Good writers don’t care about word count. Haven’t you heard? If you’re any good at storytelling, you should write from the heart and your story will just happen.
I guess I’m not a good writer because the first thing I do when planning a novel is to calculate its word count. Maybe it’s my degree and short career in the field of TV and film that has made me care so much about finding just the right length.
The Best Storytelling Technique from TV: Structure Rules
I’ve discovered that no matter what so-called good writers say, if you want to write a good and commercial novel, there’s nothing more important than structure.
Here are four more crucial storytelling techniques I’ve learned from the fast and formulaic world of television.
1. Word Count and Pacing
Whenever so-called good writers say they don’t care about word count, I roll my eyes. How can you not pay attention to length while maintaining pace?
By keeping track of word count, it’s much easier to figure out which scenes to shorten and which ones to develop. There are two main reasons you should shorten scenes:
- As a way to create tension when scenes lead up to the climax.
- When scenes aren’t related to the main plot and bog down the rising action.
If you’re struggling with a flat story, study up on the three-act structure often used in film. This formula also relies on keeping track of your word count and general length.
2. The Three-Act Structure (A Quick Breakdown)
- Act 1 (the first one-sixth of the story): Subtle exposition is woven through the first few chapters; an inciting accident or catalyst propels the plot forward.
- Act 2 (the next two-thirds of the story): Rising action, and mounting tension, lead to an eventual climax. Pitch points regularly remind us of the main conflict.
- Act 3 (the last one-third of the story): Tension reaches a high in the climax; loose threads are wrapped up in the resolution.
3. Choose Your Scenes Wisely
“Cut scenes that aren’t important to your plot.”
Does that advice sound familiar? Personally, I hear it a lot and I’m not a fan. Writers take it to heart and end up with books that have more twists in them than a Twizzler. After all, how can the hundreds of scenes that make up a novel each be important to the plot?
In reality, scenes have to be important to your story, not to your plot.
Most television shows alternate between scenes that feature important plot points, subplot points, exposition, and simple world building. All four of these are crucial to your story, even though world building in itself doesn’t move the plot along.
There is a surprising variety of scenes in even the most action-driven TV show. For instance, in Guillermo del Toro’s show The Strain, vampire threats alternate with family drama. But we never lose sight of the real plot.
Take a clue from this successful show and don’t be afraid to branch out in your writing either.
4. Writing Characters in Scenes: Sexposition and the Omelet Scene
Writing scenes is one thing. Writing characters in scenes is another, and it can be a pain. But you can learn a lesson from TV. Many shows have budget constraints and must find creative ways of turning scenes of dry dialogue into dynamic moments.
You may have heard of the term sexposition, made famous by the television show Game of Thrones. It refers to exposition-heavy scenes that are made more interesting to audiences through sex.
You probably haven’t heard of the term omelet scene. That’s because I made it up after watching an episode of The Strain in which a vampire killer makes an omelet while having a long talk with the protagonist. I use the term omelet scene to describe moments in which characters are engaged in an action, the purpose of which is to make dialogue-heavy scenes more dynamic.
As authors, it’s important to visualize our characters and their actions so that we’re not just writing a string of back-and-forth dialogue. The techniques of sexposition and omelet scene can help.
Imagine—and write—your characters’ actions, and their dialogue will be more compelling.
What about you? Are you inspired by television shows or by films when you write? Will you be using TV-inspired storytelling techniques in your writing from now on? Share in the comments section.
Ready to use these storytelling techniques stolen from TV?
Craft your own omelet scene. First, spend some time visualizing where your characters are, how they’re dressed, what they’re doing, and how they’re moving.
Next, write a dialogue between the characters that incorporates the descriptive elements you’ve pictured. Then, share in the comments section!
Enjoy your writing!