ROBERTS You learned stuff from writing TV scripts that transferred into book writing?
MLODINOW Yes, I think you do. Itâ€™s odd because thereâ€™s in many ways very little similarity.Â Pacing, for instance, is very different on a TV show and when youâ€™re reading something but you do get a feeling for it and its importance. All those years of comedy writing certainly I think translate to having a real sense of humor, so there are certain things that do translate.
ROBERTS I think thereâ€™s one remarkable thing that makes your books different from other books. Your books give the impression that they want to be entertaining–the author, you, is trying to meet the reader halfway. When youâ€™re writing a TV show, itâ€™s got to be entertaining because otherwise people wonâ€™t want to watch it. Theyâ€™re not required to watch it to get a job or to get a good grade in their class; theyâ€™re watching it because they enjoy it. So youâ€™ve got to make it enjoyable. Whereas a lot of books written by professors seem to be saying, “Well, Iâ€™m so important and youâ€™re going to read my book because this is an important book to read, so Iâ€™m not going to even try to make it interesting; Iâ€™m just going to do whatever I want.” Your books are more reader-friendly in that sense.
MLODINOW I think thatâ€™s true. A lot of people who are very serious about their topic have a hard time seeing why you need to make it interesting or knowing how to make it interesting for people who arenâ€™t automatically interested in that topic. To me thatâ€™s one of the joys of writing. One of the satisfactions is when I go, â€˜Wow, I made that really funnyâ€™ or â€˜I made that really interesting,â€™ and then I get excited by that.
ROBERTS That talent–it really helped you to have written for TV because itâ€™s kind of a fresh voice.
MLODINOW I think it helped to develop my voice, too, especially the comedy part, you know? And what my credits show is obviously a small part of what I write. For example at one point I was thinking that maybe I wanted to get on Leno or one of those late night comedy shows and we never really went that far with it, but I did spend some days writing stand up lines and pure joke writing to try to get some material together for my agent to show around.Â Probably very few other science writers have gone through an exercise such as that. That all, I think, contributes to being able to write with a sense of humor. Of course, you have to have a personality that gravitates in that direction in the first place.