I’m not a film reviewer/critic. I have yet to find a professional critic who completely shares my tastes in entertainment. But that’s because we’re all just people and we like different stuff. And that’s cool.
All across the Internet, reviews of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY warned me of a bloated movie-going experience upon viewing Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth. And if I were to nitpick the film, I’d surely find flaws—areas where elements could be tightened up and what not. But flaws are in everything. Because nothing and no one is perfect. Not even the greatest films of all time.
And for me, THE HOBBIT not only worked as filmed, but I found it entertaining, funny, and enchanting.
One of the most frequent criticisms thrown at AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is the dwarfs’ extended stay at Bilbo’s hole in the ground at the very beginning of the film. It actually doesn’t take that long. It takes about as long as it took Frodo to leave the Shire in FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Maybe even faster. And it also strikes similar notes of FotR with a few quick nods to that first film in the previous trilogy.
In FotR, the extended opening sequence was important for raising the stakes. I think the slow build of THE HOBBIT serves a different but similar purpose, and honestly, the first time I watched FotR, I had a similar feeling—that it took a long time to get where it was going. But after multiple viewings of that film, I’ve grown to appreciate the slow build that introduced us to the Hobbits. And going into AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, I kinda expected the journey to begin almost, but not quite, leisurely. Thus, I enjoyed spending time getting to know the dwarfs, reuniting with Gandalf and empathizing with young Bilbo. Especially, after anticipating that once things got going the story would only grow more intense. That’s what stories are supposed to do.
“A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
As an audience (especially in these modern times), we tend to rush a story along because we want to see what’s next. Heck, in this particular case, we already know what’s next. That’s precisely why we want to hurry it up. But the characters themselves must remain true to the world they exist in regardless of speed. Storytelling isn’t particularly about fast or slow. It’s about telling the truth of the characters and that world. And that’s what Peter Jackson has done.
Louis C.K.’s show Louie is awesome. But he’s doing even more awesome stuff via his website — selling digital files of his shows, and even tickets to his upcoming concert tour, directly to fans. Writers — and publishers — can learn a great deal from the things Louis C.K. is successfully pulling off. Here are some things to take special note of:
He’s doing it for the fans, making what works best for them the priority. I think everything really does start from there. He’s got this material, he wants to share it, and he knows fans would be interested in getting it. With this as the foundation, he set about figuring out a simple and seamless way to make this happen. Digital files sold direct from his website, available to anyone and everyone.
Of course he wanted to make a little money. But he also wanted to keep the cost to fans as low as possible. So he took out the middleman. Simple as that. This is the opposite of what we see in publishing. Lots of middlemen. If it isn’t a retailer, it’s a production and distribution service provider, or a digital publishing operation that tries to sell itself as a “marketing” company. They all take a percentage, the net effect of which is higher pricing (not to mention less for the artist).
Keeping with the theme of simplicity, he released digital products without DRM. This way, fans can easily download and listen/watch on the device and platform of their choosing. Louis C.K. acknowledges that this means the files may end up on file-sharing sites, something he discourages for obvious reasons. But putting fans first trumped concerns about piracy. Let me just say again the key point here — he put fans first.
And remember, he’s still working with major corporations to fund and distribute his work. It’s not like Louis C.K. has completely gone independent. His current hit show Louie is on FX, a major cable network. The works he’s selling directly originally appeared on HBO. He’s only selling direct with a component of his works. This acknowledges that if Louis C.K. had not ever gotten the backing of major networks like HBO, he most likely would not have enough of a platform to successfully pull off the direct selling venture. The lesson here for authors is to find ways to track multiple paths. The individual enterprises will have a way of strengthening the overall effort — and the end result will be more control of your total artistic enterprise.
It’s overall good for all past, present and most importantly, future projects — and that would be ALL projects, not just the ones he’s doing independently. Why? Because he has a direct, commerce-based connection to his fans. He knows who they are, where they live, what they bought, how much they spent, and most importantly, he can communicate with them directly. This is THE single most valuable asset in the artist/fan relationship. It’s important to note that in book publishing, authors do not have this level of a connection. Neither do publishers. Amazon, Apple, and BN do.
Most of all, Louis C.K. is experimenting. He has no idea if any of this is going to work out when he pushes these offerings live on his website. So far, things have been wildly successful. He’s broken new ground in the industry in going direct to fans, he’s getting a lot of attention and raising his profile, he’s made money, and his fans (clearly growing), are loving it and developing a deeper sense of loyalty. Most of all, he’s taking what he’s learned and keeps on pushing forward. He’s emboldened. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
The following are phrases that make my blood boil.
This is a darling we should all kill on sight. This phrase makes my blood boil for a reason you might not expect. The reason I strongly dislike this phrase is because of it’s sheer pointlessness. Every writer writes what they know. It is literally impossible to write what you don’t know. Mind. Blown. You just got raptured. Deal with it.
Not really a phrase that people say, but I’m a rebel. I just changed the rules on you.
For all the so called “rules” that we make such a hoopla about, they really don’t exist. They’re imaginary. They’re all made up. They’re unicorns. The truth is, we all pretend as if these things are real tangible objects. Yes, they work when implemented–Sometimes. Most of the time. If you’re lucky. The rules are effective within the construct we have collectively built. Keywords: we. built.
Rules are our creation. These rules were not bestowed upon Earth before we arrived. We all just agree that things should be a certain way so it doesn’t get confusing, which is great. Confusion is bad. But anything man made can be changed, manipulated, rearranged, reimagined, reconstructed, remade. We just don’t bother to do it because it’s really really hard work. And we human beings love our consistency.
Just to clarify: I’m not advocating that we should in any way disregard the rules of writing. Not at all. I would never suggest any writer to not follow any of the guidelines that would only improve their craft and the experience for the reader, especially if you wish to get published. However, as an artist, once we realize that all of it is an illusion, we free ourselves from the Matrix. And sometimes it’s healthy to give yourself that room to experiment. Learn kung fu.
Whether or not you will end up with publishable work is another conversation, which is constantly bandied about all over the Internets, so much so that there’s no need for me to regurgitate it here.
“You can not put a grade on true art.” — Lil’ B
Anytime you encounter a phrase with the word “never” in it, it’s always wrong. (Unless it’s something like: never wander into a Bear’s home and use their furniture or eat their food. But we’re taking about writing.) Never is nearly forever. That’s a really long time to exclude something that is already a part of our ever evolving language.
Maybe the phrase should say: You could try this some other time, but not right now.
It’s often said around writing blogs [who?] that one shouldn’t write a particular way unless you’re a genius. Usually someone will say, “[Genius author] could get away with writing this way because they are a genius.”
Well, I guess I have to become a genius then or else I’m screwed because everything has already been done before…by geniuses.
Example from Elmore Leonard’s Ten rules for writing fiction:
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things, unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language.
Why does Margaret Atwood get to have all the fun? No, I don’t think Mr. Leonard was actually saying that only Margaret Atwood is capable of writing those kind of scenes. Nor was he saying that she was the only one that should write them. He was complimenting a fellow great author. But the crazy old Internets have taken this phrase to mean that only geniuses should attempt the crazy, good stuff because only geniuses can pull off the crazy, good stuff.  And new writers get lost in the sauce, wondering whatever shall they do?
The interesting thing about this phrase is that people outside of the genius’ head tend to recognize the person as a genius more so than the actual genius identifies his of herself as a genius.
Following me? Just like insane people think they’re sane. Geniuses think everyone thinks the way they do until we make them aware of how primitive we all are in comparison.
Let me put it another way. Einstein wasn’t going around saying, “Hey numskull. I’m a genius. Listen to everything I have to say.” He simply spoke his mind, honestly and people listened to him because they recognized the genius in him.
Drawing circles like a boss!
Maybe Einstein is a bad example because he’s like a super genius. (And I’m no historian. So my Einstein facts will be at least 1% inaccurate. Maybe more.)
Let’s take an author you admire. Think of your favorite author, the one you think of as a genius. You love everything they do. More than likely he or she doesn’t think of themselves as a genius. They simply write what they’re driven to write, what they love, the story they can’t not write. Your genius author probably even has doubts about their work just like we do. We’re all just people, man.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think that authors, like Hemingway for instance, knew he would be the great almighty Hemingway before he became the great almighty Hemingway. That would take some serious clairvoyance.
If you are a genius, you won’t know it unless you hang around idiots who know a lot less than you or when people declare you a genius because you’ve accomplished something no one else has, just like your favorite author. But the odds are you aren’t a genius. The good news is you don’t have to be. Ever heard of Snooki? (That could be bad news depending on how you look at it.)
This phrase is incomplete. In it’s entirety it should read: Readers know what they want only when they come across it–after the fact, and not in advance of the existence of said material.
Before Harry Potter existed, no reader was shouting, “Why hasn’t anybody written Harry Potter yet? Don’t they know I want to read it? The next new author should write Harry Potter. They’ll make a billion dollars.”
Sounds silly, right? This is the exact reason why you can’t write explicitly for readers. They don’t know what they want. Readers are great at finding what appeals to them from existing material. That’s it.
You have an amazing book idea right now, something I could never think of. I don’t know that I want to read it yet because from my perspective, whatever it is, it doesn’t exist.
Write with readers in mind, but not for them. Be considerate of your potential readers, but you can’t really cater to them because authors don’t know exactly what readers want either. If we did, we’d all be instant bestsellers.
There’s a middle ground between writing what you love and making that reader-friendly. Find that balance. When you do, let me know where you found it. I need some of that mojo.
The 3 Types of Writers
As I stroll through Twitter or scan the blogs I notice there seem to be three key types of writers out there. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve pitched tent in each of these camps in my career.
The Meek “Don’t-Call-Me-A-Writer” Writer
Often the beginning writer, though this type can infect even veteran wordsmiths. Characterized by a lack of faith, this writer will not promote themselves. He believes he’s not a writer because the coveted prize of seeing his book prominently displayed at the front of a bookstore has not happened yet.
He is plagued by the notion that his writing is just a hobby and not good enough for public viewing. He takes few risks and works alone. The best way to break out of this mold is to join a writing critique group. Some honest feedback and encouragement will do wonders for this fellow.
The Self Proclaimed “God’s Gift to Writing”
This can also be writers beginning their journey. This writer knows, deep down, that her writing is the best that ever was. Agents and editors just don’t appreciate what she’s laying down. She may go to a critique group, but the critical suggestions slide off her Teflon skin.
She writes when she feels in the mood. And when she does, she spends hours meticulously henpecking over individual verbs. She’s obsessed with proper formatting and grammar peccadilloes. She’ll certainly point these out in your work.
This writer needs a reality check. A quick visit to Twitter will show her just how many working writers are out there. Perhaps if she knew that nearly 300,000 new books are published each and every year, she might wonder why her work is constantly being passed up.
The Professional Writer
This writer works every day. Rain or shine. He finishes a book or story, revises, and then produces another. And another. He understands that this is a craft and the process of writing will make him better. He attends a writing critique group and listens to the suggestions, but doesn’t feel weighed down by them.
We all strive for that final category, yet I often feel myself drifting into the other two. Mostly this happens just after I’ve completed a novel. I fell like I can walk on water and begin spending all that imaginary cash (that will most likely never happen). Then reality sets in and I slink back to meekdom for a bit.
Writing is a struggle. Day in. Day out. I love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.
From The Guardian:
One of the interesting things about the word “grammar” is that many of its users think that it is self-evident that it refers to one thing: “the grammar” of the language. If only the matter were that simple. Whereas linguists are agreed that language has grammar, what they can’t agree on is how to describe it. So, while there is a minimum agreement that language is a system with parts that function in relation to each other, there is no universal agreement on how the parts and the functions should be analysed and described, nor indeed if they should be described as some kind of self-sealed system or whether they should always be described in terms of the users, ie those who “utter” the language, and those who “receive” it (speakers and listeners, writers and readers etc).
Many people yearn for correctness and this is expressed in the phrase “standard English”. The honourable side to this is that it offers a common means of exchange. However, this leads many people to imagine that because it is called standard, it is run by rules and that these rules are fixed. I’ve always understood rules to be regulations that are drawn up in some agreed list. They are fixed (until such time as they are amended) and they are enforceable. In fact, there is no agreed list, a good deal of what we say and write keeps changing and nothing is enforceable. Instead, language is owned and controlled by everybody and what we do with it seems to be governed by various kinds of consent, operating through the social groups of our lives. Social groups in society don’t swim about in some kind of harmonious melting pot. We rub against each other from very different and opposing positions, so why we should agree about language use and the means of describing it is beyond me.
Link to the rest at The Guardian.
When we started we HAD no style, no understanding of ourselves or what we were doing. We had feelings, vague ones, a sense of what we liked, maybe, but no unified point of view, not even a real way to express our partnership. We fought constantly and expected to break up every other week. But we did have a few things, things I think you might profit from knowing:
We loved what we did. More than anything. More than sex. Absolutely.
We always felt as if every show was the most important thing in the world, but knew if we bombed, we’d live.
We did not start as friends, but as people who respected and admired each other. Crucial, absolutely crucial for a partnership. As soon as we could afford it, we ceased sharing lodgings. Equally crucial.
We made a solemn vow not to take any job outside of show business. We
borrowed money from parents and friends, rather than take that lethal job waiting tables. This forced us to take any job offered to us. Anything. We once did a show in the middle of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia as part of a fashion show on a hot July night while all around our stage, a race-riot was fully underway. That’s how serious we were about our vow.
Get on stage. A lot. Try stuff. Make your best stab and keep stabbing. If it’s there in your heart, it will eventually find its way out. Or you will give up and have a prudent, contented life doing something else.
Teller, of Penn and Teller, in a letter at http://shwood.squarespace.com/news/2009/9/21/14-years-ago-the-day-teller-gave-me-the-secret-to-my-career.html
Strangely, advice as good for writers or musicians as it is for magicians.