The other night, I was watching a television show while I ate my dinner and I thought, This is terrible. I put another one on, and watched for a while, and then realized of the new one, This also is terrible. So I shut it off. I went online. I went to Hulu, where I have a beta membership now, and can watch old NBC content for free. I thought about shows that died recently, that had bad writing. And then I thought about the WGA Strike. Then I read this:
The above highlighted quote comes from an LA Times story about how screenwriters and TV writers are finding time now for their novels and literary projects. Which I’m in favor of, as I support the strike. Also, people are reading more, as their favorite TV shows are on hiatus. For me, it’s like being stood up by a friend when there’s no new episodes. What’s interesting to me about this as time goes on is how it points to the way people want stories. And, as the LA Times article shows, people want to tell stories. Real stories. Now, I’m not saying all TV is bad — don’t get me wrong — there’s some great TV out there (Weeds, Six Feet Under, etc.). But many shows are, for me, almost like science fiction, for how plastic and fake everything is between people. Watching the way someone reacts to, say, getting pregnant, or a cheating spouse, it feels like watching a show where gravity has been reversed, or lasers shoot out of everyone’s eyes: I think, wow. Life isn’t like that. But they, which is whoever put the show on, they want me to believe it is, or at least believe it for the duration of the story. And If I don’t, I turn the show off.
For those people, forced to write that and then forced to go on strike in order to get paid for that, I hope they find they can never write crap again, and that they become very, very happy in their new lives as literary writers.
As a literary writer, I just want to tell my newly-arrived television and film siblings, with confidence, people don’t want baggy receptacles of story. The biggest mistake, time and again, that I see student writers (or professional ones) make is to think that in a novel “there’s so much time.” There isn’t. This is the rookie mistake Number One. Everything that tells the story can stay, and everything that does not, cannot. Every sentence has to move the story forward or it has to go.
Or, as I tell my students, Let the story be the editor.
So, TV and film writers, welcome. Join me in contemplating the idea that the strike continues, and destroys television and film forever. See how the public riots, burning the studios after one too many episodes of American Gladiator, and books again become the chief source of entertainment. This would allow me to hire the lovely Maggie Gyllenhal, who appears in this video for Speechless, the WGA support network, to read aloud from my next novel for me on my book tour.
Which, would be amazing.