Critical Reading and Watching

Aurora here.

I often have authors, or people in general, ask me “Where do you get your inspiration?”

Aside from the obvious fairy tales and folklore, I like to consume a lot of fiction. Sometimes, after reading all day for work, I do not want to read more. I want to stare mindlessly at Netflix. But that doesn’t mean those hours are wasted either.

Whether I’m reading or watching, I’m doing so with a critical eye. What do I like about the piece? What don’t I like? Why? What characters do I like best? Is this character boring me? If so, why? I can then take these elements and apply them to my own writing. Again, this works for both books and television.

Now, don’t produce copies of what others have done. That isn’t the advice at all. But if you have a favorite hero, a favorite villain, or a favorite side character, ask yourself why. What did the writer of said character do well? Why was this character compelling?

I’ll use Gotham as an example. I absolutely loved that show; however Jim Gordon scenes were always the ones where I went to get a drink or snack. I didn’t even bother pausing for many of those. I found most of the time, other characters were telling the viewer things about Jim that I didn’t see reflected in his character. Lee Thompkins spoke of Gordon’s darkness so many times. I didn’t see it. Maybe I’m wrong here, but Gordon just did whatever he believed was necessary to keep the city safe. Sometimes he could be reckless with his own life, but to me, that just made him more of a righteous hero. I didn’t really see this “darkness” flaw myself.

In contrast, we have Oswald Cobblepot, aka Penguin, played by Robin Lord Taylor. First, this character is visually interesting. His hair changes into various spiky ‘dos throughout the seasons. Sometimes he wears this rad fur trim. (I barely remember what Gordon wore. That tells me it wasn’t really memorable at all. But to be fair, fur trim wouldn’t make sense considering his various roles in the police department.) Penguin always spoke with such emotion. His eyes would light with excitement. He’d take these breathy pauses as if trying to get his excitement and enthusiasm under control. His vocabulary was peppered with words we don’t often hear. I remember squealing when he said something like, “You, sir, are a skinflint!” and proceeded to stab said skinflint. It wasn’t the stabbing that made him interesting. It was his big eyes full of triumphant glee and the word “skinflint.” There were so many instances like this. And Cobblepot was interesting, because, yes, he was not physically imposing. He was the brains of his operation, and through smarts and wicked cunning, managed to become one of the rulers of Gotham’s underworld. He also had a softer side, too. He got a bulldog named Ed, after Edward Nygma. So, yes, he loved the hell out of his dog and took very good care of said dog. (I approve, Oswald, so very much.) Oswald pretty much stole every scene he was in. Even at times where he didn’t say much, his face was expressive and I’d guess at what he was thinking.

I get it that main protagonists are often a bit bland. They have to do the right thing. Unless, of course, they don’t, and often make terrible decisions, or are forgetful. Really, why don’t we have more protagonists like that? I’ll stop myself now before I get off topic.While television watching won’t necessarily help us with pacing and prose on the written page, we can get ideas for dialogue. We can conduct character studies. Pick something in a genre you enjoy, and make those fun hours productive hours. This is even far more fun with a friend who enjoys analyzing shows and movies. (I watched Luke Cage recently and analyzed it. And we also may have turned it into a drinking game. Taking a sip every time Luke said something platitudinous left me with a ridiculous hangover the next day.) Relax time can be productive time, just please don’t try the Luke Cage drinking game.

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