Personal best

If there’s one thing that really aggravates me, it’s ‘Writing Advice’.

Actually, there are many, many things which aggravate me, including:

  • Earrings on babies  – why the fuck are you jabbing holes in your brand new child so you can attach sexualising jewellery to them? Aren’t babies cute enough without the need for decoration? And why the fuck would you want a sexy baby? You didn’t even ask them if you could shove a razor-sharp needle through their flesh, leaving a permanent wound – that’s just rude.
  • Fancy plugs in hotel sinks – they don’t fucking work! What’s wrong with a lump of rubber on a chain? Okay, it might not look as pretty as a stainless steel pop-up thing; but at least it fucking works! And by work, I mean keep the water from running out of the sink. I hate having to speed-shave before the water drains away from your poncy, inefficient, plug.
  • iTunes – stop, just fucking stop. There’s no need.

Let’s face it, most of the universe aggravates me in some form; but today I’m thinking about ‘Writing Advice’.

The Internet is full of the bloody stuff, largely from people who don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. That’s not to say the advice is useless or even wrong; but the people spouting it have no personal experience and have either made up some shit which sounds good or have nicked it from someone else.

I think all of this advice has its place; and that place is after you’ve learnt how to write.

The problem with that is there is no universal ‘how to write’ method. Nor is there a such a thing as a universally good script. All good scripts probably have certain things in common, but you can’t apply a one-size-fits-all formula to everything.

We all find different things to call ‘good’ in a wide variety of entertainment.

Personally, I find the idea of spending 90 minutes watching “22 petulant gang-rapists fighting over who can put a leather globe between two sticks” mind-numbingly tedious. Others may think spending 45 minutes watching “pyjama-clad benders bang on about morality inside a pretend, wobbly plastic spaceship” to be equally pointless.

Neither person is wrong, they just have different opinions about what constitutes entertainment.

Similarly, we all like different types of films or TV shows. There’s a very popular British detective show which is loved and praised by millions of people. I watch it and all I see is people sitting in a variety of rooms discussing stuff which happened to other people who aren’t even in the fucking show. My mind just slides off it – why can’t I see what actually happened instead of hearing about it second or third hand?

That doesn’t make that show badly written, it just means it’s not the sort of thing I enjoy watching.

I could write a weekend seminar about what makes that show appalling and wrong and why you should never write anything like that … and a large percentage of the ‘delegates’ would come away thinking I was absolutely right because I had flowcharts and examples and used complicated words …

But I wouldn’t be right, because that show is wildly successful and people love it. It’s a well written show, it’s just not written in a way that I enjoy watching.

Me, as an individual. An opinion, not fact.

So when people tell you every film has to have 3 acts or 5 acts or 8 sequences or 13 steps or whatever they’ve invented in the bath that morning – they’re not right.

Or rather they are right, but not universally so.

Learn how to write the things you enjoy watching. Construct rules for yourself based on observing and de-constructing the films or TV you like. Practise writing the kind of scripts you like and then get opinions on them from as many people as possible. Listen to everyone, but only believe the people who also like the same sorts of things as you.

Opinions from people who don’t like the same sort of things as you aren’t worthless, but they aren’t necessarily right either. If everyone’s telling you the same thing, then listen to them – unless every one of those people hates the things you enjoy.

Then, once you can identify exactly what it is you do and don’t like in other people’s writing; and can be pretty certain you know how to implement or avoid them in your own work … then, you can start reading other people’s advice.

Go on, you have my permission now.

I think the best way to approach writing advice is to look for nuggets of information which back up or crystallise things you already know. Maybe there’s something which points out an obvious piece you’re missing? Maybe there’s a saying or statement which strikes a chord in you and provides an easy mnemonic for you to remember when approaching a re-write? Maybe, there’s a technique you haven’t thought of which really helps tell the kind of stories you enjoy telling?

Whatever you do, for fuck’s sake, don’t pay to be indoctrinated into a system which teaches you how to write, created by someone who’s never actually written anything themselves. I’m not saying they’re wrong, but all that information is available for free online … mostly rehashed and misunderstood by other people who don’t know how to write either, true; but it’s all there, there’s no need to pay for bad advice.

Ultimately, a script is good when people who like the same things as the writer also like the script. It’s bad when the people who like the same things as the writer don’t like it. It’s not good or bad because it follows or breaks a set of rules.

Thinking for yourself will always trump ‘advice’ inherited from others. Seriously, don’t even believe this post unless you already agree with it or have suspected the same thing for a while now.

This isn’t advice, it’s just an opinion and should be treated as extremely suspicious.

In fact, don’t even read it – you’re far better off watching the telly you enjoy and thinking things through for yourself.

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Categories: Random Witterings, Rants, Someone Else's Way | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Personal best

  1. Heh heh heh. I just bought Chuck Wendig’s excellent “500 ways to be a better writer” which also includes this sentiment – read the advice, but don’t be bound by it.

  2. Pingback: 2012 « The Jobbing Scriptwriter

  3. Pingback: 2012 | The Jobbing Scriptwriter

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