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Four Writing Lessons From Binge-watching TV


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Please join us in welcoming new contributor and author Deanna Cabinian to Writer Unboxed!

Deanna Cabinian is the author of One Night, One Love, and One Try (aka The Thompson Series). She writes YA, middle grade, and sometimes dabbles in adult fiction. Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Writer Unboxed, and School Library Journal. She is a graduate of the Writing in the Margins mentorship program and is represented by Penny Moore of Aevitas Creative Management. When she isn’t writing she works as a consumer marketing director for a global media company.

Welcome, Deanna!

Four Writing Lessons From Binge-watching TV

Like many people, I binge-watched many shows in 2020—way more than I should have. It’s amazing how many hours I spent watching TV last year instead of writing. I binged comedies, dramas, and everything in between. Some of the shows I watched included: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Kingdom, Community, and The Queen’s Gambit. I even watched a Korean drama called Romance is A Bonus Book which was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen (typically I hate trying to follow subtitles, but the plot was so good it didn’t bother me). Watching these shows wasn’t a complete waste of time, however, as it reinforced the same writing lessons over and over.

Writing lessons learned from my 2020 binge-watching:

1. Establish a deep bench of compelling characters. Every show on the list above had a great main character, but also had equally fascinating supporting characters. If they weren’t fascinating, they at least had their own arc or provided comic relief (oftentimes both). Just like a single star player can’t carry an NBA basketball team, one interesting character is not enough to sustain a viewer’s (or reader’s) interest. Oftentimes if there’s only one good character they start to come off as indulgent or worse, boring. If your manuscript is boring you, maybe it needs a quirky sidekick or a ruthless, overbearing character.

2. Reveal characters’ traits, backstory, and motivations through action instead of words. In Kingdom, for example, we don’t find out the Kulina brothers’ mother has a history of drug use until Jay, the older brother, visits her one night in a seedy part of town. The viewer sees she is addicted to drugs and working as a prostitute. Showing Kristina (mom) in her current environment packs a much bigger emotional punch than merely stating Mom is out of the picture because of XYZ. Similarly, the best reveals in novels are through actions vs. the characters telling us.

3. End each episode (or chapter) on a cliffhanger. Romantic comedies are great at this. The long-lost ex showing up at the last minute. Someone presumed dead is actually alive. A character with a dark secret is not actually evil and has a good reason for keeping said secret. Romance is a Bonus Book was great at this. This show is also set in the publishing world which makes it extra compelling for writers. Try to end chapters in a way that leaves the reader thinking, OMG what will happen next? You always want readers to be flipping to the next page.

4. Add an element of the unique, weird, or curious. Adding something different can take many forms. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is unique because the main character Rebecca’s thoughts manifest themselves through song. In Kingdom, the world of MMA fighters is unique in itself. I found it especially intriguing and somewhat horrifying learning about the ways fighters lose weight for a match. In Romance is a Bonus Book I thought the modern, brightly colored wardrobe was part of what made it special. Think about how you can add a dash of the strange or awesome to your current manuscript.

Your turn. What have you learned about writing from binge-watching shows, and how have you applied it to your writing?

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About Deanna Cabinian

Deanna Cabinian is the author of One Night, One Love, and One Try (aka The Thompson Series). She writes YA, middle grade, and sometimes dabbles in adult fiction. Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Writer Unboxed, and School Library Journal. She is a graduate of the Writing in the Margins mentorship program and is represented by Penny Moore of Aevitas Creative Management. When she isn’t writing she works as a consumer marketing director for a global media company. She lives in the Midwest but dreams of living by the ocean. Find her online at deannacabinian.com.

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