I'd never thought about learning story craft from reality shows. How if you put a bunch of interesting people together (characters) and give them a goal that they want more than anything else in the world (plot) and make it time sensitive and throw all these challenges and twists at them (tension, conflict) you are bound to get great stories! We love our favorite reality shows when they tell us great stories.
Which makes them a great way to study your craft. The show Lani and Alastair talked about was Masterchef which I've never seen, but this past month my mum and I have been watching pvr'ed episodes of The Voice and I watched it in a new way.
Below are some of the things I learned, but if it's too much to read I do recommend listening to the podcast episode, it's 30 minutes. And if you enjoy it here's a further posting about the "characters" of Masterchef. Lani and Alastair, who are husband and wife, and cute and charming and great teachers. I highly recommend Storywonk's backlist, and their new Storywonk Sunday. I also downloaded Lani's $10 course on structure, it's excellent.
How The Voice Season 2 was good story!
Your book should be about the most important event in a protagonist's life: which is exactly what the contestants said over and over again. Even when they didn't win, it was always a life changing experience. And even though they all had the same goal, it meant something different to them.
The artist Jamar used to be a drug addict and is HIV positive and was rejected by American Idol, so to him this was an Underdog Story: If I Can Make It Anyone Can. For someone else it was about proving he could be more than a backup singer; for another it was making it in the male world of rockers; for another it was about paying back his wife for putting up with his music career all this time. These were their points of vulnerability, and gave us reasons to root for them.
Character is always at the heart: That's why in good reality shows we're passionate about our favorites, and devastated when they're kicked off. On Storywonk they talk about: Strength, weakness, and vulnerability--the sort of trinity of strong character. We knew Jamar's weakness (the drugs), his strength (incredible singer), and vulnerability: His big ole open heart. While the other contestants looked excited and amazed to be there on the show, he looked excited and amazed to be alive. Like this:
Naturally we all rooted for him like mad, and that's (usually) how you want your audience to feel about your protagonist.
Your protagonist should grow and change, and they need to show vulnerability because that's how the audience connects with them. The winner this year was a man named Jermaine who used to be a backup singer for Alicia Keys. The artists get to pick which of the four coaches they want (Cee Le Green, Adam from Maroon 5, Christina Aguilera, or Blake Shelton.) Even though Jermaine's a soul singer, he surprised us by choosing country artist Blake. He came off as arrogant at first, but the humble and gentle Blake was the perfect guide figure.
Jermaine blossomed from a backup singer (Generic Soul Dude) to a frontman, capable of getting us all verklempt when he sang "Open Arms" to his wife. And when he sang a cover of Blake's "God Gave Me You" and dedicated it to Blake. And when he won and re-sang his big song of the night ("I Believe I Can Fly) and he sang it chocked up and clutching his wife:
What an ending for the audience! What an emotional hit! That's how we want to feel at the end of a book.
Villains! Usually there's some jerk contestant we all love to hate, but this time it was Christina Aguilera! (Not real hate, just TV hate.) She was rude, passive aggressive, and egotistical, and she did these things consistently.
One of the contestants was a fellow ex-Mickey Mouse club member, and she didn't even recognize him; then she kept giving him shit, and moralized at him during the finale, and implied he wasn't a "real man," and when he was thanking all the coaches I saw her texting. She was obviously fighting with fellow coach Adam but she'd make her snide comments when she was giving the contestants feedback. Rudeness! And with every single feedback she gave, she always, always, always brought it back to herself. Me me me it's all about me.
As my mother and I gasped and shook our fists, I was taking mental notes: Why do we think she's got a huge ego? Cause every comment is about her. How do we know she's passive aggressive? Cause she uses other people to attack the object of her disdain. And each little moment adds up to: We hates you!
...Those were some of the things that crossed my mind as I watched. Are you excited for your next reality program now? I am!