Stranger than Fiction with Kimberly Quinton

Romance University Weekly Lecture Schedule October 18-22
October 17, 2010
What Makes Some Romances Work?
October 19, 2010

My wonderful husband is a medical examiner and gave a talk to our local RWA chapter this weekend. He discussed the real work of a medical examiner versus that portrayed on popular TV shows and how reality is nothing like what you see and in some cases can be much more bizarre.

It reminded me of a quote I heard while listening to a writing craft lecture given by Dwight Swain years ago “Fiction is life with the boring parts removed.” For television’s “real dramas”, it’s the boring parts removed and the interesting stuff blown up a million fold to make every moment as exciting as possible. I assume it’s because watching TV is passive and therefore needs the constant stimulation to keep a viewers interest.

I’m sure I’m not the only one out there that watches TV as a way to “veg” and just be entertained. Yes, some shows can be thought provoking and deep in meaning or try to impart some moral lesson, but mainly I stay away from the “gritty dramas” of the small screen. I wouldn’t want to give up my Supernatural, Leverage or Burn Notice or Glee (Shhhhh Don’t tell anyone O.K.) What I think of as “fun TV” has its place in my life and always will!

But… and it’s a big one- I stay away from the CSI’s, L&O’s, and nurse and doctor shows because of the hyper-realism they portray. The cops, the lawyers, the crime scene investigators, the criminal profilers, the physicians…. are too unrealistic. Now, I know it’s because I’m married to an M.E. and come from a nursing and law enforcement family and am therefore “in the know”- I can’t suspend my disbelief long enough to watch and enjoy what the shows offer.

In contrast, my favorite movies are action thrillers where there is no way the hero should survive the first five minutes. Suspend disbelief- you betcha! I love them and have no problem “believing” in them for that short period of time.

I can also do that with paranormal and fantasy books. But with anything that is supposed to be set in my world with real humans, I want the characters to act like real people doing real things. I’ve found a great alternative to those TV dramas on steroids- romantic suspense books. I want the action, suspense and heartache and the worry I feel “watching” it unfold to be about characters that are relatable, not in a story where the need to be dramatic blocks me from connecting.

In fiction writing, we have the freedom to expose the reality behind those dramatic professions. A great book shows me the author worked hard to make sure the actions fit the characters as if they were real. It’s common among the Bloody Pen Sisterhood to ask “Is that what a real cop would do?” or “Is that what would happen if you did this or would a medical examiner autopsy this case….”

Here we are creating fiction with infinite possibilities and we are putting so much effort into making sure our portrayals are realistic. It’s a difficult balance writers strive for, and one that I think makes reading a great book immensely more satisfying than watching a movie or TV show.

Has this ever happened to you – You read a book and say to yourself “That would never happen….” And then get mad? Do you put the book down or give it a bad review?

Now, what about while watching a TV show or movie? Can you suspend your disbelief and enjoy it because it’s “just TV or just a movie” ?

I would love to hear what your favorite shows are and why and if you have ever stopped watching one because it just became too unrealistic? And do you have the same feelings towards any books?


  1. Bianca Swan says:

    Enjoyed your post. I guess I'm a bit different in my choice of TV, which I don't watch very often. I like True Blood and Criminal Minds. Little bit of a difference!

  2. Kym Roberts says:

    It's funny, I'm more forgiving of TV when it comes to 'bad' fiction. Afterall, we're suppose to be looking at the pretty people and they don't have three hundred pages to describe the scene. I forgive small errors in books as long as it keeps the story moving, but if Hawaii Five-O was a book, I wouldn't get past the first chapter. Yet I forgive the show, cause the acters are good, there's some funny lines and the pace keeps moving. Of course that doesn't mean I don't say, "Oh, brother, get real" while watching it!

  3. Angi Morgan says:

    I, too, am more forgiving of TV and movies than fiction.

    I was just talking about this book to my mother the other day. It was obviously written by someone who may have visited Dallas but didn't really research it. AN OAKGROVE ON SOUTHBOUND 75 IN RICHARDSON should have been my first clue that I wouldn't appreciate the unrealistic setting in this book. But I gave it a shot and threw it across the room ALL the way to the end (not only for setting).

    Feel the same way about Hawaii Five-O. Like the series, but if it was a book…I would have put it down and not gone back.


  4. Kimberly Quinton says:

    Hi Bianca and Kym!
    I can totally enjoy shows like Burn Notice and such where, OK, I know he couldn't actually do the things he does 🙂 But Oy! Criminal Minds… I tried to watch for a while because the characters were interesting but It made me feel like there was a serial killer around every corner! I had to give that one up- but I did like the characters. It's funny, but I think I could read that in a book and enjoy it more since it's the characters I liked more than the plots! I've not seen any true blood but I was a major Buffy and Angel fan years ago and am totally into Supernatural now.

    Thanks for commenting!


  5. shawn says:

    I don't watch medical shows for that same reason. Evertime I see a
    medical drama where the doctor and the nurse are I the supply room, I cringe.
    I'm a nurse, can you tell? Or nurses falling in love with their
    patients. Seriously? However, I LOVE sci-fi and paranormals.

  6. Nikki Duncan says:

    I have too many fave shows to mention, but as far as crime related shows go I think my faves are Bones and The Glades. And while I know they aren't always accurate on how the forensics side of things are handled, I love the characters and their interactions and the brilliant writing. Oh, and Criminal Minds. It's dark and twisted. 🙂

    For medical shows, I'll watch House, but again it's mostly the characters that pull me back.

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