Movies are half credit

June 5, 2014

When I first started getting serious about writing, I was reading a lot of Terry Pratchett, so it was to him which I first turned to for advice. I dug up an old interview, and from that I learned three useful pieces of advice. Here they are, as I remembered them:

  1. Read a lot.
  2. Use a word processor (it makes everything mutable).
  3. Write a lot, every day.

I’ve since seen more advice from Terry, but those were what I took from that first transcript. Of those, I followed the second two faithfully. It’s the first one where my success was a bit more…qualified.

Don’t get me wrong, I read a lot. Not all of it is fiction, but I spend a large part of every day reading. I love to read, and there are many subjects and stories I’m interested in. The problem is that for a long time I didn’t have the time to read as much fiction as I should have, so I tried to fill in the gaps with other media.

I’ve loved anime since before I started writing for RandomC (obviously), but after I became some kind of (admittedly shoddy) expert in the medium, I felt it was my duty to watch a lot of anime. I would watch 3-4+ episodes a day of different anime, and occasionally marathon an old series to bolster my cred. I wasn’t reading as much fiction as I should have been, but that’s okay because I was still taking in the stories, right? I was seeing what worked and what didn’t, analyzing it, and bolstering my storytelling chops through anime.

Wrong. Or at least, only partial credit.

Though I forgot this over time, here’s the actual first point from that interview:

1) Watch everything, read everything, and especially read outside your subject — you should be importing, not recycling.

The problem is, if you don’t spend enough time in the medium you wish to inhabit, you’ll never learn the ins and outs of how to convey your story in said medium. What I realized was that my ideas were good, but the skill with which I had to convey those ideas was inferior. Partially this was due to experience (and still is), but it was also because I hadn’t seen the tricks of telling a tale in text as much as I should have.

Mr. Pratchett is right – you should absolutely seek out stories in other subjects or genres. You can also get great benefit from watching TV, movies, or reading comics. But you will only learn the tactical minutiae of telling a story in your chosen medium if you spend a lot of time in that medium.

If you want to sing, listen to songs. If you want to make movies, watch movies. If you want to write, read. The other mediums can help, but you must spend a great deal of time in your own medium as well. Import, don’t recycle – but make sure you know how to properly convey your imported ideas.

Movies (and all the others) are only half credit to a writer. And no, you can’t get the other half by watching double the movies. It doesn’t work like that.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    Bear

    You’ve identified what I feel is where the great SF and even fantasy writers shine. I don’t know how many subjects and bits of information came to me via reading SF. The good writers do exactly what you say: import. It connects the story with the real world by giving the writer a broader pallet to work with. We only can experience so much in our own lives, but we can gain an insight into other lives through reading about them. The other thing is that a visual media is not going to give you the insight into how you would structure the same story in writing. The movie “The Perfect Storm” is not going to tell you how the writer of the book managed to tell such a gripping tale in words. Martin Scorsese in an interview talked about how he would look at movies over and over again to see how the great directors created their scenes. I think the same holds true for writers with books instead of movies and as Mr Pratchett pointed out, not just in the genre you’re writing in.

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