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Writing 101: Lessons from TV land

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By: Sarah Reid

Morning all! This is my first post on our shiny new blog/website and I thought I would start a series of posts about television and what it teaches us about writing. There are so many lessons to learn, and I will be crossing genres with a lot of the posts.

I’ll start with a lesson from Doctor Who. Please be warned that if you’re a fan of the modern era and are not yet current on episodes, you may be spoiled. My lesson for today centers around Matt Smith’s era….

If you are current (or just don’t care about spoilers), click the cut…

Lesson the first: Make them think.

The current show runner/main writer (Steven Moffet) in particular does this. Some fans love his writing, while others think it’s terrible. I say it really makes you think. My husband warned me when I first started watching the series that if I were not paying attention (read: networking online/writing like I usually do when the TV is on), I would be beyond lost.

He was right.

The main reason for this is he puts little “blink and you’ll miss it” moments that pay off later. The catch is, you never know when. One of the biggest examples of this I can think of is during his companion Amy’s first meeting with the Weeping Angels. The creatures look like angel statues and will either pull you back in time or kill you when they catch up with you. They just can’t get you if you’re looking at them.

By: MangakaMaiden Photography

Amy ended up in a position where she couldn’t open her eyes under any circumstances. The Doctor left her with some soldiers they were working with while he and another of the crew left to take care of business. While Amy is sitting there, The Doctor is suddenly next to her again and giving her a message.

It’s an odd moment, but what you might not notice is The Doctor appears slightly different. In a later episode, we find out it was a version of him from the future.

Another time Moffet confused the viewer but paid it off came in the 50th anniversary special. The Doctor has been brought back to UNIT (an old ally) over a painting and letter that had been left by Queen Elizabeth the 1st. The Doctor and his new companion have left the room and a man who works there answers his cell phone. He appears confused, and the viewer is confused as well, until later in the episode when we find out The Doctor has once again placed a call from the future to give an important message.

There’s yet another blink-and-you’ll-miss it moment in the same special that pays off in Peter Capaldi’s (the current Doctor) first season. There is a scene where they come out of a painting that was described as “Time Lord Art”– a moment frozen in time. There is a shot of a hand holding the side of the painting that most didn’t even notice until later, assuming it belonged to new companion Clara Oswald. It was, in fact, an old nemesis who had regenerated as a woman.

Over the course of Matt Smith’s time as The Doctor, Moffet gave us a lot of other moments that made us think as well. The mystery of River Song, what was causing the cracks in walls that followed The Doctor all through his tenure, as well the stories dealing with his morality.

Should he save the space animal early in his tenure from the suffering it was enduring, or save the citizens who were unwittingly riding on its back? He lies to Amy’s husband and a future version of Amy to save the current version of her. He also blows up a large ship to get his companion back after she’s been kidnapped by an enemy.

Time and time again, Moffet makes his characters make the hard choices and weaves intricate threads into each story. They sometimes make you shake your head, but they always keep the viewer on their toes and that is a great way to keep a reader coming back.

So there you have it: some lessons from TV land. There will be more Doctor Who to come as well as some other shows that show us the best and the worst of writing. See you next time!

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Jamie White is a music addict, book lover, pet servant & NaNoWriMo survivor. When she’s not busy writing posts for CultureShock, she’s taking pictures for her photo blog and spending time with her husband and pets. She released Stains on the Soul and Clutter via Pagan Writers Press in 2013.

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