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In praise of binge-viewing for writers

So as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to the relief of many among my friends and acquaintances. A chorus of folks has been telling me for years that my Buffy illiteracy represented both a gaping lack in pop subcultural knowledge and a bunch of fun out on which I was missing.

I concede. And yet, I’m glad I waited. I watch two or three episodes at a time — I can get through a season in a weekend, assuming deadlines and non-screen-based life don’t interfere — and that means I watch differently.

Sure, I’m finding my Buffy binge-viewing fun: Don’t Have To Wait So Long To See What Happens, More Witty Banter Per Day, Plus There Is The Amusement To Be Derived From The Morphing of Cast Member Hairstyles and Fashion.

But I’m also finding it useful.

When you consume a lot of stories in a row — perhaps especially, as in this case, a lot of related stories — it gets easier to see how they’re put together.

There’s less time between when you first see the rifles on the wall and when they’re fired.

Character arcs also come into clearer focus when experienced in a compressed fashion.

In my own work, I’m trying to become, as my yoga teachers would say, more intentional about pacing and structure. Making and working from more detailed outlines is part of that process. (I seem to do better when I operate under constraints, even if I’m the one imposing them.) Apparently, another part of said process is absorbing story-structure thinking via multiple-episode-watching osmosis.

(Maybe what I’m really working on is my capacity to rationalize…)

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  • Chelsey
    February 26, 2010 at 6:24 am

    I watched Buffy week by week as it unfolded, starting somewhere in Season Two, I think. On the one hand, I love that the show was a steady part of my life for five or six years, rhythmic and true. On the other hand, I would have loved to watch it all together and see what you’re describing, because I’m fascinated by Joss Whedon’s narrative brain. I’m curious, Does the humor hold up? Has it aged well?

  • Kevin Moore
    February 26, 2010 at 7:28 am

    I’ve been doing the same thing with Battlestar Galactica, now up to through the second season. In this case, friends (a few mutual) tell me the last season takes the series downhill and the finale is awful. So I have something to look forward to.

    I recently blogged about Anders Loves Maria, a webcomic that recently ended to popular acclaim but I read in all one sitting. Same experience – get the narrative strategy, character arch, the compressed time, etc. In this case, I’m glad that I didn’t follow it week to week over years, because, frankly, the ending sucked. I woulda felt robbed – robbed!

    My question is this: Do we miss something in emotional investment by not experiencing the series in real-time anticipation of the next episode/update/installment?

  • Sara
    February 26, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Chelsey: some of the humor ages beautifully, some doesn’t. And I’m not a fan of the other-exoticizing approach to characters of color that seems to be fairly consistent throughout. But I love the way the main characters’ relationships build and shift, and I am at my most fannish as regards the Buffy & Spike dynamic.

    Kevin: great question. I definitely feel emotionally invested (I have watched the musical episode three times now, four if you count the time I was listening to the commentary), but it’s an investment that’s impossible to separate from critical lens double-tracking.

    Then again, when Buffy was originally airing, I hadn’t really *developed* my critical lens as a viewer. I’ve only been working on it consciously for the past few years, as I get more serious about taking apart all the stories I consume — which, come to think of it, corresponds with an upsurge in binge-viewing. Maybe correlation equals causality in this case?