I’ve always had mixed feelings about television. It’s a bit disturbing when people spend all their free waking hours staring at a screen with their brains turned off and a glazed look on their faces. And television is unreliable as a source of information. I’ve found that many of the news shows and documentaries that air on commercial television stations are full of factual errors and misinformation. These days, we all need to double-check the facts (and sources) before repeating what we hear on TV.
On the other hand, there are some great shows that have graced television screens over the past century.
I often think about how my favorite books, movies, and TV shows can influence my own writing. For example, I’ve recently named a few of my characters after TV actors. I’ve observed non-linear storytelling on television and thought about how I could translate that to a novel. I’ve even made it a point to study dialogue from television shows (TV writers have a knack for good dialogue).
All in all, I’ve found that if you’re selective about your viewing habits and thoughtful about how much time you give the old boob tube, television can actually be an excellent source of inspiration. Therefore, all of today’s writing prompts are inspired by TV shows.
Writing Prompts from Television
For these writing prompts, I tried to cover a variety of decades and genres. Each prompt includes a brief overview of one television show plus a few writing prompts and ideas that come directly from the show.
Because of the nature of television, these prompts are perfect for fiction writing and storytelling, but feel free to use them to write whatever you want — poems, blog posts, or essays. You can even write a review of one of these TV shows (make sure you watch all the episodes first!).
- Star Trek boldly went where no one had gone before, to the far reaches of outer space. Set your story somewhere in deep space. Or write about a group of adventurers (in any time or place) intent on discovery and exploration. Star Trek also emphasized logic and rational thinking balanced by compassion and humanism. These ideals were embodied in the characters of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Try creating characters that embody specific philosophic ideals.
- Happy Days was a classic show about family, friendship, and growing up. From its sock-hop theme song to all the characters telling each other to “sit on it,” Happy Days captured the culture of the 50s and imparted coming-of-age lessons to its audience. Write about an iconic time period. Mix friends, family, and outcasts together in a ensemble of characters for your story. Develop catchy bits of dialogue and original expressions for your tale.
- What a great premise for a serialized TV show: every week, guests visited Fantasy Island to live out their dreams. I don’t think we ever learned where the island got its magic or how Mr. Roarke and Tattoo came to live there and run the place. Write a concept for a series (novels, books, or movies) in which characters’ greatest fantasies or worst nightmares are realized. Focus on world building and explaining how this mysterious fantasy fulfillment works by developing an origin story.
- Twin Peaks is a cult classic, a mystery show about the murder of a teenage girl that had everyone asking, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” This dark story was colored with bizarre symbols and dream sequences contrasted against intensely ordinary characters living in a small town. The show featured a haunting score and a deeply disturbing conclusion. Everyone has a dark side, and we are all subjected to evil. Face your own dark side by writing something mysterious, terrifying, and horrific — but believable (in other words, not supernatural or paranormal). Look for ways to embellish your piece with bizarre surrealism through hallucinations and dream sequences.
- Friends was one of the most successful shows in television history. It seemed like everyone in the country watched must-see TV on Thursday nights for Friends’ entire run. Stories about friendship have always been a hit when they’re cast with lovable and relatable characters in a distinct setting. These New Yorkers were in their late twenties, navigating friendship, their love lives, and New York City (a premise we’ve seen in many stories). Write about friendship and group dynamics. Put your characters in a real but vivid setting. Establish their age group and think about the types of issues they would be facing. What are their goals? Struggles? What challenges affect their group dynamics?
- I had to save the best for last. LOST is the ultimate adventure — a story about a group of survivors living on a mysterious island after their plane crashes. They must learn to survive and live together. They have to remember and let go. LOST was considered a breakthrough show because it felt like a movie, with sweeping cinematography and an original, live-recorded score. Mysteries and puzzles abounded, and every time the show answered one question, we got ten new questions to puzzle over. The show’s unique format included non-linear storytelling through flashbacks, flashforwards, and flashsideways. LOST was also deeply philosophical. But for all of its experimentalism, the characters always came first. Think about how you can use non-linear storytelling in a story or poem. Develop a setting that has magical and mysterious qualities and functions as a character in the story. Plant lots of classic literary symbols, pop culture references, and just plain confusing twists in your story. Go ahead and get LOST in your writing!
Do you watch a lot of TV? What are your favorite shows? Has television ever inspired you? Do you love stories, whether they’re told on film or paper? Did any of these writing prompts spark ideas? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.