Books vs TV

Posted on Posted in What I'm Watching

I didn’t plan on writing a blog post today. My plan was to hunker down and steamroll through to the end of Halloween Jack and the Curse of Frost. Then one of my Facebook friends happened to share the following image and quote on my Facebook Timeline.

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” ― Groucho Marx

Here’s the problem I have with blanket statements like this: The amount of content available in both book and television format is far too vast to make blanket statements like this, especially in our current era of “Make a quick buck no matter how bad the product is.”

One of my favorite anecdotes on the topic comes from a panel of fairly famous fantasy authors at the San Diego Comic Con several years ago. Robert Jordan urged hopeful writers to throw away their TV sets because it wouldn’t do their writing any good. Fantasy and Thriller author James Rollins/Clemens countered that he had three TIVOs (this was when that particular technology was brand spanking new) and they are all full.

If I’d been there, I would have been hard pressed not to recommend Mr. Jordan should watch some TV and learn something about pacing. Now, I am a huge Wheel of Time fan. I cried when I hear the news of Robert Jordan’s passing, and I’m very sorry that I won’t ever get to read his vision of the end of his epic series, as dragging and lagging as it was likely going to be.  On the other side of the coin, I’m very pleased that Brandon Sanderson is the one TOR and Harriet chose to finish the books, and not just because Brandon is a friend of mine and I’m happy for the boost to his career. Brandon has a particular talent in his writing to be able to really finish a book with a bang. I’ve had some difference of opinions on choices Brandon has made in his books (he’s selling a heck of a lot more than me, so who am I to say anything), BUT one thing he always does is nail the ending. I am hopeful that he’ll do the same with the Wheel of Time. I also know Brandon’s work ethic, and he’ll do his darnedest to produce something Wheel of Time fans can be satisfied with.

The point is this: Good storytelling is good storytelling, no matter what medium it’s in. That being said, TV and movies  have more chances to get it wrong. Between writing, directing, acting, and various levels of editing, more things need to click in order for TV to produce something brilliant. But when things do click, a show can just sing. As I said in my response on Facebook:

“I must actually, respectfully disagree. Just like the world has terrible TV, the world has terrible books. Equating on medium of storytelling with another doesn’t sit well with me. I’ll place “Blink” and “Remedial Chaos Theory” against pretty much any book any day, and many books will come out getting their asses kicked by the quality of writing and storytelling of those two television episodes.”

I mean that whole-heartedly, especially concerning “Blink,” an episode of Doctor Who, and “Remedial Chaos Theory,” an episode of Community. In fact, if you are a writer or storyteller in any medium, you should watch and study Community religiously. It’s one of the most brilliant pieces of continuous storytelling that I’ve seen in my entire life. Watch it. Love it. Learn from it.

On the book side of things, we have Twilight, A Fine and Private Place, Fifty Shades of Gray, The Bridges of Madison County, Empire Falls and “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker (possibly one of the most over-rated stories in the whole of English Literature.) I’ve read most of them. I tried Twilight, just to see what the hype was about. Didn’t make it past the first page. I never went near Fifty Shades to know it was going to be terribad. Before you get on me for lambasting something before I experience it, I will say this: I’ve never broken my neck, nor have I eaten rotten and festering cow’s liver. However, some things are so intrinsically awful that one just knows how bad they are.

So. We’ve got bad books and good books. We’ve got bad TV and good TV. And, I’m pretty sure, there are people out there who don’t agree with my assessment of the spectrum of quality of either.

I didn’t really have an end goal in mind when I started this post. It just kind of snuck up on me, but it has inspired me. Taking a page out of George RR Martin’s book (er…website), I’ll be posting a new topic/category in my blog called “What I’m Watching.” Every week or so, I’ll go over some of the television I’m watching and what I think writers can learn from it. Just be warned, spoilers will abound.

So, while I get back to work on Halloween Jack and the Curse of Frost, I’d love to hear what some of you think on the subject of books vs. TV. It could lead to some interesting conversation.

One thought on “Books vs TV

  1. Let’s not forget A SEPARATE PEACE in the list of books we hate. =)

    I fully agree with you on the merits of TV. There’s a lot that can be learned about storytelling from shows like Babylon 5 (world-building and arc-based stories), Stargate SG-1 (characterization) and so on. Watching an episode of ANY Joss Whedon show is better for your brain than, say, Twilight.

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