Intriguing Observations: Using Television to Benefit our Fiction Writing
When PW asked me to participate in his intriguing observations blog series, I felt compelled
to incorporate TV in one way or another, as anyone who knows me would expect. I watch a
LOT of television and have used blogging as my outlet to somewhat justify the obsession. But
watching television is not what I do, not for a living anyway—I write.
That being said, I do use television as an excellent resource for my writing.
For example, who’s seen Bad Teacher starring Cameron Diaz? I appreciate more than anyone
the brave men and women who teach our children (my mom recently retired after forty-four
years of teaching high school), but I’ve known from a very early age that I couldn’t be one of
them. If I did step foot into a classroom everyday expected to teach tomorrow’s leaders, I would
fail. Like Diaz’s character Miss Halsey, I would more than likely show a different movie each
week, hoping today’s media outlets would provide for the children’s futures—not a good idea.
However, watching different media outlets, specifically television for the sake of today’s post,
can definitely help our fiction writing. Perhaps TV isn’t as beneficial as reading books, but it
As a Young Adult mystery writer, it is important that I understand all of my characters, not just
the teenage protagonist. Anyone in the world of writing will agree—knowing the antagonist
inside and out is just as crucial.
CBS’s Criminal Minds is a great tool for understanding the minds of the criminally inclined.
The television drama follows a team of highly trained FBI agents who profile criminal behaviors
for the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). There are tons of police procedural programs on
TV today, but none like this. This particular team studies unsubs, or unknown subjects of
the investigation, instead of the crime itself. Everyone on the BAU team has his or her own
strengths, but perhaps two of the most beneficial members are the least likely to receive the
credit they deserve, due to the fact they’re not the designated “eye-candy” of the show—the
technical analyst and the PhD.
The technical analyst serves the team from the BAU’s home base at Quantico. The character
of Garcia joined the team after the FBI caught her hacking into their systems. Rarely does she
accompany the team to crime scenes; instead, she prefers to stay locked inside her computer lair
wearing bright eye shadows and lipsticks while frantically surfing the internet and databases for
information to assist the team.
How exactly does this help a writer? Through Garcia’s searches, we see exactly how an unsub’s
history plays a role in his or her present—where they lived, did they live in one place growing up
or did they move around a lot?; how they lived, did they hail from a happy home life, an abusive
home, or bounce from foster home to foster home?; as well as how those around them acted,
did they have a family member incarcerated or locked away with a mental illness? Garcia’s
digging through the digital life of an unsub directly relates to what a writer needs to do with their
Similarly, the PhD of the team also offers his genius to better understanding an unsub by way of
his eidetic memory. And I’m not throwing around the term “genius” lightly here; the character
of Reid is a literal genius—he graduated high school before he was a teenager; he has a Bachelor
of Arts in Psychology and Sociology; he has a PhD in Mathematics, Chemistry, and Engineering;
and he has an insanely high IQ. He reads faster than anyone on the planet (he scans the page
with his finger and remembers it verbatim), he remembers everything he sees, but he tends to
struggle with certain things that he hears. No one is perfect. Regardless, the amount information
stored in Reid’s brain spews out when studying an unsub.
How exactly does this help a writer? We see from Reid’s insane amount of knowledge that we
must first research our character’s quirks and tendencies prior to writing. If we don’t know the
how/what/when/where/and why behind why our antagonist is doing what he or she is doing,
we’re not doing our jobs as a writer.
Criminal Minds has everything we want and more in good television, especially for this fiction
writer, and it doubles as an excellent form of research into understanding a potential antagonist’s
actions in mysteries.
That’s my excuse for watching anyway…
Do you use television as a method of research for your writing? What other techniques do
you use? I’d love to hear from you!
I want to send out a big THANK YOU to PW for having me.
Look for my debut YA mystery novel,
, coming soon… If anyone has any
questions or comments about my writing techniques or television, I’m always around for a chat
via Twitter and Facebook. And if you’re one of those people who don’t have more than an
hour or so a night for TV and you’re not quite sure where to begin, stop by my blog—let my
obsession help you!