Writer’s Desk: Watch TV and Learn

Say you have written a book. You have been lucky enough to have your book published by a major house. Maybe you have even gotten some good press. But nevertheless, the income stream is negligible. What do you do to keep writing and not have to hold down a separate job?

Maybe write a book that has a better chance of being optioned for a streaming or television adaptation. In “The Rise of Must-Read TV,” Alexander Manshel, Laura B. McGrath, and J. D. Porter note how streaming services like Netflix (which has had great success with book-sourced series like The Queen’s Gambit [pictured above]) have been on a “buying spree” of book properties.

The writers studied what makes a book more appealing to the interests of TV producers looking to populate a big, broad-appeal series. They identified a few common characteristics:

Although not every novel under contract for potential adaptation shares all of these features, they do seem to possess a consistent set of what we call “option aesthetics”: episodic plots, ensemble casts, and intricate world-building. These are the characteristics of contemporary fiction that invite a move from the printed page to the viewing queue.

These are just dramatic choices you can make. If (and only if) they work well for the story you have in mind, then run with it. Remember: Jennifer Egan modeled A Visit from the Goon Squad on The Sopranos.

Writer’s Desk: Try a New Format

Sometimes the same-old, same-old just does not work for what you are trying to accomplish. If you feel that you (or your work, or both) are in a rut, try changing things up.

Consider Jennifer Egan. She has written a number of novels the usual way. On some kind of computer, using a word-processing program, the results of which are ultimately designed and laid out on printed pages, bound together, and shipped around the world.

But in 2010, she tried something different. Her novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, featured an entire chapter written in PowerPoint slides. It’s a brilliant way of showing how the 12-year-old autistic character can best express herself. (The Guardian has the whole chapter here.)

Then, in 2012, Egan serialized an entire story on Twitter. She didn’t compose “Black Box” on her phone, though, rather writing everything in longhand and spending about a year polishing it down to the chiseled nub required to produce fiction 140 characters at a time. Check out the full result at the New Yorker.

Think about the different avenues you want to take with your writing, what the obstacles are that keep you from getting there, and what tools might help you out.