Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Elizabeth Fais, Joss Whedon, NCIS, Television, The Closer, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The West Wing, White Collar
It’s true. Watching television—certain television shows at least—is writing research. Especially when you stream a season or watch it on DVD (without commercials) and analyze character and story arcs. I have learned a lot about story structure, character development, and dialog from well written television shows.
For me it started with Joss Whedon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Since then, there have been a number of other series that have influenced my storytelling and writing style.
The Closer—This show did an amazing job with character idiosyncrasies as a method for building empathy.Here’s the series synopsis: The Closer is a police procedural series, starring Kyra Sedgwick as Brenda Leigh Johnson, a Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief. Brenda moved to Los Angeles from Georgia where she trained in the CIA, and gained a reputation as a Closer — a tough interrogator who solves cases and obtains confessions leading to convictions that “close” the case. Deputy Chief Johnson uses her femininity to disarm and distract, and at times resorts to deceit and intimidation to persuade suspects into confessing.
The West Wing—This show excelled on every level. Though, one of the things I loved most was the punchy dialog. What characters say, as well as what they don’t, reveals who they are. Here’s the synopsis: A political drama that followed the triumphs and travails of White House senior staff that won two Peabody Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and 26 Primetime Emmy Awards, including the award for Outstanding Drama Series, which it won four consecutive times.
White Collar—This show had engaging characters and story lines, and plot threads with enough twists to keep the most agile guessing. Here’s the synopsis: Criminal Neal Caffrey has been eluding FBI agent Peter Burke for years, a run that finally comes to an end with his capture. But after the resourceful prisoner escapes from a maximum-security facility, then is nabbed once again by Burke, Caffrey suggests a different end-game: In return for freedom, he’ll help the Feds catch long-sought criminals. Though skeptical, Burke soon realizes that Caffrey’s instincts and insight are a rare commodity.
NCIS—This show matches strong characters with thought provoking mysteries. What impressed me the most—maybe because it’s what I needed to learn in my own writing at the time—was the finesse used in creating three-dimensional characters with believable interrelationships with humorous quirks. Here’s the series synopsis: Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs leads a group of colorful personalities in investigating crimes — ranging from murder and espionage to terrorism — that have evidence connected to Navy and Marine Corps personnel.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—Smart, funny, and brimming with humanity we can all relate to. This series has a stellar cast and equally talented writers who bring the characters to life. The secondary characters are as brilliant at the main character, Midge Maisel. Every writer can learn something from this series. 8 Emmy Awards back up my opinion. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this series yet, maybe the synopsis will inspire you: It’s the late 1950s and Miriam “Midge” Maisel has everything she has ever wanted — the perfect husband, two kids and an elegant apartment on New York’s Upper West Side. Her seemingly idyllic life takes a surprising turn when she discovers a hidden talent she didn’t previously know she had — stand-up comedy. This revelation changes her life forever as she begins a journey that takes her from her comfortable life on the Upper West Side through the cafes and nightclubs of Greenwich Village as she makes her way through the city’s comedy industry on a path that could ultimately lead her to a spot on the “Tonight Show” couch.