Daily Dojo

Being Deliberate, Analytical and More On Intent

I’ve got a few moments, so I’m gonna crack out a quick rant, one probably filled with spelling and grammar errors, so forgive me in advance but I’m moving fast today. Joe Konrath has a provocative post up today called Be Deliberate that I’d like to comment on, as that there’s something there for writers to think about … here’s a snippet:

One of the deep-rooted problems in our society is how people form quick opinions without analyzing why they reached their conclusions. Then they’ll defend those opinions without thinking. It’s a basic flaw of human nature that most people would rather fight to the death for their beliefs before questioning them. The ability to change one’s mind is a rare thing.

I understand that casual dismissal is necessary, to a degree. We’re bombarded with choice, and we need to be able to quickly make decisions.

But casual dismissal coupled with the anonymity (and the cushion) of the Internet has turned a bunch of lazy morons into bitter critics who spout off their idiotic opinions without any sense to back them up.

Joe goes on (and, I mean, really goes on and blasts from folks who may deserve it) but just let me say that I agree, in a large part, with the bulk of what he’s saying (but not all of it, but don’t want to get too far into that today) … at least as it reflects on writing and writers, and feel it reflects back on what I wrote earlier on More on Goethe Criticism (which if you haven’t read earlier, you should, you really should.

Joe’s basically reacting to knee-jerk criticisms and condemnations, the sort of which is easy in this day of the internet … and he rightly points out that a lot of it is silly, too, the equivalent of going to a Steven Seagal movie and complaining about the violence.

And that is silly. Like I said in my post, good criticism is based on establishing the intent, asking how well it was done and if it was worth doing … these are necessary skills for a writer who wants to get paid to do this.

How does this relate to screenwriting?

Now obviously, Joe states in his very first sentence, “don’t write crap” and that’s important. But how do you know what’s crap or what’s not? Because “you” like it, or because it works? And how do you know?

Some weeks ago I got into a flame war over at ScriptShadow: How A Good Script Can Become A Bad Movie (aka “The Couple Of Death”) when some anonymous troll made the comment that Garden State (the film) was a failure.

I pointed out that it most certainly was not a failure … it made a huge profit (26 mil off of 2.5) enjoyed great reviews (86 % from critics on RT, 87% from audience) in fact, the bar was pretty high … that’s an incredibly successful movie.

But the troll insisted, again and again, that the film was still a failure because he didn’t like it. He hated it. Hated Zach Braff, to be more exact.

I pointed out that everyone is entitled to one’s taste, but surely he must acknowledge that the film, in spite of one’s personal feelings about it, was a major success.

No. Not at all.

And the flamewar escalated from there. Until he got put on time out.

Now everyone’s certainly entitled to their opinion, but not their own facts. I’m not saying everyone should love that film, or have to … I’m pointing out that the movie succeeded (wildly, in fact) at what it set out to do … there are going to be people who don’t like it, because with every movie there’s going to be someone who’s not a fan … but what was its intent, and how well did it achieve it … what the troll was complaining about was the emo angst deadpan indie tone of the film … which is crazy, because that’s the movie it was trying to be … get me?

A writer has to recognize the craft involved in writing a movie, a book or a song … there’s a craft to it, creating the vessel that carries the story to where it’s going … now the average consumer, sure, you bet … let them hate all they want (we all have our hates) but for writers who want to know how the engines work, you can’t look at a car and say, “I hate the color, ergo, this car probably won’t go anywhere, much less drive fast” and I, personally, HATE that kind of lazy logic.

On a personal level, I am the wrong guy when it comes to torture porn films, I just don’t like them, they’re not to my taste … that being said, I can look at SAW and HOSTEL and recognize how well they’re done and how well they succeed at fulfilling their intent.

We see this a lot on screenplay sites (like Trigger, for example) by amateur reviewers, who may state “I hate movies about pets, therefore this sucks” or worse, “you used a WE SEE in our description, therefore the whole script sucks,” from format Nazis, etc.

It’s tiring, this kind of thinking … we can be moved by stories that aren’t in our wheelhouse, after all, and we won’t always know about them unless someone really takes a look at what the story’s intent was and how well it was done. I mean, how many times did you watch a movie that, initially, you were sure you’d hate because of what it was supposed to be about but finally caved after so many people raved and watched it and loved-loved-loved it.

Lots of times, right? Now there are those guys who’d go watch it and still be convinced it sucked, they exist, I know, I’ve known these guys, I worked as a video store clerk (back when we had video stores) and the entire staff mostly hated EVERYTHING because that’s how they elevated themselves above the product. But it was all kneejerk reactive crap, really.

In fact, being a video store clerk really motivated me, at the end, because I could see myself ending up like one of those miserable bastards with impossibly high standards (why I loved High Fidelity, they nailed it, that kind of super geek jerk fandom) regarding movies and never making anything of my own because I was too caught up in being a consumer rather than a creator.

Again, nothing wrong with being a consumer. Not at all.

But every person in that video store wanted to be in the biz somehow, yet instead spent years there without achieving anything other than a spectacular level of snobbery, as far as I know, not a one works in the business now (one guy was an actor who later took over the store) they never created anything … not me.

I realized that instead of tearing shit down, I needed to figure out how to build it, and build it well. And a lot of that meant putting my shit aside, first, and listening to others.

Stories and movies have to move us, I agree … absolutely. And everyone’s entitled to their own subjective tastes, you bet. But there’s a real deliberate analysis to the creation of a really great story, and I think everyone (trolls especially) who spends time on sites solely dedicated to discussing the craft of writing needs to set their own petty shit aside and keep that in mind. At the end of the day, no one cares about what you like or don’t like … they only care what you’ve done about it.

It’s ridiculously easy to tear shit up, pull at a thread until it rips, or make a thread up (like the troll) and pretend it’s ripped … easy to destroy, a lot harder to create … too many anonymous folks get caught up in trashing work just for the sake of trashing it, and a lot of times miss the good stuff that actually really works. There’s a real difference between destruction and de-construction, a significant difference that often gets overlooked in the easy flamewars of today.

To repeat what Joe said, though. Don’t write crap. Be deliberate and smart about what you do.

To which, I’d add, it’s my belief that you’re gonna have to get over your own shit to do so.

Just my opinion, no more or less.

Whew, okay … rant’s over … now I go back to my labors …

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