What do Tyler Perry and Scandal Have in Common?

Let’s start with Tyler Perry.

A long time ago, when I was just wide-eyed girl living in Queens, NY, I would go to the movies. And every season or so, those movies would star black people. I watched Love & Basketball, Brown Sugar, Soul Food, Love Jones, The Best Man and even The Wood, and life was good. Then I went to college, and a move came out called “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” It was OK, no beef. Then another Tyler Perry movie came out. Well, can’t have a good black movie every season, I thought. But then another came out. Then another. Until an entire generation (generation being 10 years for my purposes) had no idea what a non-Tyler Perry black movie was. And real actresses like Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett were forced to act in his movies too—just to get food on the table.

I have my issues with TP, but I will say this: he gave a lot of black actors work, who may not have been able to find it otherwise. And, more importantly, he made a lot of money. It is my belief that at some point the non-TP studios realized, if that Madea stuff can make money, just imagine what would happen if we produced a move that was actually good?? What followed was a season when a bunch of black movies were out around the same time: The Best Man Holiday, Black Nativity, The Butler, Mandela. And that was good.

Tyler Perry reminded movie execs that stories about minority people can be profitable. This fact had already been established, but like the generation who thought TP movies were the only black movies ever to exist, a generation of people hadn’t seen it with their own eyes, and therefore couldn’t believe it to be true.

I think the same thing can be said about Scandal. Scandal wasn’t successful in spite of having an African-American star, I would argue that a large part of that success was because of Kerry Washington. Because the show was making history, it received a greater amount of coverage and instant fan loyalty. I have more thoughts about Scandal and Shondaland, but that’s the point I’m trying to make for now.

As much as I love Scandal, do I think it’s the perfect example of how to utilize minority characters in mainstream media? No. Similarly, do I think Tyler Perry movies accurately portray African American life? Hell no.

But both Tyler Perry and Scandal told the world that stories about minority characters are worthy of investment. So my question is this- who is going to teach that to the publishing industry?

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Why Your Fictional Character Should Go to India

I would like to say that I’m sorry I missed posting last week—but I’m not!

Why? Because I was in India (Goa and Mumbai, to be exact) and I had an f-ing amazing time.  It got me thinking–maybe my fictional character should go to India–maybe yours should too.  Here’s why.

India Will Hit All Your Senses
The food, the clothes, the jewelry, the dancing, the weddings!!  Let me tell you, India is an excellent place to obtain heightened awareness of all of your senses—great for writers!

Personally, my favorite part (not including the overall experience of attending the wedding a friend I’ve known for 17 years) was the saris because they were everywhere–rich parts, poor parts, everywhere.  On an average day in India, the women don’t put on t-shirts and jeans; rather, they wear these colorful, feminine saris—no matter what their social status.  It means that wherever you look, you’ll always see some beauty.

saris*

Not All Settings Are Created Equal
The trip of course made me think of the role of location in novels. I think—and I may be making this up—that the general conception is that all locales are created equal. Whether your novel takes place on a farm in Iowa, the bustling streets of Mumbai or in a fantasy world, as long as you use enough descriptive detail you’re good.

Whether that’s the general conception or not, I don’t agree. I believe that taking your reader to an amazing place is an easy way to add an attractive element to the novel. Of course an exotic setting is not necessary for a good book, but it definitely won’t hurt.

An Interesting Locale May Be Your Tipping Point 
Consider this analogy—Kerry Washington has said that the only reason she got into fashion was to promote her career. She saw all these actresses getting extra attention simply because of the awesome way they dressed. Seeing that style was something in her control, she got into it and raised her profile. Of course now she says her love is pure, but being a fasionista still continues to elevate her. There isn’t an interview out there doesn’t cite her fashion sense and she has brought both her and her show, Scandal opportunities they would not have otherwise received (e.g., the Scandal-based Saks Fifth Avenue windows in NYC).

Your gorgeous, exotic or exclusive setting (be it in India or elsewhere) might have the same the effect as Kerry’s clothes. I’m not saying it will get you the role (or published as the case may be), but it can earn you some welcomed attention if you do. It could be your tipping point, if you will.

I believe this is exactly what happened in the case of Eat, Pray, Love (yes, I am aware that is memoir and not fiction but it’s the first thing that comes to mind). Sure, Elizabeth Gilbert had a great story of triumph following divorce, but come on—who doesn’t want to eat the food in Italy or experience the serenity of Bali? Talk about allowing the reader to escape! An intriguing setting can be your fashion—it may attract the reader for a reason other than your intended purpose, but, honestly, does it matter? As long as your book is good?

It’ll Be Fun to Write!
Most of my novel is set in D.C. but my characters do get to visit some fun places including NYC, Sag Harbor, Miami and Buenos Aires. Those were some of my favorite scenes to write.  In my next book, someone will have to go to India!

If your character could go anywhere in the world, where would they go? Take them there!!

*Photo by FabulousFabs

Why Writers Don’t Need to Be Perfect to Be Loved (IMHO) UPDATED

I’ve been thinking about books, movies, TV shows that people love.  I mean like love.  Like they are emotionally invested in the entertainment experience.  This first started when my novel-writing teacher clutched her chest talking about “The Bridges of Madison County.”  Then I started thinking about it again when I saw how popular the TV show “Scandal” has become.  In both cases, the final product isn’t perfect yet it’s wildly successful (and has pulled me in as a fan).  I’ve concluded that they work in large part because the writers deftly craft a few moments that are really, really, really good.

I don’t want to get all analytical (after all, this is just a blog post), but I do feel like I should explain a bit more.  So “Bridges” is a love story that takes place over four days.  Sure, it’s a little predictable, but the short time period allows you to become invested in the romance.  It’s full of these small but critical moments when the characters learn about/grow to love each other—and you as the reader end up doing the same.

In “Scandal” Shonda Rhimes (“Scandal” writer who I’ve written about before) will use an entire episode to zoom in on a very specific, defining moment.  Like, for example, the last one when she shows the humanity in Huck.  Or in the first season, when she shows how Olivia and Fitz’s romance went down.  Most of the show is fast moving and exciting, but I think it’s Shonda’s ability to slow things down and give us an opportunity to love the characters that keeps us coming back.

What I’m saying is that in the midst of mostly good and sometimes ok these writers give us something great.  Satisfying, emotional moments that stay with you after you’re done reading/watching.  It’s enough to gain our loyalty and forgive any surrounding imperfections. More importantly, it’s enough to leave us wanting more.

So in my own work, of course I will try to do the best I can with respect to every chapter/scene/paragraph/sentence/word BUT it can’t all be perfect.  (I actually think this desire to be perfect holds a lot of writers back, but that’s another blog post).  Rather, I believe that if a writer can get these central moments in the story/character’s arc down, then that’s at least…75% of the battle.  What do others think?

UPDATE: Yesterday was my final novel writing class.  I asked my teacher why in the world she liked Bridges so much.  It turns out she doesn’t!  She clutched her chest because she hated it haha.  That makes a lot more sense.  I don’t think that conflicts with anything I wrote here–it still was extremely popular, and I enjoyed it for what it was.