Writing Wednesday: Let’s Put on a Show

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If there’s one thing that seems to be repeated about movies, it seems to be the question about whether Hollywood has run out of ideas. Everywhere you turn, there seems to be another sequel or another movie featuring a dystopian or post-apocalyptic theme. It’s not that Hollywood has run out of ideas, after all how many fresh ideas are there? Rather movies tend to come in cycles. In the 1930s after The Thin Man became a hit, there was a wave of copycat romantic mysteries. In the 1940s The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity paved the way for a decade of film noir thrillers. The 1950s saw a proliferation of Biblical epics from a remake of The Ten Commandments to Samson and Delilah. And so on, and so on. Despite the cyclical way Hollywood works, lessons from movies can often help people, especially writers. For example, in the 1930s, there were a lot of “let’s-put-on-a-show” movies. And almost every decade had a least one box office ensemble smash from Grand Hotel to The Best Years of Our Lives to Network to Love Actually. So what can writers learn from these two types of films?

“Let’s-put-on-a-show” movies. For lack of a better term, this is what I call the movies that are somewhat out of style. Ones that featured Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney bringing the gang together to raise money for a great cause. They featured teamwork and people putting aside their differences for a reason. While there may be television shows that sometimes feature this plot, this seldom sees the light of day as far as modern movies.

But just as Judy and Mickey put on many a show in the 30s, so too do writers come together. Anybody who has written a book knows the second you advertise your status as a writer, there are certain questions or comments that come your way: “I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I wouldn’t know where to start.” “Are you published (also known as where can I buy your book)?” and “I have an idea that would be perfect for a book.” As far as the second, some of us are working really hard to make selling our book a reality. As far as the third, then you go ahead and write it. And as far as the first, writing a book may take on different forms but it always involves one word at a time getting typed or written. The great part is that no matter the process you follow to write a book, there are resources to help you. Is it the craft of writing you’re having trouble with? There are some excellent books out there to help. (My four favorite so far are Stephen King’s On Writing, Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict, James Scott Bell’s Conflict and Suspense, and Renni Browne and Dave King’s Self Editing for Fiction Writers.)       Even more than that, I would recommend finding a writing group either online or in person that writes the same genre as you. Write cozy mysteries? Join Sisters in Crime. Write romances? Join Romance Writers of America. Write inspirationals? Join ACFW. In my experiences with writing organizations, the members encourage and support each other. They work together to promote awareness of craft, encourage beginning writers, and provide the tools to provide quality books.

Early in Gold Diggers of 1933, a bunch of actresses all come together at a friend’s house to try to convince a producer to hire them all for his latest show. So too do writers in these organizations often come together to support each other and help each other continue to learn about the craft of writing.

Ensembles. Have you seen Love Actually? What’s your favorite plot? Can you pick just one? My two favorite are the ones that revolve around Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister falling in love and Colin Firth’s writer falling in love. I can’t single out my favorite. The cast and production company came together to create a great movie.

At first glance, a book seems to be the product of someone sitting in a closet typing furiously on a computer. And for some fortunate authors, that may be all it takes. But there’s a reason there’s an acknowledgment page. There’s often the writer’s support team (family and friends), the writer’s support personnel (agents, editors, formatters, graphic designers, to name a few), and the writer’s fellow writers (critique partners, beta readers, chapter mates, online mentors, once again to name a few). While it is the author him or herself that ultimately sits down with hands on keyboard to write a book, he or she usually has a support network with him or her every step of the way.

If you’re a writer, how did you take that first step and sit down and write that book? Who encourages you every step of the way? Let me know.

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