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.

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I’m an Artist and I’m Sensitive About My Shhhh

Last week I shared 35 pages of my novel/baby to the 15 people in my novel writing class. It’s the first time anyone has met my characters or heard much beyond a couple of sentences describing my plot. Needless to say, when I had to sit in silence for 30 minutes while everyone critiqued my work, it was NOT EASY (because I’m sensitive about my sh*t).

Generally,  I received some good feedback. It’s always interesting to hear what people focus on and how they respond to your characters. One guy called my girl protagonist  something like a “slut with a tramp stamp,” which made me really sad. 😦 I just did not think that was an accurate description at all! Thankfully, none of the women appeared to agree.

Anyway, I have two main takeaways from the experience. First, I need to begin the story in a different place. Where I start now, I have the characters upset about various things, but the reader doesn’t really understand what’s going on. You’re supposed to experience the ups and downs with the characters instead of meeting them after a couple of pivotal things have happened in their lives.

Second, I must get rid of my “abstract nouns,” according to the teacher. During the class, she sat there for a really long time and critiqued one of my scenes line by line!  She said she was using my piece as an example to teach the class about scene writing. That was rough, but I certainly  internalized her point: replace abstract nouns/verbs (e.g., “surprise” or “happy” or “sad”) with images that convey those words (e.g., “she covered her hands over her mouth” = surprise or “she threw her arms in the air and laughed” = happy…I think).  Basically, “show don’t tell.”

Anyway, I have like 25,000 words right now, but I’ve taken a break from writing every day. I need to think about how I’m going to go about restructuring the story. Once I do that, I’ll get back to it. Toodooloo!

P.S. Hopefully this song is stuck in your head by now:

Making Moves: Advanced Novel and Memoir at The Writer’s Center

writerscenterLast week I started a new class at the Writer’s Center for people writing memoirs and novels. If you follow this blog at all, then you know that I’ve had a lot of luck with the Writer’s Center in the past—in fact it’s where this novel journey all began. Almost a year ago I took a Short Story class there, and a bunch of us continued meeting for a while. I was so happy! But then the group dissolved, and I was sad. I actually got a lot of support after I posted that blog, most people telling me to find a new group lol. So who knows? Maybe that’s what will happen here. I’m sure I’ll at least find a few more people willing to read my manuscript (whenever it’s done).

The class is led by a woman named Barbara Esstman. She’s published a couple of novels, and they both were turned into TV movies—pretty cool! There is a wide range of progress/skills, and I’m right in middle (thank goodness). To my surprise, my biggest problem has been the fact that the class is for both novels and memoirs. On the first day we went around explaining our projects and a woman said she was writing a sci-fi piece. Of course I asked her if it was a novel or memoir! So embarrassing! A memoir about a teenage alien! Then this week we read someone’s piece that I thought was a novel, but it was really a memoir.  I didn’t even give her the comments. I’ll have to read it again through a different lens. Anyway,  I’m on deck next week. As of now, I have about 20,000 words written, and I submitted the first 35 pages. I’m actually really nervous about this because, unlike with my short stores when I kind of free-wrote, I put some real thought into the pages I submitted this time around. Thankfully, most of the people in the class are women because that’s who I’m trying to speak to. Anyway, I’m enjoying the class. Good discussions.  Also, I’m realizing that editing and commenting on other people’s work is as valuable to my writing as any other tool or practice. I’ll let you know how my critique goes! Have a great weekend!