Thursday, June 25, 2015
8 REASONS WHY WRITERS SHOULD WATCH REALITY TV
Every summer I have an obsession.
It's not illegal or immoral yet when I tell people, I get the kind of looks you'd give a crazy person.
I confess, I watch the reality show Big Brother.
"Why would you want to waste your time watching such a fake show?" I'm asked.
I answer, "The setting is artificial but the people are real. I am NOT wasting my time--I'm doing character research for my writing."
Where else would I watch interactions between a wrestler with a master in literature, a gorgeous woman who used to be a man, a rock star dentist, a surfer and a top woman poker player?
While I enjoy the CBS show which is on TV 3 nights a week, that hour-long show is NOT what I'm talking about. It's not just the dramatic moments Production chooses to show on TV. What people see on that hour is NOT the reality feedsters watch.
IT'S THE LIVE FEEDS. 24 hour cameras film the houseguests. Some might call this being a voyeur, but I think of it as social research. For a writer, when I watch the feeds, I pay attention to:
1. How people speak at different ages. As I get older, I seldom hear casual conversation with younger generations. While I avoid using slang in my books, I often learn a phrase or way of expressing something that I can pass on to my own characters. I learn which words and activities are outdated.
2. It's interesting to discover what people younger than myself care about; dating, social media, their phones. Values, though, are often the same; most houseguests put their families and faith above all else. Once the houseguests have been there for awhile, they forget about the cameras and just do their daily routine--fixing their hair, eating, washing clothes, etc. And without any phones or internet or even books (except Bible) to read, all they have to do in down time is talk to each other. And it's real, not scripted. Sometimes they just sit around not even talking--boring like real life.
3. I listen for interesting stories that spark ideas for settings or situations in my future books. For instance, I loved Donny from Season 16 so in an upcoming book, there's a character with a similar name and the same job. Little details from reality enhance writing.
4. I note contradictions and commonalities in different age groups; social-economic backgrounds, singles-vs-married, etc. Most writers will tell you they live quiet lives without a lot of social interaction so there aren’t many opportunities to observe real people. And yes--the houseguests are REAL people. Sure some of them are "mactors" hoping for a career break, but even aspiring actors/models have to wash their hair, brush teeth, prepare meals and just hang out making small talk. And when pitted against each other in a game for a $500K prize, conversations can get VERY interesting.
5. I also pay attention to behaviors I love and hate about houseguests. Emotions are the glue to hold a story together. Realizing what actions bring out specific emotions is a useful tool for a writer.
6. I don't just watch to study characters. I LOVE THE GAME. It's fun to root for a favorite character -- very much like football obsessed fans who cheer on their favorite players. When anyone tries to understand what I love about Big Brother, I compare it to watching sports (beating up people on a playing field is an acceptable American pastime). Big Brother is my sport and the houseguests are playing a game with high stakes. Instead of a ball, they're playing with skills, words and strategy.
7. Do you ever wake up at night and can't go back to sleep? Often houseguests are enjoying quiet moments in the night where a few people just hang out, talking about life, families and strategy. Sometimes emotions flare into anger or confidences warm into comforting hugs. Very few of these moments are shown on TV -- too ordinary, too boring, too real to fit in with the production of a TV show. But these ordinary moments are what fascinate me as a writer.
8. What I also find interesting is comparing what I've watched on the feeds to what CBS shapes into a TV storyline. A houseguest that I know is really nice may be only shown at their worst. Or someone I think is superficial and mean, comes off like a saint. Production is brilliant, really, because they take 24 hours x 7 days a week and shape it into a one hour drama.
A little bit of reality TV can spark ideas and awareness of the interaction of different personalities. I truly believe watching reality shows keeps my character's dialog realistic (think about it--where do teens get most of their sayings? From the commonality of TV/movies).
So if you want to improve your writing, watch a reality show. For me, it's Big Brother. I can't wait to find out who wins BB17.
Latest books by Linda Joy Singleton:
SNOW DOG, SAND DOG (picture book) from Albert Whitman
CURIOUS CAT SPY CLUB (midgrade series) Albert Whitman
NEXT BEEN TEXTED (young adult) August 2015, Leap Books
Free short stories: www.lindajoysingleton.com