Thursday, January 17, 2013

Literary Lessons I've Learned From The Kardashians

I'm not a huge fan of reality TV, but I have a shameful secret to share: I really do keep up with the Kardashians. It's a guilty pleasure and yes, I watch all of the spinoffs and specials, too. Their shows are like trainwrecks and I just can't turn away.

I think that there are some good reasons, though, WHY the Kardashians have stayed in the limelight (beyond being famewhores, I mean) and have such a following. Since I've been sucked into their orbit and obviously don't have the best taste, I figured that I may as well study them like a sociologist would and determine just what makes them watchable. I've even found some ways to relate this to my writing! (Okay, it's a sttreeeetttch, but work with me here. I really do have some points).

1. The Kardashians are an ensemble TV show. One reason why viewers keep tuning in is simply because there are so many of them! It's difficult to escape the K-clan because everywhere you look, there's Kim or Khloe or Kris, or... you get the picture. Moreover, more people means more storylines. For me, many "reality shows" about families or couples get boring pretty quickly because those two or three people can only generate so many plot points. But the Kardashians can mix things up. Some episodes center around Kim, sometimes poor Rob gets to be the center of attention... and, of course, you get everyone else's reactions to the drama. LITERARY LESSON: Make ALL of your characters engaging and well-rounded, even the side players. Our real lives are filled with plenty of people who shape us. Make every character have as much depth as possible.

2. The relationships between the Ks are organic. Yes, I know that the show is 99 percent scripted, but the "characters" really are family members. They all share a history so when Kim and Khloe scream at each other, or at their mom, there's a story behind it. They're not just a bunch of randoms thrown together for the sake of a reality show. The fact that they really are family adds some weight to the storylines, scripted or not. LITERARY LESSON: Don't just throw characters together for the sake of doing so. SHOW -- don't tell -- how your characters know each other, or are getting to know each other. That backstory is important.

3. The Kardashians have all different types of "characters" in the family and appeal to many age groups. There's Kris, the famewhore mom, who tends to be painted as the villain; Kim, the "glamorous" one; Rob, the "slacker"; Khloe, the "truth teller." Each family member has a certain persona and the show features parents, grandparents and kids. If you don't like one person, you can relate to and root for another. LITERARY LESSON: Have some variety in your characters. Don't make everyone unlikeable or too nice, etc. Have some villains, some heroes ... mix things up.

4. There's some humor in the program. Kourtney's babydaddy, Scott, used to be more of a bad guy, but in recent shows, he gets the funny storylines. Scott obviously gets how scripted this show is and fully understands his role -- and he just goes for it when it comes to his stories, even if he has to do silly things like pretend to be an English Lord or go gaga over a walking stick. He adds some comedy to the show and breaks things up. LITERARY LESSON: Don't make your story 100 percent serious or funny. Even in drama, there are some funny moments, and vice versa. Make your story well-rounded in that regard.

5. Everyone is at least somewhat relatable. In real life, I probably wouldn't be friends with any of these people. They're fame hungry, shallow, super materialistic and a little too caught up in that Hollywood lifestyle. But -- and this is a big but, like Kim's -- no one really seems to be particularly evil to me. Some other reality show folks come off as being absolutely violent, racist, homophobic and horrible, but the Ks are at most, kind of dim. I often wonder WHY they're famous and WHY I watch them, but I don't actively hate anyone. They don't make me want to smash in my TV screen. LITERARY LESSON (and yes, this is really pushing for a connection): Give all of your characters, even the villains, some redeeming qualities. Most people are good and bad; show both sides in your writing.

6. The Kardashians go big! Yes, Kim and Kris h's wedding was a sham, but boy, what a sham wedding it was! The Ks know how to put on a show. Many episodes will follow them as they do mundane things like go to a photoshoot, but then they'll have some "event" like a sister's wedding or a baby's birth, or a family vacation. LITERARY LESSONS: Have a few memorable moments in your story -- and make sure that you build up to those moments so that the payoff is worth it.

7. Though Keeping Up With The Kardashians is mainly scripted, there are some very real moments caught on screen -- and it's hard not to get caught up in them. Since 100 percent of their life is recorded, there is bound to be SOME reality in the program and you get that with scenes like Mason and Penelope's births, or Rob's breakdown at the therapist's office. Plus, we've gotten to see the family expand in almost real-time and have witnessed the girls, Kylie and Kendall, grow up. Some things can't be faked and I like the show best when we get these small glimpses of reality. LITERARY LESSON: Even if you're writing a work of fiction, inject some reality into your story. You may write about aliens or vampires, but at least try to make your characters' feelings and reactions feel real. This will draw in readers when they can understand and relate to what your characters are going through.

So there you have it! This is my way of justifying my interest in the Kardashians. And yes, I will be tuning in to Kim & Kourtney on Sunday, ready and waiting!

If I haven't scared you off with this post, please read and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

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