The TV Brain = Talking Heads


TV shows are talk-talk-talk. Movies are walk-walk-walk.

Books are neither. Books are both. Books have the ability to get the reader right into the life of the character, “transplant” the reader’s head into the mind, heart and soul of the protagonist* but sadly, fewer and fewer books are accomplishing this.

In order to have our readers experience the guts of the character, we as writers must be inside the head of that character, too, when we are writing. We can’t jump over into Sally’s head to see what she’s thinking when we are inside what should actually feel like our own head (the current character) while we are writing. (This is called point of view, POV.)

Imagine being a plant. All your roots have little rootlets on them that tear off when you’re pulled out of the ground. Imagine being uprooted, having your roots ripped up time and time again, every paragraph. Ouch!

We don’t notice this in TV shows or in movies because these media are visual (and aural). The camera focuses on one character, then on another, then back again. Microphones pick up what the actors are saying to each other, not what the actors are feeling. A good actor will show you how the character is feeling but all this is against helpful background noises like sirens, soft music, creaking stairs, howling wolves … to let us know further what the screenwriter wants us to experience. But we are still not inside the actual head/thinking process of any TV/movie character.

Any screenwriting coach will tell us: “You can’t write She is upset about her boyfriend’s betrayal because you cannot see that on screen. You need to write something like: ‘Tears welling, Mary throws a flower vase at her boyfriend and rushes out of the room.'”

In books, we must do the opposite (but without writing Mary feels). For example:

That hurt. Mary had trusted him and he had spent the night with another woman. She dared not imagine his lips on that bitch’s body. She wasn’t about to risk prison by killing him but she certainly wanted to. She reached over for the flower vase. Right now, she could have crushed it in her hand but instead, she tossed it as hard as she could at those deceitful lips of his then hurried from the room, her face averted. She would not allow him to see the tears of frustration spill out of her eyes.

In soap operas, we follow several characters’ stories simultaneously. In the soaps we know who is cheating on whom, who is lying, who secretly loves — or doesn’t — another character.

Soaps are fun, full of intrigue and cheating spouses.

Movies are exciting, full of action.

Books need both but on a much deeper level. Why? Because they can.

Unfortunately, little by little, book writers are falling prey to following the camera around and watching their characters perform actions instead of climbing inside them and looking around from the inside where the character’s thoughts and feelings reside.

Every time we rip our reader out of one character’s brain and transplant him or her into another character’s brain, we diminish our story a hundredfold if not more.

When we become adept at this concept of sticking with one POV only, our characters soar, our stories become riveting.

When our readers don’t know what Handsome Stranger is thinking, they want to find out. It’s human nature. Use it.

Make our readers crazy to know: Will Handsome Stranger fall in love with our protagonist? Or will he play her like her former boyfriend(s) did?

The moment we switch into Handsome Stranger’s head with something along the lines of: She is beautiful. I could certainly marry a woman like that … the tension for our readers disappears like children when it’s time to do the dishes.

Tension creates excitement, worry, concern, stress, interest, a strong desire to continue reading, to turn the page.

Next post June 20: How to get away with switching POVs

Sherrill Wark is the author of Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them:

… and Death in l’Acadie: a Kesk8a story (fiction):

*Protagonist: the main character in a book, the character the story is about.


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