Okay, not going to talk about editing. For a couple reasons I decided to push that back a bit. If anyone really wants it sooner rather than later, please feel free to say something down below. I’m flexible.
Anyway, new topic.
I’ve mentioned once or thrice before that I tend to do long Twitter rants most Saturdays about whatever (anonymous) bad movie I’ve dug up on Netflix, SyFy, Comet, or... well, sometimes from my own collection. Terrible characters, wince-inducing dialogue, eye-rolling motivations, bad pacing, awful reveals or twists. Sometimes the movies are fun-bad, and other times...
Look, on Saturdays my liver earns its keep. Let’s just say that.
A lot of folks follow along, and at least every other week somebody’ll make a comment about my masochistic tendencies. Or my willingness to suffer. Or ask why I don’t just watch something, y’know, good.
Here’s the thing, though. I kind of like the bad movies. Yeah, they’re kind of painful sometimes, but they’re always at least mildly entertaining. Even if it’s in a Mystery Science Theater sort of way.
Plus, they’re kind of educational. And a great exercise for the imagination. Yeah, I know that sounds bizarre, but... it’s the truth.
Let’s be honest. We probably all know somebody who refuses to watch bad stuff, right? Or to read it. They’ll shut it off half an hour in or toss the book across the room, usually with a snide comment or three about how bad it was.
Quick test, though... can they say why it’s bad? Can they cite specific examples? Anyone can say “this sucks,” but it’s a lot harder to explain why something sucks.
Better yet... can they suggest ways to fix it? How would I go about improving the plot structure? The dialogue? The motivations of the hero and the villain?
These aren’t ridiculous tasks. As writers, we run up against them all the time. There are scenes I’ve rewritten a dozen or more times because the dialogue just didn’t ring true. There are times I’ve gotten halfway through something and realized it would be a lot better if I structured it a different way. There are times I’ve guided everything towards Yakko doing something and then realized “wait a minute... why the heck would he do this?”
Then I solve these problems. Because that’s my job. I’m a writer.
So in that sense, every bad movie or patience-testing novel is a chance to flex those muscles. They’re exercise that I can do while I’m geeking out a bit. Sometimes they even inspire a rant or three.
That’s kind of important. The exercise bit. We all need to exercise. No, not just because we sit in a chair for a good part of the day. Well, yes, because of the chair, but also because exercise is how I get better... stronger... faster.
That holds for physical and mental exercise. I have to do it. I have to do it regularly. And I need to challenge myself with it. If I’m following the same workout routine now that I was a year ago, it means I haven’t moved forward at all. I’m going easy on myself.
I know a lot of folks who pride themselves on not reading bad books. “There’s no time for that,” they say. “Why would I waste a day reading something awful?” They’ll proudly tell me how they’re re-reading something by Neil Gaiman or Margaret Atwood or Michael Chabon or some obscure piece by Gertrude Stein or Faulkner.
And there’s nothing wrong with reading any of these writers. They’re all just fantastic. Their words are wonderful to read, and it’s almost frustrating how easy they can make it look.
But this shouldn’t be easy. If it’s easy... I’m probably doing something wrong.
Y’see, Timmy, there’s only so much I can learn from the good stuff. If it’s the only thing I take in, then I’m kinda limiting myself. I’m not giving my brain a chance to exercise--to stretch and flex and try to do its own thing. Following a perfect, well-laid path is great, but if it’s all I ever do, it’s all I’ll know how to do. And if it’s a path that 90% of all English majors and would-be writers have followed at one point or another... I'm not going to find anything new or surprising at the end of it.
It’s like if I said I wanted to explore the whole world, but I never wanted to go off a paved road. Paved roads are great, yeah, but the way I’ll find stuff—especially new stuff most people haven’t seen before—is by traveling down the dirt roads and off road. And sometimes getting out and wading through thigh-deep muddy water.
...oh, man, I hope that’s mud...
I’d never say avoid the good stuff, because we want to surround ourselves with great material. To bathe in it. Take long moonlight swims in it. But... we all know what happens if you stay in the pool too long.
Don’t be scared of reading something bad. Or watching it. Have fun with it. Force your way through. And figure out why it’s bad. Where did it go wrong? What does it need? How could it be fixed?And then... go write.