I'm going to let you all in on a dirty little secret about writing. You ready?
It's okay to watch TV. In fact, I strongly encourage it.
Television can teach us a lot about storytelling. Screenwriting handles subplots, dialogue, cliffhangers, character development and cross-character entanglements, and so much more so beautifully. As writers, we can learn a lot about how to tell a truly great story from studying television and screenwriting technique.
One such show that is my absolute fave to study for these purposes is The Vampire Diaries.
Yes, cue your laughter now. And just wait. Hear me out.
TVD was great with plots, subplots, villains, and intertwining backstories. We can learn so much about outlining all of that for novels before drafting, to avoid getting confused or missing information or creating plot holes later in the process, by studying this show.
Now, there's eight seasons in the series, so I'm going to focus only on the first season. But I could talk about all eight if I didn't mind my fingers bleeding as I typed. Take a look at what my idea of an outline would look like if I used TVD season 1 as a novel.
Season 1 - The Tomb
Act I: Introduction of Elena, Stefan, Damon, and the normal life of Mystic Falls (a Civil War site) that is now interrupted by the arrival of the two brothers.
- Subplots: The brothers' backstory with Katherine, the new love triangle forming (Elena, Stefan, and Damon), the existence of witches and their ties to the brothers' backstory as well as the history in Mystic Falls including the Town Council.
Act II: Damon attempts to open the tomb, while keeping the existence of vampires hidden from the town and its council until he succeeds.
- Subplots: The existence of other vampires, introduction of Alaric and the mystery of his dead wife, Elena's secret adoption, and what really happened during the Civil War in town back in 1864.
Act III: The tomb vampires get out and wreak havoc on the town and some mysteries are solved.
- Subplots: Pearl and Anna, Emily's backstory and her friendship with Katherine in 1864, and big surprise news that Alaric's wife was Elena's birth mother and descendant of Katherine.
As you can see, these plots and subplots are all really elaborate but all tied together really neatly. Is this because the writers are just geniuses and this all came naturally to them? Yes to the former, unlikely on the latter. The genius writers outlined and put together these plotlines and connections on some form of paper (digital or old-school). During or after you're deep in the writing trenches, it helps to outline everything on paper, to see it all in black-and-white for clarity. We all get lost in the trenches, plotters and pantsers alike. So, next time you're on the couch watching your latest binge-worthy show, try looking closely at why you love the storytelling and how you can bring what you love from TV to your writing. And, of course, enjoy your show! Guilt-free.