How Writers Can Justify Watching Reality TV


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Can you imagine if they made a reality show in which writers competed against one another in weekly writing challenges? It would make a terrible TV show, awfully boring for viewers. The only way it might work is to make writing more fun for students (teachers take note). Thankfully, one could argue that reality TV is more interesting than watching people write and read.
Reality shows have nothing to do with reality for the most part. What goes into a reality show is driven by ratings, so even if the show is not scripted, multiple takes and careful editing create the drama and excitement that you see on the screen. Having watched a reality show being filmed a couple of years ago, I can personally attest to this.
A few years ago, I would have said (and maybe I did) that reality TV is frivolous and a waste of time. Especially when writers struggle to make time to write, spending an hour every week watching The Bachelor is irresponsible. I’ve changed my tune a bit.
Now, keeping in mind that reality shows only reflect a biased view of reality, they are still a guilty pleasure for millions. For writers, they can actually be a great tool for inspiration and for honing their craft. If you’re a writer who doesn’t watch reality TV, or you do and feel guilty watching, here is your justification for diving in head first.
A show that piqued my interest so much that I started watching was SyFy channel’s Face Off. It hooked me right off, and after a while, I realized the show could be a wealth of information on world-building for science fiction and fantasy writers. Though now canceled after 13 seasons, you can stream the show, and I recommend it. Each weekly competition posed scenarios on which to base unique characters. Though the focus was on the make-up, the models made the characters come alive, and the artists created interesting back stories.
So that got me thinking that writers of any genre could glean ideas from all kinds of reality shows. Some may be a little on the nose (romance writers could watch The Bachelor), but if you dig a bit, you can find many redeeming qualities in a lot of shows.
I have been watching the new singing competition, The Masked Singer, purely to enjoy the music and assuming my interest would wane sooner than later. I was wrong. They hooked me in with its fast pace and plethora of clues to help identify who may be behind each ornate mask and costume. I’m certain I know who Bee is and pretty sure who Peacock is. How do you hook your readers? No matter what you write, take lessons from this show. I’m literally (yes, literally) on the edge of my seat every week. And if you’re a mystery writer, this is how you develop your story and include your clues to keep your readers on the edge of their seats (figuratively).
Paranormal reality shows such as Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures started as a guilty pleasure of mine. I was intrigued by the evidence collected by paranormal investigators, skeptical of them as proving paranormal activity but fascinated by evidence not easily explained away. What really hooked me, though, were the introductions to each location. The historical information is interesting, so while horror writers might gain inspiration from the investigation itself, historical fiction writers may be inspired by the setting – the history, the people who lived (and died) in the place, the architecture and furnishings, and other details that flesh out a story.
A little brainstorming can give you all the justification you need to watch (or start watching) any reality show you would like:
  • Survivor – action, adventure, apocalypse scenarios, drama, conflict, character development
  • Shark Tank – dialog, futuristic gadgets, problem-solving
  • Chopped – unique cookbook recipes, character development, mystery
  • Curse of Oak Island – mystery, historical fiction, adventure, tragedy, treasure hunting


If this was the justification you needed, you are welcome. Just be sure to take notes during each show so that you can enjoy them with minimal guilt. I don’t know that I can really help you justify watching sitcoms, but I’ll work on that.
Are you a writer who has gotten inspiration from reality TV? Tell us in the comments about your favorite shows and how they help you be a better writer.

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