It was around this time in 2014 that I first signed up for Netflix.
It’s hard to believe I’ve only been watching Netflix for a year, unless you happen to know me well. I’m perpetually late to everything new and cool. The last thing I adopted early was Gmail back in 2006 when you needed to be invited to by someone already using it.
As well, I went through a period of about six years where I stopped watching TV and movies altogether.
During this time, I was hung up on a guy who deemed most forms of media and popular culture trivial. In order to try to impress him, I gave up visual entertainment in favour of things which, while still interests of mine, were more so the things he most enjoyed rather than my own core hobbies and preoccupations.
(Incidentally, this period corresponds with the six years I stopped writing, between 2006 and 2012).
Me and that guy have long since parted company, and not a moment too soon, for during the year I’ve been watching Netflix, I’ve come to realize it’s making me a better writer.
Even as I just sit there, staring.
I bet it’s doing the same for other writers too, through three key Netflix features.
1) A focus on TV shows
Despite containing numerous movies, documentaries, and comedy specials, Netflix seems to most equate itself with TV, offering countless TV series in complete seasons, creating its own original series, and overall styling itself as the modern way that modern viewers watch serialized visual stories.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t particularly care for movies as a media format – that I find their pacing awkward and their character development rushed, particularly when the story in question began its life as a novel.
To me, movies aren’t the visual equivalent of books; TV series are, offering the time and space to truly delve into a novel’s themes and subplots and growth and change of the characters.
(TV shows even use the same terminology and mechanics as novelists, talking about character arcs and story arcs as they play out across successive seasons).
For me, watching TV shows on Netflix has been invaluable for seeing stories (literally!) in a different way other than reading. It’s allowed me to study,
- How individual characters comport themselves differently, and how other characters react to them
- How POV is handled across different characters
- How aspects of the plot are hinted at and also how they’re concealed
- How setting can be tied into the larger theme or point or mood of the story
- The presentation of backstory.
As I watch shows, I find myself constantly pondering how I would convey in words what I’m observing on the screen. This not only trains my ability to write the story images in my head, but also helps me dream up new images to describe in my writing.
2) It encourages binge-watching
Say whatever bad things you want about binge-watching: it’s antisocial, it’s sedentary, it puts you at risk of overeating, it’s cruel and unusual punishment to your sofa.
But having now more than once powered through a show’s entire season in a single weekend, Netflix gives me the opportunity to analyze the unfolding of an entire story faster than I can perceive it in a novel, which usually takes me at least month to get through.
This means I’m able to clock the pacing of all the twists, developments, high points, and low moments in real time. I can do the same with individual episodes of a show as well, particularly the Netflix original shows, which don’t contain the artificial pacing of shows mean to accommodate commercial breaks at pre-determined intervals.
3) The logline is waiting for you when you return from the loo
Loglines – a one- to two-sentence description of a story’s main character, conflict, and plot that’s written with a view to entice – have always been a tough concept for me to grasp.
Until I re-watched Sister Act – one of my all-time favourite comedies – last weekend.
I was folding laundry while watching, and paused the playback to put the clothes away. When I returned, the following greeted me on the screen against the faded scene where I’d left off (click to enlarge): It was as if the heavens opened up and shone down with the holy light of understanding. Those little descriptions Netflix provides for movies and shows are loglines.
It didn’t occur to me before because I was using Netflix to watch things I hadn’t seen before. But I know Sister Act well, and that description describes the movie perfectly.
I proceeded to look up the loglines for numerous other shows I’ve seen, and even wrote a new logline for my WIP (my old logline is here; which do you think is better?):
In medieval England, a lowly but skillful lady escapes her abusive father by helping a baron battle his greatest enemy, and resorts to treachery and witchcraft to ensure the war’s outcome results in the life – and love – that she wants.
Now, I just need to stop watching Netflix long enough to finish writing my WIP.
Do you like Netflix? If yes, what shows are you watching? Writers, do you agree that Netflix can improve your writing skills? Let me know in the comments.
(Image source #1 and #2 – J.G. Noelle)