The sky’s been spitting rain for long stretches this winter. I no longer walk my dog—we run. I don’t want to be outside any longer than necessary, so I’ve been watching too much TV. Or have I?
In “Commodity Publishing, Self-Publishing, and The Future of Fiction,” VQR digital editor, Jane Friedman, touts television’s excellent storytellers:
Personally (after a couple decades of being a very devoted reader of novels), I have all but stopped reading fiction. My storytelling fix comes from watching TV, which, for my money, is where the best narratives are told these days—Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Breaking Bad, many others. I know I’m not alone in this.
She’s far from alone. The programs listed are popular and include a few of my own guilty pleasures. My habit began innocently. After Saturday dinners, I took in two or three episodes of Six Feet Under. Before long, my viewing escalated to additional shows watched on multiple evenings. Instead of reading novels for hours every night before sleep, I’m often perched on the couch next to my husband to quench my “storytelling fix.” Breaking Bad is my latest drug.
From the first episode, the characters’ performances aroused buried shadows as they carried me from a soggy Southern farm to a Western desert. One taste of their inner warzones, and I wanted more. I’m drawn to fiction writers who can inflict pain and reveal deep truths about people by throwing them bombs. In Breaking Bad, cancer bombs, money bombs, and meth bombs are aimed at the main characters, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
Because the show’s writers are expert bombers, I’m absorbed and held by flickering light and explosions of drama on my TV screen. Like reading a great novel, I’m entertained yet forced to question my own human frailties (addiction may be one). Unlike reading a novel, TV has an audio and visual advantage that raises the bar on print.
It’s why I’m convinced shows like Breaking Bad (and many others) offer additional storytelling instruction for writers. Literary gatekeepers and fiction lovers might call it a mindless habit, but television scriptwriters are delivering powerful stories. And this writer is grabbing the remote to murder the night by watching and watching and watching.