Practice, Practice and More Practice

Lately, I have been spending more time practicing my writing than working on my novel, and I can honestly say it has been for the better.  I am still moving forward on my novel by working through the structure and new ideas in my head.  Sometimes this process muddies the waters but more often it allows me to see clearly all the way down to the riverbed, but my daily practice is the driving force that will help me get through to the end.

I also read (and re-read) Joe Bunting’s book, Let’s Write a Short Story, which can be found at one of Joe’s sites The Write Practice or Let’s Write A Short Story or at Amazon.  I took the approach that I need more practice before I will be able to complete my first novel and what better way than to improve my ability to write a story.  Additionally, the confidence of completing a smaller project that must contain all of the same elements of a story will be worth any time spent away from my novel.

Practice tips are included throughout the book and after every blog post.  A morphing of several tips lead me to develop my own method for daily practice.  I chose to take at least five to ten minutes, once or twice a day, and write a descriptive passage based on an emotion, a feeling, an object, a character or any other single item I imagined.

This method of practicing frees my mind from the constraints of my current project.  These practice passages open my creative mind to new ways of approaching just about any aspect of a great story.  What’s freeing is not having to adhere to or develop a backstory or do extensive world building because these are just snippets.  The thoughts of “my character would never do that” or “that would be impossible in this world” never come into play.

And you know what the most freeing part is?  It doesn’t have to be good.  I write it and can set it aside, never to be read again.  I’ve written a few passages that I am proud of and may choose to develop.  If I can work out a full story that fits with the passage I wrote in practice perhaps I will use the piece in a completed short story or novel.  You never know.

Although I ask myself for only five or ten minutes to complete the practice, by the time I am done fifteen or thirty minutes have usually flown by.  The following passage took just over thirty minutes to write.  Other than correcting some typos and minor errors, the piece has not been edited.

If you have a few minutes I would be interested to hear your thought on my piece or how you practice your own creative pursuits in the comments below.

Dumbfounded described his sudden feelings perfectly.  Perplexed?  No that was too scientific.  Dumb.  Founded.  A wonderful juxtaposition of two words with so little in common, but his thoughts led him down a path designed to distract him.  It worked.  His mind knew him better than he knew himself.  He pulled his mind back to the situation at hand.  The predicament he found himself in could never have been predicted, at least not under the normal laws of physics.

He began to pace the room.  He pictured the great thinking minds of the world pacing or walking through a beautiful campus setting solving their problems.  With such little room to pace, he doubted the same methods would work for him here.

The sea roared below him.  At least that is what he assumed made that sound.  He had never been to the sea, so he pieced together memories of sea noise from movies and decided it matched.

The diamond shaped window sat high in the wall, emitting enough light for him to review his surroundings, but too high and far too small for an escape.  The curved walls began at the deep red wooden door and ended back at its hinges.  The black iron showed no signed of rust, in fact they appeared newly painted.  No handle or latch was visible on his side of the door, only a comically large keyhole, which made him chuckle a bit.  The infrequent yet distinct marching coming faintly through the underside of the door prevented him from peering through the hole.

Moments ago he had been in the gym locker room in Ohio.  Now the ancient stone walls, beastly wooden door and sound of the sea altered his well established understanding of reality.  Had he asked for this?  Perhaps, his mind answered him before going silent.  He was at last alone.  Truly alone.

Metal scrapping metal drew his attention back to the door.  The hinges squeaked as the door inched inward.

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Three Steps to Prioritizing Your Writing

I have been struggling with the same issues as Monique Hall and am putting the final touches on my own plan to make writing a priority. Stay tuned for my multi-part blog post on how all of the various writing projects I yearn to undertake can fit into my life. In the meantime, enjoy Monique’s personal approach to prioritizing her writing.

A Writer's Path

by Monique Hall

When I sat down to write this blog entry, it was going to have a different title. I started listing all the reasons why it’s been nine months since my last post, why I failed to cling on to the enthusiastic optimism I found at last year’s RWA conference and why I have not achieved even a tiny portion of the goals I set for myself.

And then I hit the delete key because I’m sick of listening to my own excuses, so why on earth would I want to bore you with them all. We all have shit going on and I need to get over myself. We both know it.

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Changing Your Routine

I am a stickler for routine (frequently driving my wife nuts). Every day, weekends included, I get up about 6:15 feed the cats, scoop some litter pans, and prep the coffee maker before getting ready for work. Once clean and dressed, I rouse the dog, who likes to sleep in longer than the cats, take her out and prepare her breakfast. As coffee brews I sit down to read e-mail, peruse the news or play a game on my iPad. I pour myself a mug of coffee a few minutes before 8 and head to my office for the day.

I’m a lucky one who has no commute, works in the comfort of my home and, if I choose, can spend my workday in PJ’s with none of my colleagues the wiser.

When I transitioned from an office job to working from home, establishing a routine was critical. I had to rethink how I would interact with various spaces in my home during working hours, in the evenings and on weekends. With the blending of my work and home lives I chose to maintain a routine similar to when I worked outside my home.

I get ready everyday as if I have to leave the house to put myself into work mode. The rest of my daily routine is similar to anyone with a nine to five job, and like most people I don’t actually work nine to five. I’m at my desk by 8, take a lunch break in the fine dining cafeteria (you have to make your own food, but the price is right), then usually finish out the day sometime between five and six.

My home routine picks up shortly thereafter when the pets need their dinner before the humans are nourished. On a regular night the entire household settles in to some relaxing family time before taking the dog out one more time and heading to bed.

I get grumpy or irritated when my routine is thrown off, just ask my wife, but I deal with it. Making an ongoing change to my routine by adding or eliminating activities can be more difficult for me than breaking a bad habit. It isn’t a problem with change; it’s a struggle with how to incorporate change into my schedule.

This is where adding writing time to my daily routine, whether before, during or after my normal workday, has left me feeling defeated. I made the conscious effort to sit down and write this morning. I hit my minimum 500 words well before I was ready to start my day, but this was a very conscious action unlike all of the other repetitive tasks I accomplished this morning.

I enjoy my writing time. I get a thrill when I can pour out my ideas onto a page. I love the sense that my writing improves with every word I write and edit. What I don’t understand is why it has been so difficult to change my daily routine to add an activity that makes me happy, but I’ll figure it out. I know I have the time for writing, whether getting up earlier, staying up later or swapping out other activities. Writing is important to me, unfortunately I’m just not acting like it.

I’m committed to writing for my blog and finishing my first novel as well as venturing into part-time freelance writing. I will find a way writing can fit in my life; apparently it’s just going to take some time.

I’m interested in hearing what changes you have made to incorporate a writing career into an otherwise busy life in the comment section.

My Outlining Epiphany

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Today I had an epiphany about outlining my novel. It didn’t come from one of several books I have read on the topic, nor did it rise from the blogs and podcast to which I subscribe. No, this epiphany came after watching a television program. It could just as easily come from reading a book or watching a movie, but the combination of thinking about a recent series when I wanted to be thinking about my novel actually helped my outlining fog dissipate. The structure of episodic television clarified why my previous outlining attempts didn’t work.

I started writing as a pantster naively thinking that this was how first drafts were always done before edits and revisions drew out the final product. This process worked well for my first year of NaNoWriMo since I had zero plan and barely a story. Since diving into the craft by reading books and blogs about writing, I found the contrasts between planners and pantsters always interested me. I soon realized the more organized manner in which I conducted my work and home life fell in-line with planners more so than pantsters. I resolved that converting to an outliner would lead me to success.

Through books and blogs I explored several writing and outlining recommendations. Some of these approaches were not touted as ways to outline, but the similarities to more formal outlining techniques were impossible to miss. I hoped one of these methods would guide me to a point in my writing where I no longer plodded (or plotted) along blindly wherever my characters or whims took me. Every story needs direction, so why shouldn’t my writing have clear direction, too?

The early outlines I attempted were far too detailed and required so much planning that outlining was like writing my first draft then my writing phase turned into draft number two. I had come full circle; back to being a pantster.

When my epiphany occurred, I had been thinking about why the Netflix series Grace and Frankie included a story line about a burglary and the women’s varying views on owning a gun. Taken alone, this storyline felt like a significant departure, less humorous and far more serious, from events in other episodes. I looked forward and found that the major development the writers were going for was to breakup or disrupt the main characters’ partnership. They could have implemented any one of hundreds of different ideas, and probably sketched out many of them in other drafts and brainstorming sessions. In the end they had to choose the most impactful to the characters and the most unexpected, powerful and interesting for the viewers

My epiphany illuminated the fact that all I needed were the basics for the scenes. The outline should not include all of the specific actions, settings and full cast of characters for every scene. Brainstorming the details should be saved for the writing phase.

The information I needed to begin was as simple as knowing where my story started and where it would end up and then do the same thing scene by scene. Thanks to a suggestion in The Story Grid, tacking on the value changes of each scene (positive to negative, negative to more negative, etc.) in the outline helps in two ways. First, clarifying the direction a scene needs to go from beginning to end, and second, qualifying the value changes from scene to scene illustrating how the story builds and falls to ensure the plot progresses in an interesting way.

From there I simply need to figure out all the “how’s” and “why’s” as I write. There are always options and I need to consider each one carefully before deciding what events between the major points will have the greatest value to the story’s ending and the most interest to the reader.

This of course is exactly what all of them we books and blogs have told me. I guess I didn’t see it at the time. I certainly do now.

In case you are interested, I highly recommend the following books, blogs and podcasts. There are parts of each of the authors’ recommended approaches that have made it into my ever morphing writing process.

Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing and The Snowflake Method. He has an interesting blog and newsletter full of tips. I also highly recommend his fictional tale/Snowflake Method instruction manual, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method

Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid has loads of valuable resources that go along with his awesome book, The Story Grid. I have also been enthralled with Story Grid Podcast Shawn does with aspiring fiction writer and book launch expert Tim Grahl.

K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success. The book is an enjoyable read and important reference manual and guide to outlining.

Jeff Goins’ My 500 Words: A Writing Challenge and I’m Doing It All Wrong

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In an effort to fulfill my 2017 personal writing pledge I made a move to start my writing year off right and joined Jeff Goins’ My 500 Words: A Writing Challenge.

About two years ago I read Jeff’s book, The Art of Work, and shortly thereafter began following his blog. One tenet of Jeff’s teaching is that simply getting in the habit of writing 500 words every day will make you a better writer. I’m not sure why I never noticed it before, but at the beginning of this year I discovered Jeff offered a personal writing challenge and signed up immediately.

The very next day I received my first encouraging email from Jeff and started writing whatever I wanted – stream of consciousness ramblings, journal entries, small snippets of scenes that would never fit in any of my current projects, and some incomplete blog posts I would likely never finish. What was missing was structure, purpose and committment to the words I recorded each day. Beyond getting 500 words down each day, it occurred to me that I was doing this all wrong.

But you know what? That’s OK!

It was my choice to join the challenge. It was my decision to put my own abilities to the test. Jeff masterfully set out the guidelines, but if they don’t work for me then why shouldn’t I adjust them to fit my own personal needs, desires and goals?

What choices did I have? I was behind on the challenge which was a huge hit to my self confidence. I had not written 500 words for several days because I felt defeated so early on. I never took time to establish my goals for the challenge before feeling the push to jump right in, leaving me without focus.

So again I ask, what choices did I have?

  1. I could unequivocally give up. Not a good option for me or for building my writing self confidence that has been battered and bruised so quickly this year.
  2. I could continue on as if the last couple of missed days were no big deal. Jeff does suggest you don’t worry about missed days, but after having missed three I didn’t feel I was even living up to the spirit of the challenge in the least.
  3. I could reboot the challenge. Start again on Day 1 and move forward.

Take a wild guess at what I chose! Sure this is a challenge. Hey, the word “challenge” is right in the title! DId I fail? If you have to put a label on it, I certainly did. I’ll freely admit I failed. But, you know what. We don’t make progress without some setbacks. If everything came so easily to us and we knew every attempt would be a success, then why bother to even make an attempt? So yes, I can proudly say, “I failed at my first attempt at Jeff Goins’ My 500 Words: A Writing Challenge.

But, you know what? I tried again. I didn’t make it with my second attempt either because, UGH, I hate to even say it, but “work got in the way”. This has been my favorite excuse and one I am working to lock securely in my attic (see my last blog entry for more on my favorite excuse). Things have settled a bit at work, but I cannot count on them staying that way. Regardless I’ve rebooted the challenge for a third attempt and I’ll keep restarting until I am satisfied that I have met the challenge!

With a longer break between my second and third attempts, I took time to reasses and refocus my approach to the challenge. I formulated a better defined plan, which was missing from my first start, to ensure I can meet the challenge. In addition to focusing on my novel, I’ll use some of my daily writing sessions to address my approach and progress throughout the challenge. Establishing both writing priorities as well as contingencies for those days when the planned writing does not flow are my personal keys to reaching at least 500 words through 31 days and maintaining what I expect will be an ongoing writing habit.

So yesterday was Day 1 of the challenge and I have met the goal by working out some new ideas in the novel I am writing. I blasted past 500 words easily before I headed to work. This post followed along with my plan and resulted in a successful Day 2. I have high hopes for Day 3 and throughout the remainder of this week.

You can to join Jeff Goins’ My 500 Words: A Writing Challenge by clicking one of the several links I have included in this post. Jeff sends out a daily email with writing prompts, tips, suggestions, and encouragement to help you on your way. He also has a Facebook group you can join to share your progess and receive encouragement from fellow participants.

If you struggle with sitting down and doing the work like I do, then give this challenge a try. Like me, if at first you don’t succeed … well, you know the rest.

Good luck!

My Favorite Excuse

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Many have used it. Some use it too often. I’ll bet we’ve all heard others lay it out there. Personally, I have thought and even uttered these words aloud far too often.

“Life got in the way.”

With so many different flavors of this same, old excuse, I’ll admit I’ve put some of these to use as well.

“Work has been crazy”

“Other responsibilities took precedence”

“I didn’t have time to fit it in”

For the last couple of years I have had strong desire to write. Fiction, non-fiction, journalling and blogging have all played a part in this dream. I think about it daily, yet I don’t act. I assumed I could develop a good writing habit by blogging. Regularly blogging should be an excellent way to develop, practice and expand my writing abilities. The blog also provided the important opportunity to share my writing publicly in a relatively safe space. By choosing the WordPress community I knew my blog would gain some notice by other bloggers, a mostly positive and encouraging group in my experience, yet remain relatively hidden until I actively publicized my work. The initial likes for my posts were a great encouragement to continue. I attempted posting regularly, but for me this was not often enough to consider myself a blogger, and I could not find the time to draft, edit and post even weekly. Eventually the posts dribbled down to once a month before abandoning all but the idea of the blog.

Life got in the way.

And here is the thing, the Life that got in the way isn’t the life I dream of. The Life in my way is the life of requirements, of responsbilities, of duty. Dreams and desires don’t play much of a role in the LIfe that always seems to get in the way. But, they should!

Just because writing doesn’t pay the bills, keep the house clean and keep my family safe and secure, does not mean it is any less important than these other priorities. What writing does for each of us is very personal. It may allow us to express our inner most thoughts in a safe way that otherwise would remain secret forever. It allows us to share the stories in our heads bursting to get out that would likely never be told. It allows us to be creative when the rest of our life isn’t. Whatever your personal reasons are for writing, remember they are important, they should be priorities and, most of all, there should be a place for them in your life.

Someday I want to say, “hey, I was going to vaccum the living room, but life got in the way.” When I can apply this excuse to these required, yet uninspiring responsbiliites, I will know that the Life of this excuse is my life of writing.

For now, I have crammed this excuse in a box and hid it in the attic so I can be serious about my writing. It will take significant effort to keep the excuse secure. Strong excuses have ways of slipping out of the thickest box even when wrapped in several layers of chains and locks.

As I catch myself using any flavor of these excuses, I stop and ask myself, “Why?” What made the other items on my list so much more important than writing? What did I spend my time doing that stole my focus, but wasn’t a priority? How could I have managed my time and energy better?

It isn’t life that is in my way; it’s these excuses.

What is your favorite excuse keeping you from putting the time you want toward your creative pursuits? Please share your thoughts in the comments, below.

Creative Exercise: Making Your Own Rules

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Each week I will offer some ideas on how to exercise your creativity.  If you missed my first post, you can find it here.  This week I turn to the monotony in our lives.  Chores!  I have found a way to make chores more fun.  Don’t misunderstand, if your chores are a 1 on the fun scale where 1 is misery and 10 is jubilation, then these ideas may push your 1 all the way to a 2 or maybe even a 3!

For your creative development, creating games out of common tasks will help you develop a set of logical rules designed to be fair.  You don’t want to set up your game so you always win.  Although it may be great to always win for a time, soon the game won’t be much fun to play.  Rules are important in your creative projects, too.  All writers must come up with a set of rules for the worlds they build.  One such rule may be that our sun gives some aliens superpowers while normal humans have none.  In most cases these rules, especially when different from our own world, need to be much more complex.  The same need for rules applies for art and music.  The rules help your audience make sense of the piece.  Making up games requires making up rules which will help you do the same in your creative projects.

Turn Your Chores into Games

Personally, my mind thinks of things numerically so I turn many of my chores into games relating to numbers and time.  Perhaps you are more artistically or musically inclined, so your games may consist of creating patterns, images or rhythms.

Emptying the Dishwasher

I’m not a fan of this tedious chore.  Since it is such a small project it shouldn’t be an issue, yet I feel the need to make it just a bit more entertaining by turning it into a game.  If the dishwasher is clean in the morning, I start the coffee maker and challenge myself to have it emptied and any dirty dishes waiting in the sink loaded before the coffee maker drips the last drop of hot water through the filter.  If I’m not making a pot, I choose another timing method to time my emptying prowess such as the microwave countdown while my lunch warms, or guessing the number of steps I need to take to finish the job.  Sometimes I make this more challenging by requiring that I empty each cupboard or drawer’s residents in order.  Feel free to change the rules each time you play the game.  Sometimes you need to make it easier if you need a “win” that day, while other days you may revel in winning a more difficult challenge.

Mowing the lawn

For me, this chore is simply a counting game but for others creating a work of lawn art may be a more ambitious, creative option.

The simplest game I play is guessing the number of rows I need to mow before I reach an object like a tree, drain or flowerbed which requires a course change.  If I am feeling bold, I may even guess how many rows the entire backyard will take, allowing for two guess adjustments before I reach the halfway point.  (Yes, I have thought about this way too much, but the rules I come up with need to be creative and logical to make the game worth playing).  If I gave myself a single guess the game would be over immediately other than the monotony of counting rows.  By giving myself guess adjustments I keep my mind in the game as I am continuously reassessing my row overlap, pattern and remaining distance while still counting each row.

To create lawn art you will need to think of your lawn like a giant Etch-A-Sketch, planning out your image, realistic or abstract from the beginning.  If I am feeling creative I end up with a different mowing pattern than rows or diagonals, but based on my childhood experiences with the Etch-A-Sketch, I think it is best for me to stick with patterns rather than attempt an actual picture.  If you do play this version of the game, I would love to see a picture.

Using these games keeps my mind focused on the task at hand.  Without the games, my mind wanders to worries and to do items putting me in an anxious mood when the task is complete.  There is plenty of time in the day for worries and other tasks, so taking this break and playing the game relaxes me.  Sure, the pressure is on to beat that coffee maker to the finish, but we could all use a little challenge to keep ourselves sharp.  Who knows, perhaps the portrait of your dog that you have expertly mowed into the front lawn will be the hit of the neighborhood!

These are just two of the regular chores I have turned into games.  What ideas do you have for making your chores more entertaining.

This exercise helps with: Creative Thinking, Creative Solutions, Problem Solving, Logic

Getting to the “Trying” Stage

10 Inspirational Quotes about Trying

Lately I feel as if I am in the preparation stage of all my projects and just cannot cross the line to the “doing” stage.  I searched out some inspirational quotes to push myself to try and not just watch from the sidelines.  I hope these help you, too.

“There is nothing impossible to him who will try.”  – Alexander the Great

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”  – Thomas A. Edison

“Move out of your comfort zone.  You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”  – Brian Tracy

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”  – Jack Canfield

“Try and fail, but don’t fail to try.”  – Stephen Kaggwa

“Try, try, try, and keep on trying is the rule that must be followed to become an expert in anything.”  W. Clement Stone

“Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”  – Unknown Author

“Most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try.”  – Mary Kay Ash

“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”  – Beverly Sills

And finally, my new mantra,

“I try. I am trying. I was trying. I will try. I shall in the meantime try. I sometimes have tried. I shall still by that time be trying.”  – Diane Glancy

Creative Exercise: Building Creative Stamina

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Motivating myself to pursue creative passions and projects after a long day of non-creative work can be a struggle.  The feelings go hand in hand with my desire to exercise, which is probably why so many people suggest exercising before you start your day rather than when you are mentally exhausted after work.  This led me to thinking about the number of author interviews I have read where they reveal that before doing anything, except perhaps making coffee, they start their day writing.  No e-mails. No finances. No news. Nothing!

With a number of daily responsibilities for both home and work, sometimes starting my day for myself is simply not possible.  No matter how much I try to set aside an hour first thing in the morning for writing or other creative endeavors, sometimes life gets in the way.

What I need is a way to keep that creative energy up throughout the day, or at least put it on reserve, so I can be inspired and energized once my work, chores and treasured family time has been safely tucked into bed for the night.

I amassed a list of activities that can be done throughout the day or during specific activities on weekdays and weekends.  I will present my creative exercises, and even some from my readers, in regular weekly post to build creative muscles and strengthen creative stamina.  If you have any exercises you use to build your creative muscles, please let me know if the comments below.

This week we will start off with a fairly easy one to get you going.

Reading

Reading is one of my favorite creative exercises.  Not the type of reading I do for pleasure, this is a more active form of this pastime that I use to enhance my imagination.

I set aside time each day to read.  It doesn’t need to be for long, even fifteen minutes can be effective, but ideally you should choose a highly descriptive section of a book.  If you are an author, step away from analyzing the characters, plot, structure and style, and simply absorb the words.  Let the characters and locations come alive in your mind.  Visualize the characters’ features and clothing adding what you think the author may have missed.  Explore the location described in the passage and expand to areas outside of the authors words.

If the character is in a room, explore the tables, cabinets and bookshelves for items even the author did not mention.  Feel the plush carpet or hard wood floor.  Run your hands through the soft fur of the purring cat and spilled coffee on the table that left a sticky residue on the table.  Hear the birds and wind rustling through the leaves just outside an open window.  You can do the same with any location.  Let your senses run free.

If you are so inclined, leave the characters and current location behind and head off to explore the author’s world on your own.  You are creative, you don’t need the author holding your hand.

When you return to practicing your own creative endeavors, remember this experience.  You can then reverse engineer your experience for your own work by imagining in detail before your hand begins to sketch or type the words on the screen.  Who knows maybe that slightest detail of you painting, the smallest feature in your sculpture or a passing description in your novel will make all the difference in the end.

This exercise helps with: Imagination, Visualization, Description

Is it Binge-Worthy?

I wrote about Binge watching about a year ago when I was in the midst of catching up through the first nine seasons of a Supernatural, a show which many thought wouldn’t last a single season and then became an obsession for me.  Over the past year I have taken to binge watching as an additional source of research for my writing.

Hold on.  I’m begging you not to go.  I can see you cringe as you read this, and no, this is not a huge rationalization for wasting time watching TV instead writing.  Before you click on another link, please hear my out.  My initial post included a list of binge-worthy qualities and over the past year, having viewed several more full series, I have associated the list of qualities with some of the things I struggle with most in my writing.

First and foremost, a binge-worthy show should be more akin to a novel or literary series than what many TV shows have to offer.  I enjoy many shows that do not fall into this category, like sitcoms and Law & Order along with all of its derivations.  Analyzing some of my favorite shows, I have prepared a revised shortlist of musts for a binge-worthy show and what they can teach about writing.

Must Have:  Plots and with multiple story lines crossing episodes ultimately building to an ending

Helps With:  Plot development

Sitcoms, Law & Order and soap operas have some cross episode storylines and some exhibit at least a little character development but they miss the mark by never building to a single story ending.  These shows are designed to be more like life where there really is no ultimate ending other than death, although for some series even this isn’t the end.

Sure, some of my favorite shows in these categories had series finales that wrapped things up neatly for their faithful audience, but what happened in the very first episode and all the events in-between did not necessarily link directly to the finale.  A binge-worthy show must have this link; the same as a reader would find in a great novel.

In The Killing, Lost and Supernatural the multiple stories are carried through all the episodes in each season and in some cases through to the series finale.  Watching how the writers and creators expertly weave the stories together, wrapping some sub-plots early and introducing new sub-plots later in the series yields plenty of research material to help me do the same in my own stories.

Must Have:  Suspense with each episode leaving the reader wanting more

Helps With:  Scene development

As with great writing, scenes and chapters leave readers with a desire to turn that page, read the next line, the next chapter, perhaps all the way to the end (who cares that I need to get up in four hours and go to work, who needs sleep when what I really need is to find out what happens next!)  This is also what makes binge watching so addictive.  Shows without this element are hardly binge-worthy.

My favorite shows present enough at the end of each episode to satisfy the viewer while tossing in one more tidbit of new or unexpected information to keep my butt on the couch or my iPad in my lap for one more (just one more, I promise) episode.  Using these scenes as a model, I am working to give my own scenes the same unsettling sense of having only one of my main character’s shoes tied while the laces drag loosely behind the other.

Must Have:  Characters developed over the course of the entire series

Helps With:  Character development and character arcs

Many sitcoms are created with characters who have set personalities at the beginning,, showing little change and growth over the course of their runs.  Longer lasting sitcoms usually give us more, but not in the same way a proper character arc bonds the character with the story.  Binge-worthy shows introduce the characters a little at a time, revealing enough for the viewer to understand each character’s actions, motivations and thinking with each situation they encounter.  As the storylines develop so do the characters, revealing how the situations the characters are thrust into force them to change into the character they become by the end of the story.

Lost is a great example which I have studied to understand character development and arcs.  Jack, Sawyer, Kate and Ben all change based on their encounters, hopes, desires and interactions during their time on the island.  Watching them morph throughout the series has been extremely helpful as I attempt to do the same with my own characters.  Seeing character development come to life on screen as created by both the writers and the actors has made it easier for me to translate my own characters’ unique actions and choices into words.

Must Have:  A true sense that the challenges encountered in the early episodes of season one will be wrapped up by the time we reach the final episode in the final season.

Helps With:  Foreshadowing, introducing key information as needed, and typing up the information neatly in the end

Fringe and Lost provide unlimited examples of this vitally important element.  Each introduced an inciting incident early on in their series that led the main characters through twists, challenges, battles and even a few successes before arriving at an ending that resulted in closure for the original incident.  The merits and failures of Lost’s ending have been discussed ad nauseam, and I am not here to argue for or against the creators’ choices in this regard.  I will only say that ending may not be satisfying to all viewers as I am sure we can all provide numerous examples of novel endings that did not meet with our personal satisfaction.

Supernatural, on the other hand, is still in production, but they have already reached several endings resulting in satisfactory closure.  Then the Winchesters always find themselves in the midst of a new inciting incident and run head first to defeat a new threat.  Supernatural is more similar to the Harry Potter series than a single novel.  The characters are consistent, the threats are generally from the same villains yet each season reaches a satisfying ending for the events encountered in the early episodes.  I truly hope the writers see how important it is that their faithful viewers experience a satisfying wrap up to the entire series linking all the way back to season one by the time they choose to end the series.

The key that makes most of these series re-watchable is the new information expertly placed in early scenes that work to support the ending.  In my first viewing I missed much of this information or simply did not recognize it’s significance, but now see the importance of including this information when they did.  I am currently struggling to ensure my ending will be supportable by information presented to the reader throughout the novel.  My story has little chance of success if the climax and any subsequent wrap up is riddled with new information.

Binge watching is something you cannot do every day (okay, you probably can but should you?)  It’s not usually planned, it just happens.  My wife says, let’s go watch a Murdoch Mystery, then six episodes and four and a half hours later, one of us is getting up to order take-out so we can plow through the remainder of the season!  But, there is some value for writers to study those shows that are binge-worthy.

Coming up in my next post I will offer my own top ten binge-worthy shows .  I will also include a few honorable mentions which did not make the list mostly because I have not seen the series or enough episodes to adequately judge their binging value.

As they used to say in television, Stay Tuned!