinks ensue! There are monsters). I could respond to prompts from other authors, collaborate, expand on someone else’s work – and my efforts were critiqued (both kindly and harshly) by my readers.

To any adult who observed me slouching out of my room at two in the afternoon, I probably looked like I was wasting my life. But adults worry too much. I went to university to study English (you’ve read Fangirl? I was Fangirl, except not famous), I joined the university paper (as the TV editor), and suddenly, when I thought about writing original fiction, the idea didn’t seem so impossible. After all, a book was just fanfic about your own characters.

Murder Most Unladylike cover newI’m absolutely certain that without TV I wouldn’t be a published author today. I wouldn’t have had the technical ability to write Murder Most Unladylike, much less the courage to show it to anyone – television is a huge part of the reason why my books exist, and I think that you can still tell that I’m an author who’s been influenced by TV. I write very visually, I love writing dialogue and I think about story in a way that’s close to the beats all TV shows are based on. Writing a TV show is still one of my life’s ambitions – I think it’s important to remember that scripted TV is as much the product of a writer or writers as a novel, and as such it has real value. And to people who say that TV doesn’t give the viewer room to dream, I can’t agree. It’s only human to take a story and use your imagination to fill up the spaces around it, whether you view that story on a screen or read it in a book.

Fahrenheit 451Because, ultimately, it’s stories that are important. People take Fahrenheit 451 as a great example of a book about how important books are, but its message is a lot more complex than that. Granger and the other exiles aren’t trying to preserve books, necessarily – what they’re trying to save are stories. Even when the books are burnt, their contents can live on if people remember and retell them – and I think that’s a wonderful way of thinking.

Of course, it’s important to have moderation in all things – it’s not really healthy to just watch TV, or just read books, or just do any one thing to the exclusion of all others. But I also think it’s foolish to assume that one medium is intrinsically worse than another. TV is as full of possibilities as the printed word, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t embrace that. Long live television!

8 thoughts on “How Television Made Me An Author

  1. TV has been an important part of my writing life as well. Fanfiction, been there. Expanding on someone else’s story (be it TV, book, game…) is a great way to experiment with own storylines and practice building characters. And of course every word written is another opportunity to learn something new. “…scripted TV is as much the product of a writer or writers as a novel…” is an excellent point because I’ve seen surprisingly many people dismiss it as ‘just TV’ or ‘not real writing’ etc. A story is a story.

  2. Great blog, Robin. I was and am a big fan of good tv drama (Grey’s Anatomy) and I agree 100%. Good television inspires. I was a huge reader as a child but I also loved tv and films.

  3. What an interesting post! I come from the other side of the coin, so to speak, and don’t really watch much television. Not for any lofty reason; I just enjoy other things more. However, for the rather complex project I am working on currently, I have watched some TV series and films to spark my inspiration. If nothing else, it has shown me what *not* to do! I think though that the comment that said a story is a story, wherever it comes from is absolutely true. Great stuff!

  4. I quite agree that good television can be a wonderful source of inspiration – I’m sure my love of stories has just as much to do with watching Dogtanian, Moondial and The Boy From Space as reading Alice in Wonderland or The Magic Faraway Tree… I also think that even at a young age it feeds into our understanding of genre, dialogue and characterization. Great post. Am a huge Murder Most Unladylike fan by the way! Lucy 🙂

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