Thursday, April 23, 2009

Guilty Pleasures and Writing Lessons

I confess I’m a bit of a TV junkie. I watch shows that don’t deserve watching, perhaps, and I should probably turn off the TV and read more, I admit. But with a young child in the house, momentum and inertia are powerful forces. Once your butt hits the couch, inertia settles in. Once you’ve watched one show on the DVR, momentum pushes you to the next.

Yet TV can be very important for a guy like me. For starters, I’m always working to get my clients’ works read by folks in TV or movies, so it’s important for me to recognize what’s working or not working.

I’ve recently been amused by the new show, CASTLE, starring Nathan Fillion, in which Fillion plays Richard Castle, a mystery novelist (think James Patterson, who actually had a cameo on the first episode) who gets “partnered” with an actual NYPD homicide detective and ends up solving quite a few of the crimes. His partner, played by Stana Katic (yeah, I’d never heard of her either, but I like her), is the classic straight (wo)man to Fillion’s Peter Pan-ish Richard Castle.

Ignoring that this has about as much potential of happening in real life as me becoming a navy SEAL, I think the characters are well drawn, including Castle’s quirky mother, played by Susan Sullivan (Greg’s mother on DHARMA & GREG), and his perhaps-too-serious daughter, played by Molly C. Quinn. So far Castle and his daughter have engaged in apartment-wide laser tag and a fencing match (aided, of course, by Castle’s humongous-by-NYC’s-standards apartment). What next? Judo?

I think authors can take a few notes from this show. The little bits of characterization are being dribbled out and they work well. Katic’s detective character has issues surrounding her deceased mom. Castle is apparently friends with everyone in NYC and is a crack shot with a 9mm...on the range, at least. The daughter would rather take her calculus test than go shopping with her mom, Castle’s over-the-top actress ex.

The actors all seem to have chemistry and the writing is solid, if a bit too fast-paced and coy in a manner reminiscent of—but not as eager as—an Aaron Sorkin drama.

The plaguing question, of course, is when does Castle have time to write? There are hints that he does it long into the night and uses a laborious outlining process. Strangely, though, the few pages shown are not double-spaced (just block paragraphs) and there has been no discussion of his agent or his publisher, which, given that Castle has just had a new book published in the first episode and is apparently as big an author as Patterson, surprises me. Where is the national book tour and obsession with the best-seller list rankings? Where is the agent calling to update him on foreign rights sales or progress with the movie deal? Where is the editor asking him what he’s going to be doing next?

Alas, as far it goes, CASTLE is certainly entertaining, but there are no lessons in how the real world of publishing works here. But there may be some lessons in writing interesting and three-dimensional characters and that makes it worth watching for you, I think.



Elizabeth Bradley said...

I have friends that write for TV, and it is common practice to keep the profession of the characters a secondary consideration. Think Designing Women, (I am a designer and when I owned my own firm we didn't have time to sit around to banter witty quips and gossip nonstop). I venture to guess that Castle would not benefit if the writers bogged the script down with publishing details. They are not going for realism.

Jim MacKrell said...

Castle doesn't talk to his agent, the agent is too busy with his blog. The publisher has gone under and Castle bought the pub so he can now be self published.

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