Growing up, Newhouse Visiting Professor of Creative Writing Lauren Holmes ’07 chose the 1980s sitcom Who’s the Boss? for her allotted 30 minutes of television a day. When, as an adult, she could watch as much as she wanted, TV became a guilty pleasure.
“I love TV,” says Holmes, who also worked at Blockbuster Video in high school and during college breaks. “Now is such a cool time in television, where the types of character-driven stories we’ve been telling in literary fiction are being told on TV.”
Holmes, whose debut collection of stories, Barbara the Slut and Other People, came out in 2015, studied English and creative writing at Wellesley. She credits writer Alicia Erian, who was the Newhouse Visiting Professor of Creative Writing when Holmes was a student, with making her a writer. After Wellesley, Holmes earned her M.F.A. from Hunter College, where she taught writing for seven years.
When her book of short stories was published, a fellow writer suggested Holmes adapt one of them into a TV pilot. Her script, based on “Desert Hearts,” told the story of a woman who pretends to be a lesbian to get a job at a sex-toy shop. Holmes found she loved the genre.
“Short stories and novels typically need to end in a satisfying way,” she says. “One of the really cool and challenging parts of developing ideas for TV shows and writing pilots is that you’re creating a story engine that needs to power dozens of episodes. Story lines don’t wrap up anytime soon. Characters don’t resolve their issues right away—if ever.”
At Wellesley, Holmes created Writing for Television six years ago. The course dissects TV pilots and web series—comedies and dramas—such as Insecure, Never Have I Ever, Grey’s Anatomy, Abbott Elementary, and Strangers (Facebook Watch). “I’m looking for the clearest examples of character building, story building, and the story engine,” she says.
Students who take her course range from CAMS and English majors with their sights set on working in Hollywood to non-major TV enthusiasts looking for an elective. “Students say the course changes the way they watch TV forever,” Holmes says. “They’re suddenly watching pilots with lots of questions in mind. TV is also good cross-training for other types of writers because it’s so visual. It forces visual thinking and clarity and simplicity.”
All students end the course with a rough draft script based on their own original pilot idea. Past student pilots have spanned genres from family comedy to political drama to supernatural. “Writing that first draft is hard,” Holmes says. “It’s not a finished product ready to go to Hollywood, but it’s a great start.” Several of her students have gone on to do their thesis on writing for TV.
The class has shaped Holmes’ writing, too—it’s propelled her further into the world of pilot writing. Currently, she’s working on another pilot of her own. She and her writing partner, who taught her in graduate school, have written two pilots, one loosely inspired by their friendship and work relationship. “We’re an odd couple,” Holmes says.
She and her wife are also working on a screenplay. Holmes is focused, too, on writing a memoir about herself and her dog. “I’m feeling compelled to tell that story as a true story,” she says.