Friday, December 19, 2014

Recovering from a Bad Start: "I Was an Online Idiot"

The regulars at writing sites have seen it many, many times. Newcomers arrive pretty sure they're geniuses, every word they write golden if not magical. They're waiting for the industry to buy their script and beg for more, to recognize their brilliance, to make them rich, to award the Oscar. While they wait, they're willing to drop crumbs of knowledge on us lesser beings, although we are unlikely to ascend to the lofty and creative heights they anticipate for themselves.

By the way, they mention, they do it all. They've written the score, although some lackey will need to write down the actual musical notes. The domain for the movie title is reserved and it's got a Facebook and Tumblr presence. Their own professional website is up, under the pseudonym that sounds so writerly and so cool as it explains both their process and their source of inspiration. They've got the poster designed for theatrical use and BluRay covers. They've selected the clips to use for the trailer, plus the voiceover actor. They want Joseph Gordon-Levitt or James McAvoy starring opposite Scarlett Johansson, Olivia Wilde if there's a scheduling conflict, and they plan to be on the set to help each actor better understand the character.

It's both sad and funny that this happens so often it's unsurprising. Whether the online response is mean-spirited, frank, instructive, or mocking is beside the point, although I applaud the websites which demand civility. Each of these newcomers requires two rude awakenings. One, this isn't how the business works, and two, their writing is utter crap.

It's demoralizing, I know, to think you'd written something that was pretty damned good and be told differently. You worked hard on it--really hard!--and the characters seem rich, nuanced, and real to you. The few friends or family members you dared to show it to said great things about it. They could see it playing like a real movie, just like you can! You may have found websites where screenwriters told you the script showed talent and promise, just like their early work did. And here these nobodies are telling you it sucks.

They suck! And they're idiots, too stupid to see how good this is! Spiteful and nasty retaliation, name-calling, and moral outrage happen far more often than denial or disappearing. The regulars have seen that play out a lot of times, too.

What we seldom see, though, is what might actually make you a better screenwriter. We rarely see people sorry they got upset, apologizing for their behavior, and saying they'll do better, and so far, we've never seen that promise come to pass. We don't see people open to learning exactly what they've done wrong and how to fix it. We don't see people ready to face the reality of early writing being bad. We don't see them asking for guidance on structure, format, character development, pacing, writing to a budget, grammar and punctuation,or anything else on the craft.

Which is a damned shame, really, since it means they're unlikely ever to improve.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Rate Books for Quality

Among my many, many pet peeves--a menagerie of peeves?--is the person who gives an online product a low rating because they did not read the product description and were unreasonably disappointed to find it was exactly what it said it was and not what they thought it was.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when someone rated a lamp with two stars of the possible five, because it was small. The dimensions of the lamp, the shade, and the lamp and shade assembled were in the product description, so how is this person's inattention helpful in informing other potential buyers of its quality?

I've seen the same thing on art prints ("I didn't read the description closely and was disappointed it came rolled up and not framed."), clothing ("This sweater isn't wool!"), and coffee makers ("This didn't grind the beans, which is what I wanted.")

And of course it extends to book reviews.

Don't get me wrong. I'm firmly in the corner of anybody who has an opinion and backs it up, even if I disagree with the opinion and the reasoning that led to it. But I have little patience for the buyer who writes a bad review when a book was exactly what it said it was going to be.

I've seen it in hard-boiled private eye novels ("This book has so much swearing and violence I had to put it down."), horror ("The gore made me sick--like the author must be!") and erotica ("This book is disgusting and decent people don't do these things.")

Excuse me? This is only a small portion of what real people do--your neighbors, the kind people at your church, the clerk who takes your money or sells you the ticket, the couple that owns the coffee shop, the plumber who'll come out in the middle of the night, the receptionist at your dentist's office, the ordinary people whose paths intersect yours on a daily basis.

If you approve only unadventurous sex between married heterosexual couples, then maybe you should be buying erotica only after reading the blurb. There's hot fiction written just for you--and plenty for everybody else.

The erotica writers selling commercially- and self-published books cover the full range of sexual activities actual people do. Your disapproval of their choices, or of who they are, does not belong in a book's rating.

Rate it poorly if it's badly written, if the characters seem flat, if it bored you, if the plot had holes. That book deserves a low rating. But the fact that you do not approve of the activities or characters depicted? Giving such a book a low rating just shows you're a fool.