Thursday, August 12, 2010

Everything I Learned about Writing, I Learned from 'Friends'

Okay, obviously not everything. But my incessant watching of Friends (I don't care how many times I've seen each episode, it's still funny) has actually taught me a lot about characterisation, pace and plot.

Every character in Friends is different and distinct with their own foibles and quirks. Monica likes to clean; Chandler fears he's gay; Ross gets divorced; Rachel into fashion and shopping; and Phoebe's kinda ditsy. And poor Joey's not the brightest bulb. Everything they say and do supports their characterisation perfectly.

An episode of Friends usually starts off in the coffee shop. Then, something happens to upset the norm and the characters must fight against it, accept it or adjust to it. By the end of the episode they're back at the coffee shop, equilibrium restored. We're never subjected to the boring bits (sleeping, eating, getting up, etc.); everything we see relates in some way to the plot and is there for a reason. In short, it's everything I need to keep in mind for my own writing. I knew there was a reason I liked it so much!

And now that I've justified my telly watching...

52 comments:

  1. This was the same with me and LOST. After each episode, I'd think about what they did to further the plot and develop the characters.

    See: the tv can't be all bad for us!

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  2. Awesome!! If you follow this pattern your book is going to be fantabulous. Can't wait to read it!

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  3. Oh god, do I have a lot of revisions ahead of me. Although everything in G&T also revolves around the diner.

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  4. Friends - definitely the best TV show ever. And what a smart way to justify watching it indeed :) On a serious note, it's true - it's just incredibly well-written thing, I cannot think of any other TV series with such a great bunch of characters that would be so different from each other.

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  5. Friends is excellent. I also loved the way they kept the characters identities through ten years, and they seemed to evolve realistically - not staying forever young but growing.

    And it's still funny no matter how many times you watch it. Joey's stage name is a classic!

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  6. No matter the medium, we can always learn something. I think you used the perfect example for characterization and staying on task for resolving the conflict.

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  7. Hey... I've never really thought about all that... I mean some of it I know I KNOW, but this was a great way to put it into shiny memorable order.

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  8. I love Friends!!! I've seen every episode a million times and it's still funny!

    The One where No One's Ready (Season 3) and The One with the Late Thanksgiving (Season 10) are my favorite eps!

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  9. I think you and I need to talk, because I'd love to have my television watching skills justified as you have just done.

    Anything related to friends is awesome :)

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  10. I remember one of the Novel Racers talking about learning everything she knew about writing funny from Friends too. You're obviously in good company.

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  11. Yessss; the title of this post made me happy and reading it was even better!!

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  12. This is why I've seen every Friends episode at least ten times. This is it!

    :)

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  13. Ooooh this is so true! There are many excellent lessons to be learned from Friends in terms of character and pace, especially if you write in a similar genre (humour, romance, etc) and write series.

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  14. Just saw that you commented on my post about a minute ago. Neat timing, this!

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  15. Am still watching the re-runs, the song i hum it everyday. And i still walk with my head high xo :)

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  16. That's a great way of thinking of it. I write mysteries and I always imagine each scene (or chapter) as filmed in a British mystery series. If it wouldn't make it on screen, it doesn't make it in my book.

    CD

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  17. ZOMG! I'm so glad I'm not the only one. I love "Friends" and use it as a jumping off point when I get stuck with my writing. You're so right. It had the perfect cast and the writing never faltered.

    Now I want to go home and just spend days rewatching all 10 seasons.

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  18. I think I remember reading that the writers of Friends film the episode in front of an audience, note what works and what people don't laugh at, and rewrite. Every episode. Serious attention to detail, but wonderful results! I think there's a lot to learn from tv and film, actually did a post about it today, using Pretty Woman!

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  19. So true! 'Friends' is one of my favorite television shows. I usually don't even pay attention to the plotline, I mostly watch it because of the characters. This show is definitely character-driven.

    Great post!

    Tessa
    www.christiswrite.blogspot.com

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  20. Hey, nothing wrong with that! Friends was hilarious and had a lot of great relationship issues to delve into.

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  21. I never thought of it that way - and I love 'Friends' too. :) Except, hopefully, at the end of a book, something has changed and the characters aren't just 'back in the coffee shop' the same as they were before. Well... it depends on the book. :)

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  22. I smiled when I read this Talli as it reminded me of my own daughters love of Friends and the fact she seems to know each and every episode inside out. :)

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  23. Ok, everybody:

    "So no-one told you life was going to be this way... clap, clap,clap, clap, clap!"

    :-)

    I tried to follow Joey in Joey but that was just really wrong.
    Take care
    x

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  24. I can watch the re-runs of Friends and laugh all over again.

    You make an excellent point and one writers should be aware of. Make sure every word in your work is important.

    Helen

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  25. hahaha god you are so right.

    sorry but i LOVE friends.

    sigh.
    memories.

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  26. That's a very good point!

    Also, I sometimes refer to your posts as 'The One With Writer's Arse' etc so it's quite fitting that you're a fan.

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  27. This makes me feel SO MUCH better about stopping writing every day at 5pm to watch an episode of Friends I've seen so many times I know the lines by heart. Thank you! ;-)

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  28. With what I do watch on TV, I definitely pay attention to how the characters are portrayed. And you're right, Friends is an excellent example of a show with diverse characters! That's the mark of a good writer right there. ;]

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  29. Ah, I love friends, my daughter is currently watching and re watching (as you do), and yep, they're still sooo funny! In the car today she said, 'remember on friends when Joey was holding his breath for five minutes?' then she pinched her brother's nose and continued...'but he was breathing through his nose the whole time! (There was a lot of complaining then fron the back seat)
    HaHa, there's a 'friends' moment in most of our daily lives!
    Brilliant characterisation! I should watch another, maybe I can learn something...

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  30. Cutting out the mundane, boring details - that's what we have to do to keep our readers reading - and in the case of "Friends," watching.
    Ann

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  31. "It's a moo point. It's like a cow's opinion, it doesn't matter." ~ Joey.
    Hehe I LOVE Friends! I am slowly getting all the DVDs of each season. But you are right, we don't always see them sleeping or things like that. Even if they're eating, they are discussing something relevant to the plot.
    Great post!

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  32. I love that show! Both Friends and Will & Grace, I've seen them all, but they'll never get old. EVer!

    And it's never a bad thing to justify fun things like TV and YouTube (the YouTube comment was for me. :) )!

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  33. Wow - I've never thought about it that way before... *heads over to see if Friends is on the telly*

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  34. I loved friends too. You are right, you can learn from TV. Sad to say-- I've been learning from cartoons lately. I have two little ones so not much adult TV is on. Phineas and Ferb has been a favorite lately. I know I need help.

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  35. LOL, great point, I hadn't thought of friends or most TV shows that way. I tend to like really intricate ones though, maybe that even says something about us as writers?

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  36. Ha, great observations! I've recently been watching some of the reruns. It was a good show (still is).

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  37. I love Friends, too! I don't watch a whole lot of TV, but I think I learn a lot about writing from watching movies.

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  38. Talli,
    Great analogy.

    I've not seen every episode, but it has a very well woven storyline & the character are definitely memorable.

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  39. Angel was my series... clear archetypes. In fact, my next book will start that way. Tho' I tend to lean toward certain types more than others LOL.

    Great post!

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  40. Oh, how I love Friends reruns! Especially when they air 2 or 3 episodes in a row. As a TV addict, I can confirm that television is, in fact, research. (If you tell yourself that enough times, the guilt fades away!) :)

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  41. Yep. Love Friends. It is a good lesson on if it's not important - leave it out.

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  42. You make a good point. I really enjoyed the way that Sex and the City was put together. It was almost like a research essay. Carrie asked a question, and every scene was like an answer to the question. And in the end, you get your thesis. I tried to explain that to my husband, and he was like, "Yeah right, you just like shoes." Well, that too.

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  43. What a brilliant analogy of how to write a novel - I totally agree, not a moment of any episode is wasted. I watch the endless re-runs too and love them. Authors could do worse than use this as a template for their own stories.

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  44. You make me wanna watch an episode! I haven't seen it in AGES.

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  45. Their speech patterns are distinct as well. I loved this show. I think you picked a good role model to learn about writing.

    I'm reading The Accidental Tourist and in that early conversation Macon has with his sister, I can hear her voice so distinctly. Making each character unique is vital yet difficult to do.

    Like Karen, I can't wait for your book to come out!

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  46. Haha what a great post! I've learned a lot from watching Friends, too. And I used to want to marry Chandler haha

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  47. Two days ago I nearly wrote a similar entry about how I learned everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Bones ;) Love great TV!

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  48. That is a great example of how to miss out the boring bits when writing. :)

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  49. Why is it that Friends takes place in New York, yet I can count the number of non-Caucasian people that have been on the show with one hand?

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Coffee and wine for all!