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?