HBO’s TV as the new novel?

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My work on Viral Times goes a long way back, into the 1990s. Back then my wife Abby gave me a gift of The Writer’s Dreamkit, software which led me to Dramatica. The software offers tools to understand story, the part of the process I am hacking my way through this month.

You see, I know the story of Viral Times. But getting it down on paper, the plot and storyline, so I can see what I have remaining to write, has been a matter of looking over several very lengthy snyopses. Recently I did a gisting layout in Excel for the novel, with each chapter summarized in 20 words or less. That’s gisting, by the way.

It’s been yeoman work, and I’m looking at tools to help. While turning back to Dramatica — software so decidated to story that its creators wrote a comic book explaining dramatic storyline theory — I found a Daily Dramatica blog.

Inside the blog: A posting about how episodic TV on HBO is the New Novel. Deadwood is the latest, most brilliant example.

By the way, “The “New Novel” is redundant, since the word novel comes from the Latin novellus, which means “new.” So all novels are new, if we’re talking about a form of literature. Novels grew up in the era of Daniel Defoe. This author who created Robinson Crusoe as his first book is often credited with creating the first novel. Character study became the major preoccupation of novelists, according to A Reader’s Guide to Literary Terms. (And that book is tough to find. I picked my copy up in a used bookstore in Iowa City, home of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. It’s out of print. My copy is a first edition 1960 hardback, not that it’s worth more than $5 anyway.)

But to get back to what makes a novel great, it’s character. The brilliance of the many HBO series — The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, Big Love — flows from depth of character.

Abby and I gorged ourselves on the first season of Deadwood as DVDs over one week. (My borther Bob had been raving about Deadwood for months.) Finally we bought the first two seasons, and we watched Season Two nearly nonstop over a long holiday weekend. We were reading a novel, together.

Weekly episodes are chapters. The detail of character story and plotline on an HBO series would never make the cut on basic cable or regular series TV, in my opinion. (Although my son Nick says that the FX Series Nip/Tuck has this same kind of build.

But he’s most excited about watching Big Love, also mentioned in the Dramatica blog post.

If nothing else, it’s given me a little more justification for watching something on the tube to take a break from the writing. I’m studying story, I tell myself.

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