An earlier post on TVWriter™ today by Ken Levine addressed the problem with this summer’s “underperforming” tent-pole features. Nathan Bransford has another perspective on it. (And we think they’re both right.)
by Nathan Bransford
There were two articles in Slate last month about summer movie doldrums that hold a lesson for storytellers, including novelists.
The first is about how Steven Spielberg predicted a disastrous summer movie season because of studios’ over-reliance on formulaic blockbusters at the expense of a more diverse lineup. His prediction looks prescient so far, with relatively modest Despicable Me 2, This is the End, and The Conjuring outperforming the massively budgeted RIPD,The Lone Ranger and Pacific Rim.
The gargantuan special effects uber-spectacle this year has resulted in some gargantuan uber-flops. (Though the Star Trek, Iron Man, Superman and Fast and Furious franchises are chugging right along).
And in the second article, Peter Suderman notes how if all Hollywood movies are starting to feel familiar and formulaic… it’s because they are literally following a formula . One book, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! has become so thoroughly influential that nearly every movie made these days follows its beat by beat model. Save the Cat! doesn’t just offer suggestions on structure, it literally says what needs to happen on specific pages, from the opening image that sets up the protagonist’s problems to the false victory at 90 minutes to the closing image, which mirrors the opening image.
This isn’t the apocalypse for storytellers. This is an opportunity.
And, clearly, Nathan Bransford knows himself well:
by Nathan Bransford
A few months ago I announced that I’m going to be self-publishing aguide to writing a novel, and I’m pleased to report that I have finished and edited my first draft!
It has 42 chapters plus an epilogue, it covers both writing and revising, and it has more references to space monkeys than you can shake a fist at.
Now it’s time to get it edited. And I’m going to pay for a professional editor.
Why you might ask?
I don’t think everyone out there has to have their work professionally edited. Everyone needs some sort of good feedback on their work, whether that comes from their friends, from a critique partner, a friend, enemy… someone.
When I was an agent, I went ahead and assumed that everyone got feedback on their work, and what ultimately mattered was the final product, not who they received their feedback from. My post aboutwhether you should pay someone to edit your work still stands. You don’t have to pay for it.
But here’s the thing about asking for free critiques from critique partners: It requires reciprocity. And I’m just too busy to give the kind of feedback I would need to give to receive good feedback in return. I need to pay for it instead.
Writing, by its very nature, is a solitary activity. It requires blocking out the world around you, surrounding yourself only with your own thoughts, and swimming and diving through the oceans of your imagination.
It’s also a tremendously time-consuming activity, one that requires blocking off days on the calendar when you would much prefer to be out doing something far easier than pouring your heart out onto the page. You have to focus, power through when the writing gets hard, and above all, make sacrifices to complete a novel.
When you combine the necessity of concentrating on your own thoughts and the amount of time it takes to write and publish the novel, it becomes more and more tempting to block out life, zero in solely on the world you’re making so many sacrifices to create, and plan to rejoin real life when you’re finished.
But this isn’t the right path. In order to write, writers have to live.
You need to open yourself up to the world to gain inspiration by being out in public, seeing how people interact, hearing the way people speak, or even just walking through a park and letting ideas come to you. You’re only as good as the truths you’re able to channel into your fiction, and learning from the world by living in it is the only way you’ll find them.
Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
Roseanne Barr (don’t try to pretend you don’t know who she is) has signed a development deal with NBC, although we don’t know if she’ll put on her writing hat. (Hey, don’t be sad. The network wanted her to play a part on THE OFFICE and this is just part of her payment. Oh, wait, maybe we should be very sad.)
Lena Dunham & Jenni Konner (both of ROBOTS GIRLS) are writing an HBO pilot based on Betty Halbreich’s upcoming memoir All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go, about the trials and tribulations of a Bergdorf Goodman personal shopper. (Yeppers, it’s a fact of life that all HBO subscribers know all about that particular store and even what personal shoppers are. Maybe they even all have them. America, we love you.)
Speaking of books, Nathan Bransford’s new book, Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warpis coming out this week, and we’re going way out on a limb to recommend that everybody read this latest installment in his Jacob Wonderbar series. (Who knows? Maybe he’ll get a TV deal out of it, and we can move into the limelight and claim it’s all because of us. Yeah, we’re adorable that way, hmm?)
And, speaking of people who don’t write TV, MTV has named Mina Lefevre, formerly of ABC Family, head of scripted programming. If you know Mina, you should give her a call and start pitching. If you don’t know her, you should find a way to wangle a meeting and start pitching. (And if you’re Mina herself, you should start writing your own stuff cuz then you’ll get TVWriter™’s ultimate honor: We’ll put your name in bold the next time we mention it here.
Aha, we knew there was something else. In honor of the fact that we think Nathan Bransford and Jacob Wonderbar are both way cool, here’s the trailer for the new book:
What’s interesting about talking about “good” writing and “bad” writing is that when people use those terms, different people often mean different things.
When I talk about “good” writing and “bad” writing, I mean the prose. Is it readable on a sentence-to-sentence level? Is there a flow? Is there a voice? Do I get tripped up by a lack of specificity in description or are the details evocative? Is the hand of the author too apparent or am I able to lose myself in the world of the book?
This is all mainly accomplished on the sentence level. It’s not about character or plot or plausibility or whether the book is compelling or not and not at all about whether I like the book, it’s whether the author can write a paragraph.
I would posit (with partial confidence) that the way I mean “good” or “bad” writing is more common within the publishing industry and with literary-minded folk.
Outside of publishing, when people talk about “good” writing or “bad” writing they aren’t talking about sentences, they usually mean a broader look at the book as a whole. Whether the plot is plausible or not, whether characters are compelling, whether relationships are believable, whether the book as a whole is engrossing.
This, I do believe, is how we end up with Goodreads reviews where people call The Great Gatsby “garbage,” which has little to do with style and everything to do with whether the book was enjoyable for that particular person to read.