A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

What writers can learn from watching TV/films by Kerry Drewery

I’m a big film fan. Huge. I love film. I love to immerse myself in a story and feel that pull of the narrative as I career along with the characters. And I love films that push boundaries in terms of how they tell the story.

Take Inception for example – no pre-amble with what’s going on, why Cobb has suddenly woken on a beach, who the mysterious man is he’s taken to see, or what the significance is of the spinning top. You let go and go with it, work it out as you move along – I like that. And I LOVE the imagination of it. Dream within dreams, layers, manipulating physics and time… As a story-teller I find that inspiring. (And everyone knows the thing about Cobb’s wedding ring, yeah?)


Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio

Another specific example I’d draw on is the beginning of World War Z. Within the space of five minutes we know Gerry used to work for the UN in dangerous situations, we know how much his family mean to him – that they are more important than his work – and we know that he’s not someone to mess with. All done without lengthy exposition or reams of dialogue. Within fifteen minutes we know what the threat is, how long zombies take to change (courtesy of a great device – the girls’ doll), and we’ve had the first clue of how they might be overcome. But can this be transferred over to novels? I don’t see why not.

Thinking of character building for a moment – TV provides loads of good examples. I’ve just finished watching Breaking Bad (again!) and I’m (again!) completely bowled over by the arcs and developments of each character. On paper, we shouldn’t like the drug addict/dealer/loser Jesse and we should like the high-standing, community member, teacher Walt, but their positions in society don’t represent their morals! I strive to create characters as deep and complex.


Breaking Bad – Jesse Pinkman and Walter White

This is the same for The Sopranos. Tony Soprano – mob member, unfaithful to his wife, a murderer, a violent man – then why do we want to carry on watching him? Shouldn’t we hate him? But he’s not just those things. He has panic attacks, he’s completely under the thumb of his children, his relationship with his mother is…complicated. In a nutshell – he has weakness, and this makes him human.

David Chase, who wrote The Sopranos, said all characters should have a weakness, just as all people do in real life. It makes them believable and relatable.


Tony Soprano

As far as direct influence goes, you may read my novel, Cell 7 and think ‘that’s influenced by X-factor’ (which obviously it is, and other reality TV shows!)  but there is also a more indirect influence. In Inception, Ellen Paige’s character needs things explained to her; this means the audience also have it explained to them. In Cell 7, I do similar – using the TV and news sections to explain the day’s events to the imagined viewer, which also explains things to the reader.

But, y’know, I could go on and on about programmes and films I find inspirational and that I draw from, but there’s another side to it.

YA author Zoe Marriott once said to me that writers are like sponges – when we’re writing, we’re gradually being wrung out until, when we finish, we’re completely empty. To ‘re-fill’ ourselves, we need to watch good films or TV, read good books, to use them to restock our imaginations and our motivations. I like this, and not only because it means watching films and TV and reading books can be classed as work and not just slobbing out of the sofa!

//<p><a href=””>via GIPHY</a></p>

In a nutshell, after a lot of pre-amble, I think the influence of film on my writing is that it makes me strive for better. I see the scenes, I follow the stories, and root for the characters, and I feel it, and I want to have that effect on my readers.

So when you sit down to watch TV tonight (or even in the daytime) or you put on a film, don’t feel guilty! Tell your partner/child that you’re working – because you are!

Kerry Drewery

Kerry Drewery is the author of A Brighter Fear and A Dream of Lights. Her new novel, Cell 7, is the first in a trilogy. The second, Day 7, comes out in June. 


One comment on “What writers can learn from watching TV/films by Kerry Drewery

  1. Layla
    February 4, 2017

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This entry was posted on January 9, 2017 by .
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