I have a confession to make.
I live for Bravo's Real Housewives. These women throw glasses, flip tables, and get nasty on a weekly basis. It's glorious.
The shows are all set to record on my DVR and I look forward to watching them every week. And then I read the Vulture and EW recaps the next day during lunch. They're like a little slice of heaven: ridiculous women acting ridiculously. (Actually, I'm guessing that heaven is nothing like that, but you catch my drift.)
Are you wondering why the heck I'm talking about TV instead of writing? Well, let's connect the two.
In addition to filming the women's daily lives, Bravo records each woman's commentary on the action. These are called ITMs ("in the moment" interviews) and they're modeled after the Real World confessionals--except that the women are often responding to questions from a producer, rather than just saying whatever they feel like saying. The key to the ITM is that producers ask the Housewives to speak as if they are in the middle of the action, rather than asking them to tell a story that happened in the past.
For example, Ramona threw a glass of Ramona's Pinot Grigio at Kristen last night. Like, the whole glass. (Of course she did.) In her ITM, Ramona said something like, "I'm hot, I'm on a boat in a filthy pond, and she splashes my hair that I just had styled in the morning. I want to throw something, so I throw whatever's in my hand. It just happened to be my wine glass."
Believe it or not, there are a few vital things about storytelling that we can learn from this insane explanation.
- Keeping stories in the present tense makes the audience feel like we're in the story, too.
- Get specific. Knowing how Ramona felt (overheated and uncomfortable in her surroundings) helps us understand her motivations (even if they are clearly insane).
- Keep it simple. Sometimes just writing "A then B then C" is the best way to convey a message.
- Banish fancy words 90% of the time. Okay, you can use them some of the time, but don't bog down your writing with "moreover" and "heretofore."
- Don't overexplain. Ramona doesn't make excuses. And neither should you.
Surprised that the Real Housewives can teach us all a little something about how to tell a story? So am I, actually. But this advice applies to college essays, it applies to blogs, it applies to newsletters, and it even applies to cover letters.
How awesome is it that you can watch reality TV and actually learn something? The next time you're watching Bravo, or Survivor, or The Bachelorette, or whatever your guilty pleasure is, take a careful listen to those ITMs. Think about what they're saying and why they're saying it that way. Maybe even consider what the producers are asking them to prompt that response. Can you find more ways reality stars tell a good story?
And if you want to discuss all things Housewives, PLEASE comment below and let me know what you think about Sonja's money troubles and LuAnn's countess-y wisdom and Vicki's evil boyfriend. I'm allllllll ears.
P.S. If you would like to defend yourself against reality TV critics like, say, your boyfriend who doesn't understand why you'd rather watch Bravo than baseball, here's your ammunition.
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