For a few years now my hubby hasn’t wanted to renew our TV licence, with a great deal of ambivalence from me. Since he brought it up again the other day, I began thinking for the umpteenth time whether I could do without it as a viewer, and whether it was in fact innately useful for writers. Useful in the sense of exposing us to story arcs with beginnings, middles and endings laid bare in the visual, a variety of structural forms, dramatic units of scenes, separate threads of points of view which splice here and there, then separate off again…all the things I learned about on a writing course which looked at developing the use of stage drama and film structures and techniques for use within creative writing, from which I learned so much. Surely carrying on watching some TV would enable me to keep soaking up this material almost subconsciously, which would aid my writing of characters in different settings with dialogue exchanges and body language displays, with close up visuals and wide camera shots descriptively translatable into fiction, and which I consciously put to use in On Turtle Beach. In fact, whenever I’m doing some fiction writing I’m actually imagining directing a film, and when I end my ‘shift’ my character is left waiting in the wings and tapping their foot waiting for me to return to move them on in the story. Isn’t fiction still all about the visual drama unfolding, as much as information and following a story in words is, just like we get when watching TV?
So this is my dilemma, and it is more viable a conflict than in the past because there is no question that the quality of television today in the UK has plummeted, with far too many quiz shows, soaps, talent shows, people filming each other falling over shows with loudmouthed presenters amplifying their misfortunes to get cheap laughs, pet programs, cooking programs, endless antique programs, and dubious reality TV feeding the cult of celebrity, and don’t get me started on the adverts. There is nothing rich in experiencing the viewing of this kind of television, apart from if you’re living in a care home where it provides a welcome level of stimulation in the afternoon in the day lounge with a cup of tea and a digestive. And this is why I understand a few people I know doing without a TV set altogether, perhaps using something like Netflix when they want some dramatic entertainment, or simply doing without any ‘watching’ of any alternative source, with more time to read, and yes, it has to be said, more time to write! But it would be a case of feast or famine for me and my hubby, because our internet speed is too slow for Netflix here in the bonny Borders, so there remains no such compromise to soften the shades of my black and white quandary.
So I know what I would potentially gain from no TV, namely less ‘drivel’ exposure and more time to read and write in the evening. But what would I miss? Well I would miss the news, because I don’t get my daily dose of that from anywhere else like my hubby does from the radio or his tablet, and I’ve noticed myself over the years taking far more interest in it than ever before. I once scored something like 3 out of 10 in a school test on current affairs, much to my confused mortification, right before my defences kicked in exclaiming to myself who cares about that kind of stuff anyway? So I’m happy to report those days have changed. I’d also miss high quality dramas for engaging in as both viewer and from what they can teach me as a writer. Same goes for films. Ever since my childhood days perched in front of the family TV on a Sunday with a Yorkie bar to nibble, watching those classic black and white movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood or those pioneering farmers going west in their wagon trains to make new homesteads, I’ve loved a good film. And I love nature programs. Who would want to miss listening to the wonderful David Attenborough describe the lifestyle of such amazingly formed creatures in the Blue Planet series, filmed with astonishing skill and ingenuity, which brings people together in their awe of the natural world with an encouragement to respect and protect this world we live in? And I’d miss well made documentaries, history programs, and travels further afield. And I have to confess, with some red-faced shame, I would miss my ‘zoning out’ time, half listening to a soap opera while I crochet, which I know I should have packed in years ago (that’s the soap, not the crochet ;>)), but the habit is so hard to break when you’re curious about how the next plot twist will pan out, or how they are going to write out an actor whose ‘disgraced’ himself in real life. Then there’s hook after hook and those trademark cliff-hanger endings just before the theme tune takes over, blaring out its ever so familiar and weirdly kind of comforting strains. Such cliff hangers which you can so easily find at the end of chapters within a fast paced thriller novel driven by the plot more than the characters. And so we return to fiction once again, and therein lies my predicament. To watch TV or not to watch TV?
Concessions made so far:
1. A discreetly sized ‘box’ not dominating the living room – fine with me, in fact wanted by me by design. Some kudos here, folks ;>)
2. No Sky TV or extra paid for channels.
3. No recording of anything (I know someone who records series after series of dramas but can’t find the time to watch them) – proved to be fine with me.
4. The use of wireless headphones for me – remember my hubby says he can’ do without’ any TV (putting it mildy here) so things are getting a bit tight!
My current conclusion, through exploring the issue within this post, is that maybe I could just about commit to a new years resolution to make an effort to watch less TV – and a conscious, habit-breaking, effort will be what is required. But, that said, I just might just be up for the challenge now!
Views and experiences on this most welcome!