I’ll admit it. I’m a television junkie. For years, I had a complete moratorium on television. Wouldn’t even allow it to be turned on when I was in the house. But life goes on. You have kids or your spouse is not exactly appreciative of the pristine intellectual environment you’re trying to create. Maybe stress at work makes television a necessary outlet to simply allow your mind go blank for an hour.
Television not only sucks time away, but it dulls the artistic senses as well. If you watch enough tv, the dialogue will creep into your work as well as the tired plots and stereotypes.
What can you do?
How to Stop Television from Killing Your Novel
1. Don’t let your fear of the television turn you into a jerk.
If you read the first paragraph above, you might think that I’m a might challenging to live with. I mean, “Wouldn’t even allow it to be turned on when I was in the house?” But really, that’s what I did, and if the rule was violated, I became indignant and sarcastic.
That sort of attitude belies the fact that even though I stayed away from television, I was still addicted to it. You’ve got to fight that urge to be culturally superior because odds are you’re not.
2. Understand the mechanics of television.
Knowing how television works is the first step to keeping it at bay.
Some readers might scoff at the idea that television can influence your writing. Well, unfortunately I’ve got some bad news for those folks: everything influences your writing. You can set up a shell around yourself, but in the end there are a million things that sway you in different directions.
So to begin with, you need to understand how and why television can hook you. Watch a few shows with the same critical eye that you would give to a novel. See where the characters enter and leave. Notice how the plot moves and is replicated (week after week). And, of course, pay close attention to the dialogue.
This doesn’t just apply to drama or comedy. You can pick out patterns in news broadcasts too (which is a little disturbing).
3. Keep Your Mouth Shut
I know you can’t help it, but you’ve got to try. Talking down abut a program someone else is watching has a negative impact on you whether you realize it or not. That sort of stress is bound to creep into your work. It might show up in a four-page monologue about the evils of modern media or in a stereotyped character who seems a lot like your roommate.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with incorporating these things into your art, but make sure you understand why you’re doing it. Otherwise, you’ll have a one-sided approach and your artistic vision will just look flat and petty.
Though the game is a little different if we’re talking about your kids, let people have their television in peace.
4. Watching YouTube is Still Watching Television.
I recently started watching television again after a long hiatus. Keeping #2 in mind, I have a lot to say about the way shows are constructed today as opposed to say three or four years ago. I’m not going to go into all of that here, but just let me say that I felt like I’d stepped out of the 19th century when I saw my first reality television show.
But how did I get started watching television again? Well, work was getting particularly stressful for one thing, and so I started popping out to watch a little YouTube. The brief interludes of extreme comedy and oddness were particularly soothing, and so I started watching more. It was only a matter of time before I started watching “real” television again.
The point is, don’t kid yourself. YouTube is television.
5. Read a Book.
It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But I find that nothing is better at defeating television than curling up with a good book. This advice isn’t for everyone of course. But then if you’re here reading about how to stop television from killing your novel, you’re not like everyone else, are you?
The best way to keep television from ruining your novel is to read. Not only is reading better for you, it’s completely under your control. You decide when to start and when to stop. You decide where to read (the video iPod is great, but the book is still the best form of portable entertainment around).
So, read a book. A real book. Not a book on the screen or a print out of a few pages. Get an honest to goodness book and read.
That’s what you’re shooting for after all, isn’t it?