Reality TV Show Editing Strikes Again


I just watched the latest episode of The Bachelorette yesterday. Therefore, I think I’m in a good position to continue our discussion on the wonders of reality TV show editing.

Obviously, I’d be in a better position if I was an actual reality TV show editor. But I have no desire to do any such thing. So being a written-word editor who occasionally, embarrassingly, finds herself watching reality TV shows will just have to do.

To recap last week’s introduction to the topic, we declared the two key factors to both a “good” (i.e., intriguing) reality TV show and a good novel to be:

  1. Unusual circumstances

  2. Editing.

And not necessarily editing as in what I do. Editing as in selectively picking which aspects of our characters’ lives to show and which not to. Because, as stated in the original article:

Reality – real reality – is not always interesting. When you throw some drama into the picture, then things can heat up. But even then, there are going to be moments that nobody outside of your life (and perhaps even some people within your life) just don’t care about.

When it comes to fiction, those are the moments readers don’t need insight into.

Naturally, those moments are going to depend to some degree on the exact story you’re writing. But the larger principle still applies.

Let’s go back to my “Real World – Cheltenham” experience (also described in last Wednesday's post)… where I ended up basically being the mommy for a group of female American exchange students and their male British counterparts at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, England.

Admittedly, it’s been a while. But as I recall, there was plenty of drama that went down every single week. Certainly, there was plenty enough to fill up a 40-minute spot on TV.

Even so, I’d say there was a whole lot more “boring” or at least normal stuff that went down. Perhaps 85% or even 90% of my time there was spent sleeping, studying, eating, in classes, and such.

That’s not to say that, if I ever turned the experience into a novel – which, I’ll admit, I rather want to do someday – none of those should ever be mentioned. Sometimes, the drama is framed within those contexts.

For example, the time my rather phenomenal Russian history professor got ticked off with everyone for not studying enough and threw us out of class early. That would go in the novel in a heartbeat.

The same goes for the time I was studying in the cafeteria (aka, refectory)… only to get into a friendship-ending fight with one of my fellow American students… who'd left me stranded at a bus stop in town three nights before at two o’clock in the morning because she was mad at me for no good reason…

Told you there was drama.

But let’s say there isn’t any drama for one particular chapter. It starts out with just a regular trip to the refectory for a breakfast bap wake-up call. (Oh, breakfast baps… how I miss you.)

How do I address it if I’ve determined that it needs to be in there?

The answer is nuanced, coming down to why it needs to be there. If I’m just trying to give an impression of the setting my characters are in, for instance, then it might just require a paragraph or two. Like this:

After the refectory lady handed over the requested breakfast bap – a long, slit piece of crusted Italian baguette filled with Irish sausage, bacon and a poached egg, with a side of baked beans for dipping – Jeannette took a seat in the elongated room. There was plenty of space that early in the morning, but she deliberately chose to sit closer to the set of doors that led back into the building instead of the other one across the way leading outside.

That way, she was further away from the cookie and snack station, where she knew she’d be far too tempted to spend an extra pound or two, and gain an extra pound or two in the process. As it was, she thought far too much about those sweets as she ate her delicious meal, grabbed up her books and headed off to her first class of the day.

Or if it’s to have the character bump into another one for another non-dramatic sequence… I could change that second paragraph to something more along these lines:

That way, she was further away from the cookie and snack station, where she knew she’d be far too tempted to spend an extra pound or two, and gain an extra pound or two in the process. What she didn’t realize was that, in so placing herself, she made it very easy for James to spot her when he walked in five minutes later.

Not that she minded. Nor did it kill her to walk with him to her next class afterward. He left her at the door with a minute to spare, his cute British accent staying in her mind long after the professor started speaking.

If that were a filmed version of “Real World – Cheltenham” that segment might take up all of 60 seconds. In writing, it takes up maybe half of a book page.

If it needs more, then you add more. Just always keep each part purposeful, pushing readers on through the larger story.

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