4 Writing Lessons From These TV Shows

Most of the time, we watch TV shows to relax and have fun. It's a wonderful source of entertainment. But I also believe that TV shows can teach us something - not just from the fictional stories playing out on our screens, but from the writing and production of the show itself. For writers, TV shows are a goldmine. I have learnt so much from shows like Peaky Blinders, Stranger Things, and even F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

Today I'm focusing on one aspect of a few shows to glean their writing advice. These are TV shows that have personally taught me something about writing. I hope you enjoy the post. 

Writing Lesson #1: Character Roles

Want to craft a memorable character? Start with their role in the story. Are they the villain? The trickster? The bruiser? The brains? Define their role, then flesh them out.

Comedies typically do this brilliantly. Look at F.R.I.E.N.D.S, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Frasier, and The Office. All of these shows have their characters in clearly defined roles - they all have a part to play, and they're memorable because of those roles.

Monica's the mom, and Joey's the dumb one. Rosa is the badass,  and Jake's the immature man-child. Jim's the prankster, and Angela's the ice queen.

Giving your character a role in your story can help in the following ways:

1: It forces you to decide if you really need this character in your story. 

What are they adding? Brains, brute force, a heart? What are they giving the story - a villain, a love interest, a father figure? 

2: They allow for a big cast. 

You won't have the audience guessing "who's she again?" They know: he's the leader, she's the sister, he's the comic-relief, she's the brain.

3: They're memorable.

Chandler is remembered as "the funny one", while he's a three-dimensional character with other aspects to his personality, as well. A role can imprint your character into someone's mind.

Writing Lesson #2: Dynamic Relationships

Say what you will about The Vampire Diaries, but its characters' relationship development was excellent. In fact, one of the reasons I love Stefan and Caroline's relationship so much is because of how it evolved: in the first episode of season 1 Stefan tells Caroline "you and me, it's never going to happen", and then in the last episode of season 8 they're getting married! That's development. Yes, they had eight season to change things up, but still. If you're writing a book series, this kind of development is and should be an option.

I don't know about you, but when I'm writing/outlining my stories, I tend to forget that while Character #1 and Character #2 are the couple I want the series to end with, they don't need to start as a couple - or even liking each other - from the very start of the book. They can be content in a happy relationship, even if it's not with each other. They don't instantly need to be attracted to one another.

TVD cemented this lesson in my mind. Sometimes, it can be fun to take two characters and put them in the very opposite of where you want them to end up. Don't force them anywhere. Let their development do its thing.  Just look at Stefan and Elena: soulmates. And yet Elena ended up with the guy she initially hated, and who was the very opposite of Stefan.

1: Be flexible. 

Let your characters lead, and let the unexpected happen. Life is dynamic. So are relationships. As the characters change, their relationships will too.

Writing Lessons #3: Dialogue

Most writers know the general dos and don'ts for dialogue, but sometimes you just need to hear dialogue done brilliantly to get those lessons seared into your brain. I know I did. And I have never heard more brilliantly written dialogue than the lines in the BBC TV show, Peaky Blinders.

Dialogue has never been better. Every line is a masterpiece. It's concise, it's witty, it's clever, and it's profound and gut-wrenching in its simplicity.

Peaky Blinders taught me 3 important lessons about dialogue:

1: It's not always necessary. 

Silence can say a thousand words, and sometimes your characters just need to shut up and let their body language do the talking. Peaky utilises this exceptionally well. If your characters are quiet, it forces you to pay attention to their body language and their actions. And it makes the dialogue more impactful when it finally comes.

2: Simplicity over purple prose. 

Don't throw in useless words. Cut your dialogue ruthlessly, until only the very essence of the exchange remains. Cut down every line down till it's raw and vulnerable. While watching Peaky, I was literally hooked one every word the characters spoke because every word mattered.


What your characters mean and what they say can be two different things. Most of the time, they should be two different things.

Writing Lesson #4: Trauma

I'm using Peaky Blinders as an example again because this show is jam-packed with writing lessons. However, there is nothing it does better than writing trauma.

The world is a brutal one. These characters go through horrific abuse, and almost everyone is suffering from PTSD. The writers realise how huge and life-altering these events are, and so they don't brush over them. The characters don't get one episode to grieve and then suddenly we move on - no! Throughout the series, they repeatedly feel the affects of these traumatic ordeals. Tommy and Arthur are constantly being faced with flashbacks and triggers from their time in the war; Ada's assault changes her emotionally and we see this in her relationships and attitudes; Polly's rape continues to haunt and traumatise her throughout her arc, and her character is never the same afterwards. 

Some things to remember when writing trauma in your characters:

1: It doesn't ever go away. 

A single chapter is not enough to deal with the impact of an horrific experience for a character. They will continually be faced with memories, flashbacks, triggers, and they will break down every now and then.

Don't think of trauma as an incident - think of it as a continual process that will flow through your character's whole life, leaving bloody scars in its wake.

2: No character should dismiss it. 

Another thing Peaky does well is not to have the characters unaffected by trauma ignore the pain of those who are. Tommy shares the burden of Arthur's PTSD, he gives Polly time and sensitivity after her abuse, and he respects the pain his family goes through. He doesn't brush it off.

If one of the characters in your book is tortured and subsequently broken, the other characters who care about him should treat the incident with the gravity it deserves (unless you're making a point by purposefully having no one else care). The trauma should to be felt by everyone.

Which TV shows have taught you something about writing?

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