Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Television vs. Prose: how much is fiction?

My mother often tells me how she dreamed of being a forensic scientist and I wonder how much of it has to do with the Law and Order and CSI that she watches religiously. One day, I finally decide to burst her bubble and say, “You know those shows are extremely inaccurate, right?”

Although she knows that forensic scientists don’t wear Armani suits or interrogate suspects, she was rather disappointed about the flaws in the science of the shows, like when they find a blue fiber that automatically ties a suspect to a crime scene or when the DNA results come back in a matter of minutes, just in time to prosecute the killer. But she shrugs it off and says, “Well, it’s just a TV show. It’s doesn’t have to be 100% accurate.”

But this makes me think about all the research I do for my writing, knowing that if I make a mistake when it comes to police procedural or forensics that I will be reamed by my critique group and told that I need to be accurate or readers will have a conniption fit. When I began writing, I thought that since it’s fiction, I could take liberties, that the only resource I needed was my imagination. Of course, I quickly learned that I was deeply mistaken. Why is television not held to the same standards as fiction? Why can people like my mother shrug off the inaccuracies of her beloved shows, but get upset when something is unrealistic in novels?

Many other questions arose out of these conversations with my mother. While she watches crime drama, she seldom reads it, sticking to literary fiction when it comes to her reading. My girlfriend would never pick up a dark fantasy or horror novel, but races home to watch Charmed and Supernatural. She says it is because she reads and watches television for different reasons, one to gain insight and knowledge and the other for pure entertainment. Aside from the fact that I believe much insight and knowledge can be gained from fiction no matter which genre, it poses an interesting theory behind the different standards. If a 60-minute television show is viewed “pure entertainment” it is held to a lower expectation when it comes to being correct, whereas readers expect a lot more when they devote days to reading a novel.

I’m not sure this question could ever be completely answered, but I’m sure everyone has their opinion so leave comments. For now I’ll keep on researching, and my mother will keep on watching, living her dream vicariously through CSI despite its flaws.


pjn said...

A TV show has 60 minutes--about 48, if you exclude the commercials-- in order to complete its story. Compare that to the 300 or 400 pages of an average novel and there is no comparison; the novel can't compete in terms of depth or breadth. That's not to say there are not shows that deliver worthwhile insight, just that they can't deliver as much. The framework is just too limiting.

pjn said...

I should have said "the TV SHOW cant't compete. . ."