Aspiring writers are always encouraged to read more. I certainly do not disagree with this advice, but I also believe that novelists can learn a great deal from other media. We can learn what to do and what not to do in our own novels by being exposed to other books, movies, TV shows, plays, and even music.
I used to think it would be fun to write an episode of a television show until I read some blog posts by Alexandra Sokoloff, a screenwriter and novelist. I am apparently already too old to make it in the biz. Plus, I don’t want to move to LA. So there goes that dream, but hey, I can still hope to sell TV rights to a book one day. HA! Ms. Sokoloff goes into great detail about story structure, and it is incredibly informative. I have no desire to head in that direction with these “Other Media” posts. I just want to share some valuable lessons from other venues.
So let’s start with a cheap trick to avoid.
With their crazy writing and shooting schedules, soap operas are rife with cheap writing tricks. The most annoying is their propensity for ending a scene in the middle of a critical line and then going to commercial, a whole new scene, or closing credits.
Actor 1: I demand that you tell me immediately who your baby’s father is.
Actor 2: Fine. I’ll tell you. The father of my child is…
[cue dramatic music; cut to closing credits]
This trick is meant to build more suspense and to ensure that viewers tune in tomorrow for the big reveal, but of course, the big reveal will take place sometime next month, which will still be the same day in soap-opera time. In practice, this technique just serves to annoy people. It would be like getting the end of a murder mystery only to discover that you have to buy the next book in the series to find out whodunnit. Or it would be like getting to the end of a chapter for a big reveal, the chapter ends, and the next begins with another character’s POV and does not address the secret at all. It’s a cheap trick.
There are many other methods for creating suspense. Use any one of those instead. Your goal should be to draw the reader through the book naturally, building suspense along the way. You want them to keep reading. Using that soap opera trick will jar them out of the story and that is not what you want, right? Don’t let your storytelling techniques distract the reader from the story.