Just about all of us writer types are always looking for ways to improve our craft. I know I am, and I’ll bet a month’s rent you are as well. Sometimes, I think we limit ourselves a bit by only going to the “regular” sources for help on improving our art. You know: craft books, webinars, writer’s conferences, blogs, video presentations… all of those places we know we can find information. Those are all great sources, but sometimes I think we miss other great places where writing instruction might be available.
If you’ve followed my lil blog here awhile, you might remember the bit I did on Chef Gordon Ramsay. Remember I compared what he put forth on his KITCHEN NIGHTMARES shows as being perfectly suited for writers? Absolutely!
Well, for the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about another show that I think provides great examples for writers to use in improving our craft.
Yep. If you haven’t seen an episode, check it out on the Arts & Entertainment network. http://www.aetv.com/storage-wars/ You’ll be happy you did I think, especially after seeing what I found valuable for our craft in the show.
Yes, tension. As gripping as any Linwood Barclay mystery or Stephen King horror novel. Well, maybe not quite as tense as Mr. King’s and Mr. Barclay’s work—pretty hard to beat the masters! But, still enough tension to warrant our taking a look at how they achieve it and apply it to our own work.
First, for those who perhaps haven’t seen the program, it’s about a group of people who make their livings by going to storage locker places and buying, in auction, those lockers which’ve been abandoned by their previous owners.
Sounds kinda sucky, doesn’t it! I imagine the producers had a better pitch description than I came up with! But, basically, that’s what the show is about.
I’ll bet that before this show aired many of us have at least been to a storage locker place and never once thought of it as the setting for a gripping show. I know I never did! But these folks made this apparently innocuous setting and “ordinary” characters so interesting that my wife and I have even talked about chucking it all and entering the business ourselves… Well, briefly. Then, my wife Mary inserted some common sense into the discussion by uttering the magic words, “No way, Charlie A. Cheese.”
Anyway. Back on point.
If you haven’t watched an episode, do so at your first opportunity. When you watch the show, take note of the commercials. Well, not the commercials themselves—the part of the show immediately before the commercials come on. Notice something? If you’re anything like me, you’re silently urging the commercial to “hurry up, already!” We want to return to the place the narrative stopped before the ad popped up. We grow more and more impatient as the ads appear, and then, finally… finally… the show returns. But… another groan escapes our lips as what we see next is a brief snippet of what was last on the screen. And, what was that? Several standard things. It might be a glimpse at a locker that was just opened and Barry has just spotted an item at the back everyone else missed. Although It might be Jarrod and his bosomy (and sharp-tongued) wife Brandi who’s just gone through the locker he won in the auction for it and everything they looked at was junk, until this last box and when he opened it, he exclaimed, “Oh my God!” At which point the screen went to… you guessed it… commercial breaks. Without allowing us to see what he’s going bananas over.
Not only were we transfixed waiting for the revelation of what was in Jarrod’s box or what it was Barry spotted that put a gleam in his eye… the producers show a really cruel and even sick side of themselves… they don’t show what we’ve been waiting for right away, but heighten our tension even more by repeating the buildup that they ended the previous segment with.
Spend some time some evening and watch this show. See if you don’t see techniques you can steal for your own fiction. I’ll bet that aforementioned rent money that you will.
What other TV shows do this for you? Start watching shows with a new eye—when you come across one where you can’t wait for the commercials to be over, study how they achieved that effect in you and figure out how to apply it to your own writing.
If a show about a storage locker facility can generate this kind of tension, imagine how their techniques will work in your own novel which has a way more cooler setting than a storage locker!
What other television shows can you think of that achieve this? And, besides TV shows, what other sources are out there that can help inform our craft that we don’t normally think of? And, what are some of the other ways STORAGE WARS works to create tension? Can you spot at least two?