Dirty Little [Writing] Secrets: Views and Reviews #1: Oz the Sort-of-Great and Very Impatient

ozthegreatandpowerful1

Dear Readers,

Last night I went to a midnight showing of Oz the Great and Powerful.  So, standard spoiler alert here.  I’ll be honest: going in I had little hope that the film would be stellar.  I wanted it to be!  On the surface it should be an anthem film for my life: it’s the story of a WIZARD in m’fing OZ, literally the gayest place in the multiverse.

However, while I fully expected it to be less than stellar, I didn’t expect it to be barely watchable.

And yet there I was, squirming awkwardly through every moment, almost unable to bear the shit-slog from title to end credits.

I couldn’t figure out what made it so shitty though, which is why I delayed this post for a few hours.  Because as a writer, it is as important to figure out why stories are shitty as it is to figure out why they are amazing.

Was it James Franco’s high school drama club rendition of Oscar Diggs(aka Oz), delivered as it was with all the emotional depth of dryer lint, and with a smug self-satisfaction that made you want to punch him in the balls every time he showed up on screen?

No, while Mr. Franco’s particular talents on the screen rank somewhere around watching milk curdle for me, there was something more….pervasive than the reek of his performance at work here.

Was it Mila Kunis’ slutty-not-sultry whirlwind turn as Meg Griffin the Wicked Bitch of the West, whose inability to overcome the weight of her own television persona leaves the entire film smacking of an extended Family Guy cutaway (with half the charm…I might add)?

No, though I certainly think they could have easily replaced Mila Kunis as the Witch, with Mila Kunis as Meg Griffin in Family Guy Season 3 Episode 1, “The Thin White Line”, in which she kidnaps and holds a man hostage out of jealousy, and had a much stronger performance.

Was it director Sam Raimi’s sophomoric and uninspired usage of bright colors, blooming flowers, and fluttering insect life to render a bizarrely vibrant yet utterly lifeless mock-up grade school homage to the wonderful world of Oz?

No, I don’t think even the ceaseless reel of cheap 3D film tricks, with pop out monkey hands, and theme park inspired railroad rides through flora so vaginal it would make Georgia O’Keefe blush, was really enough to kill this film for me.

Hit the jump to find out what I really think the problem was.  (Or you know, just take the above criticisms as a concise recommendation on why the average film viewer should avoid this film)

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Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling
These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coates, Pixar’s Story Artist. This is some of the most excellent, concise writing advice I have ever read, and I’m posting it here for you but mostly me, so that when I come back to this blog, I know something of use about writing will have been said.  Taken from http://aerogrammestudio.com/

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Confessions of a Desperate Writer; Amazon and Integrity

integrity

Dear Readers,

This week I have been very involved in work on my novel, so I haven’t been updating the blog much.  Even today, we’re taking a break from the DLWS curriculum to talk about something else that came up for me recently.

One of the reasons that I have been so focused on my novel, is because of a meeting I had recently with some folks called The Book Doctors.  I participated in Nanowrimo this year (National Write a Novel in a Month) and the folks at The Book Doctors offered a promotion, whereby if you purchased their book, The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published, they would include a free 20 minute consultation with one of the authors.  I jumped on board, and ended up getting a ton of encouragement from the person I spoke to.

After our meeting, I was sent a nice followup email, and I received a request to purchase and review the author’s personal work on Amazon.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to think.  Being a new author, unaccustomed to the wider world of serious publishing, I was suspicious, and a little worried.  My biggest fear was being made a fool of; to believe in my wide-eyed way that someone who know publishing thinks my work is worth reading, when in reality I’m just being sold a line.

However, I didn’t feel that I could turn down the request.  So I went and I purchased the author’s latest book.  And you know what?  I liked it.  I genuinely did.  I had great fun with its dark comedy, and I found that I looked forward to pooping because I got to read it more (yes, I do confine certain literary works to dominion of the porcelain palace).

But I also had some objections and concerns.  It was funny, but treated some serious issues in a way I found disrespectful, not to me, but to others I know how struggled with those issues.  It relied on stereotypes which aren’t accurate, and as a rhetorician, I know that these sort of crass representations reinforce those stereotypes in way that can be socially harmful.  Basically, there were good things and bad things about the novel.  And there were a few issues of craft which could have been improved upon.

When I finally finished the book, after a long night with bad fish left me stranded in the throne room longer than I anticipated, I went to write the review which the author had requested.

Immediate anxiety set in.  What sort of review should I write?  Had this been a “wink-wink nudge-nudge” exchange, wherein the author expected a glowing five star review?  If I gave my real opinions, would it hurt my big shot at getting published?  Was this even my big shot at getting published?

In that dark night, whether it was true or not, I gave in to my fears.  I, who publish writing lessons centered around the value of honest critique, fudged my own reviews.  Now, do I know if the author really wanted this?  No, and in fact, I doubt in the light of day that he did. I think he was genuinely interested in my opinion.

latenight

But I was scared.  I think, more than anything, the specter of publication has proved to me how desperately deep my dreams of being a real author descend.  They exist deep in the very most fragile core of my being, and the fear of losing that shot was enough to convince me to do anything to keep the dream alive.

I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true, mind you.  The things I liked, I really did like.  I just didn’t raise any concerns.  I didn’t express my opinions fully.  And when I woke up the morning after, I felt dirty.

Of course, I discovered quite happily that Amazon allows editing of reviews, and so I did.  I included at least some of my concerns in my revision.  I felt better.

But I will never forget what I wrote that night.  Fixing it in the morning doesn’t change the fact that I submitted the first review which wasn’t completely honest.  I think sometimes, we as authors don’t like to share how vulnerable validation makes us feel.  We all know how to react to criticism.  We don’t take it personally, we move forward and fix what we can, and we let the haters fade into the background noise of life.

But validation?  Oh, that is infinitely more difficult to wrestle with.  It can paralyze you.  It can drive you crazy.  It can steal your integrity.

But I think talking about it helps.  So there is my confession.  For the fleeting possibility of introductions to a few agents, I twisted myself into a ridiculous psychological pretzel (when I probably wasn’t even expected to in the first place!) and convinced myself to sacrifice my integrity.

What are some of your confessions?  Have you ever struggled with the rush of validation?  Leave me your stories in the comments below!

PS:  If you are curious, the book I reviewed is Mort Morte by David Henry Sterry.  It is actually a really fun read, and despite my criticisms, I would recommend it highly as an excellent example of what happens when an author sits down and says to him/herself, “How much fun can I have on this page?”

PPS:  The book which Mr. Sterry co-authored, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published is ALSO an excellent read, and I have found myself going back to it time and again for little tidbits and encouragement.

On Taking Your Own Advice, And Asking For Some

Is this the moment?

Is this the moment?

Dear Readers,

Many of you may have been following my Dirty Little [Writing] Secrets series.  It is a series I am writing which is inspired by a critique group I belong to.  The series involves, I think, at its core, the idea of what it means to have your writing exist in community.

I am currently involved in writing a novel.  It is a novel very close to my heart, as silly as the premise may seem (a premise you can now view here!).  I have heard some conflicting advice as to when to start sharing your work with your readers.

Some people say get it out early and often, let the readers see your process, give them a struggle and a stake in the finished product.

Other people say to keep it hidden for awhile, get the first draft done totally, and maybe start sharing somewhere around the second or third revisions.  Make sure you are putting your best-ish foot forward, and never release something that isn’t as polished as you can make it.

I can see the wisdom on both ends, but I am torn as to which wisdom applies here.  Should I post the first drafts, in all their ugly glory, and give you the chance to journey with me as I revise and tweak and edit?  Should I wait until I know the story, start to finish, and am in the process of making it all shiny and sumptuous to the reader?  Should I just tease you for the next year, as I look for my publishing options and then spring the finished thing upon you all at once?

For once I am stumped.

I can, of course, see how you would enjoy seeing the ingredients I blend to create my Goblin Fashion Designer, the magnificent Gazzletini.  I think you might enjoy my struggles to find the right historical model of organized crime I am looking to emulate for my underworld element in Castle Gallifrax.  It would probably be intriguing to follow my own learning process as I study math and science in an attempt to generate an inspiring and also educational system of wizardry that for once does not merely rely upon “bibbity” “bobbity” or “boo” as an explanation for its inner workings.

However, I can see you rolling your eyes if the first draft seems tedious, or confusing, or just plain uninteresting.  And if I can’t grab you, as a reader, you won’t follow me on this journey.  More than that, I know that first impressions are everything.  Can I gamble your interests on the first words that happen to find themselves onto the page?

Recently, I happened to post my first DLWS entry on Reddit, and had the very surprisingly experience of having it read and then receiving nothing but downvotes.  If you don’t know how Reddit works, that means that people read my work and then thought it was bad enough that they voted to bury it further down on the page.  It was quite the sobering experience, and has made me, perhaps more inclined to believe that you need to delay your entry onto the literary stage until you are really “ready”.

What I’d like to propose is that you, within the comments section, give me your feedback.  What would you like to see, from me, as an author?  Do you like following an author on their drafting process?  Is it useful for you to see all the steps along the way?  Or is the “under-the-hood” process a tedious mess, done too many times, that needs to be swept under the rug until something beautiful has grown from it?

Basically, shall I post about my current work or keep it to myself?

What do YOU think?

Dirty Little [Writing] Secrets: Write Shop #1: Required Course Materials

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the first elective course in the Dirty Little [Writing] Secrets Curriculum!

The lessons in the curriculum so far have been about how to view another writer’s work and the distinction and rules necessary for providing useful critique about that work, which we have called “craft based” critique.

However, I highly doubt anyone is looking to train themselves on how to give feedback simply so their friends give them ever growing stacks of short stories to review.  No, I think we all sense, intrinsically, that the real reason behind learning to say something helpful about another writer’s work is so that we can learn to improve our own craft.

Today’s entry is not about critique.  Today’s entry is about the hands on, nitty gritty nuts and bolts of writing.  It is about the literary lathe, the synonym circular saw, the comma calipers, the freestanding paragraph planer!

Today’s entry is your first elective course in the DLWS curriculum:  Write Shop!

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