It’s Saturday morning (pushing afternoon), and I’m sitting on the couch with coffee watching AMC’s Breaking Bad. I have three writing projects I should be currently working on–reworking an article for a news site, completing an edit test for a potential gig in SF, and finishing revisions on my novel–and I am sitting here watching TV (well, technically, I’m taking a break even from that to blog).
In my defense, I did work on writing all day yesterday and a good bit this morning, but I’m telling myself that my TV indulgences (at least this one) are kind of like research. It seems to be common agreement that watching too much TV is lazy, non-productive, etc., whereas, reading is not. I definitely recognize that your mind is doing a lot more work when you’re reading than it is when you’re watching TV–plenty of studies have come out saying that TV numbs and even shuts off your brain–but my question is, if you’re watching something with great writing, is it possible that you could get something out of it (besides just an escape from your to-do list)?
Given that I tend to write contemporary YA fiction, I’m mainly talking about realistic dramas. Some of the ones I’ve found most inspiring for their writing include Breaking Bad (shown above), Mad Men, Downton Abbey, and Friday Night Lights (a clear winner). It’s not even about the story or exact dialogue–with plots centering around meth dealing, advertising, and 1920s England, apart from FNL, what these characters are worried about has little to do with what any of my characters would be thinking about. That said, in all these shows, the writing feels very natural and real–it’s not what they’re saying so much as how they’re saying it–the cadence, the choice to confront someone or not, the right silences, the difficulty they find in expressing themselves, the nuance when they say one thing and clearly mean another.
A great moment in this episode (Breaking Bad Season 4, Episode 3) comes when Jesse asks his older partner, Walt, “You want to do something?” after they’ve just finished a day of highly illegal drug-making. Walt asks him what he means, and he responds by describing a Go Kart place down the road. In the show, Jesse is dealing with guilt and depression after a lot of really heavy stuff, and the fact that he asks his partner to go Go Kart-ing is, to me, far more powerful than any breakdown, argument, or explanation of his unhappiness would be. It’s just good writing.
What do you guys think–can I really be learning from TV, or am I just procrastinating?