Lessons from HGTV

No, we’re not writing a blog about buying, flipping, destroying, restoring, or being elected to houses of any kind. Sorry to disappoint, but we’re still writing about writing.

One of us will confess to watching HGTV. About ten in the evening, it’s time to unwind from the day by snuggling up with the dog, sinking down on the coach, and watching something mindless on TV, which is pretty much everything on TV. Knowing that the outcome of House Hunters is, like a short story—predetermined— we often enjoy watching the drama unfold. [Our favorite moments are when a couple encounters the horror of kitchen appliances that are not stainless steel: goodbye, cruel world), or when they decide the perfectly functional five-year old kitchen is not to their taste and will have to be completely gutted before they move in.] We confess to learning critical life lessons, such as the fact that you can hardly hold your head up in public if you don’t have granite counter tops. Similarly, one of us is ashamed to admit that she feels her life is—sob —incomplete without a spa tub. These little dramas, and comedies, have lessons for writers.

Lesson 1: Characters have to be realistic. It’s hard to watch a program or read a story about a character that seems to be from a different planet, unless you are reading Sci-fi. One episode of House Hunters International featured a couple that had moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with no savings and no jobs. The man wanted a place close to a club where he hoped to make a living as a stand-up comedian, in English. The woman wanted a quiet place amidst the other 1.5 million residents so she could practice her yoga for hours at a time. We couldn’t watch: how does one identify with or care about such characters? A good short story need believable characters or the reader will have no faith or interest in the story that follows. (Moving to Phnom Penh to start a drug cartel would have at least been plausible: how else to afford the Must Have walk-in closet?)

Lesson 2: The resolution must make sense. We watched a couple debate their way through the usual three homes offered for sale. Usually, the TV viewer has a good idea which way the couple will go, but this time, it was a surprise. The husband loved one house and the wife loved another. They talked it over and, we kid you not, decided to go for the house that neither of them liked as much. Even though the outcome is foreordained, but the pretension for the viewer is she is watching reality. Is reality that a couple makes their largest financial investment in a house neither much likes? Since they were both Polish [NOT an ethnic slur] is there a cultural dynamic we don’t understand? In a short story or novel, the resolution must make sense to the reader, particularly in a mystery where the reader likes to be able to find hints of the outcome and ‘solve’ the case before the end. We’ve all invested time reading a story to discover the ending is implausible. Naturally, we feel cheated and are less likely to read that author’s work in the future. In this case, we feel it would have been more plausible if one killed the other for not getting the house with the “neutral palette throughout and the open floor plan.” Religious (housing) differences can well and truly scuttle a marriage.

With that, we are off to design our next short story, the plot of which will not at all revolve around the importance of hardwood floors.

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