A second (and final) graduate thesis, which I again give to someone else to execute, would explore the evolution of novel plots since the development of television. We’ve had to be influenced by television and its time constraints. By 8:28 PM it’s apparent that the bizarre medical problems aboard the Enterprise are the result of an alien virus planted by the same sleazy folks who’ve sabotaged the anti-matter drive. After the 8:30 commercial break Kirk tells Bones to develop an antidote. Bones feverishly works in his lab until about 8:50, at the same time that Scotty is sticking some gadget into the anti-matter drive with three seconds left before the Enterprise explodes. At 8:55 Bones tests the antidote on himself, going into a brief seizure which freaks everyone and signals that all is lost. But by 8:57 he’s up and about inoculating 400 crewmembers, and at 8:59 Kirk is signing off on Yeoman Rand’s clipboard and cracking jokes with Spock and the doctor … as the theme music rises …
This could be a pretty open-ended thesis, and I imagine it’s been done in some form before. It might seem that I’m implying that TV show plots have caused a deterioration in novel writing. But I’m basically wondering how television has affected novelists, for both good and ill. A couple (several?) generations of writers have arisen with television. How has it affected them?
Has TV generally made novels better? Has it made them worse? Has it had some effect, but not enough to seriously affect the quality of novels?
Why did we start writing? What influenced us? What do people want in a story? What storytelling rules are universal? hat about movies or plays as an influence? r the Internet for that matter?
TV plots are not necessarily bad–but they do need to fit into time constraints. There have always been rules or guidelines, from Aristotle’s Poetics to Save the Cat. Time constraints are nothing new. Plays ran a certain length of time or had a certain number of acts. Films have had time and structure rules from the beginning.
It’s possible that films, lending themselves to longer development of plot and character, have had more of an effect on novels. My first fifth grade science fiction stories were more influenced by Grade B science fiction movies than TV shows. I think I was more influenced by a combination of movies and boys books, like the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, Jr.
My brother lent me The Tower Treasure to read at night, after visitors’ hours, under a circle of light in my hospital bed where I spent two months recuperating from a fractured skull. I was seven years old and this first Hardy Boys book was the first chapter book I ever undertook. And it was a difficult task that nevertheless pulled me on and on. It was like The Brothers Karamazov to me–what could such a long sustained narrative mean? What was it pointing to?
For me personally, then, television wasn’t much. But perhaps it was much more for a few generations and sub-generations of novelists. A wide-ranging study of novel structures before film, after film but before television, and after television, might be illuminating.
N-CAT warned that I’m no expert on television, not having watched it in thirty-five years, according to her. Actually, I watched Star Trek: Enterprise and the Invasion mini-series, so I do have at least a little twenty-first century experience.
copyright 2010 by Michael D. Smith