Thursday, August 16, 2018

Pitch Perfect or Perfect Pitch

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about how TV shows are pitched, and, subsequently, thinking of the differences between TV content and the material I typically put in my novels.

Obviously, there are similarities between TV series and book series, but the differences, I’m learning, are striking. And most of them have to do with content.

As a reader, I’m all-in on character. Give me a compelling character, and I’ll watch him take out the garbage or sit with her in a cafe as she reads. The plot is secondary. When the great man himself was writing the books, I would buy each Robert B. Parker Spenser novel each year –– would eagerly await it, in fact –– to see what the characters have been up to since we last spoke. TV is different. Characters need to be compelling, yes, but there’s only so much time between commercials. So content carries the viewer. Plot. Tension. And the content needs to be current and relevant.

My Peyton Cote series stars a female US Border Patrol agent, who’s also a single mother. I can do a lot with that in 80,000 words. What’s her mother like? What’s her learning-disabled son dealing with at school? Why’s her ex such an asshole? And where’s this new relationship with the State Trooper going to go? Was that comment at work a gender-related micro-aggression?

But the demographics of readers (and, as a teacher, it pains me to say this) is different from the typical makeup of the TV viewer. When was the last time you saw a teenager on the train reading a book? Peyton Cote on TV needs to be newsworthy, her conflicts timely. That is, she needs to be someone we might see dealing with issues we hear about on the news. On TV, Peyton’s gay sister might also be one of Putin’s spies, something Peyton won’t find out until season three. And that new man in Peyton’s life, the State Trooper we all love? Well, the gay sister is seducing him to learn something about a Maine politician. A stretch? Maybe, but you get the point. Timeliness and relevance trump character. In fact, that quaint northern Maine town where Peyton is stationed? Well, that might be home to Chinese spies. ISIS is old news.

Anyway, all of this has me thinking. How much can I add to my books? Where do I draw the line between character-driven work and concept-based work? And, more importantly, where will you?

I’d love to hear others weigh in on this topic.

1 comment:

Victoria Reeve said...

Here's a hint: I got rid of my TV and only subscribe to Netflix so I can get character-driven British mysteries like Midsomer Murders, Father Brown, and Death in Paradise. When it comes to books, if it's an engaging plot with a character that doesn't resonate with me, I buy one book, and I'll probably enjoy it. If I like the characters, warts and all, but the plot isn't jaw dropping, I'll still buy, read and thoroughly the entire series, because I'm invested in the characters.