I love movies. Good movies, bad movies, okay movies—I watch ‘em all!
After over 3 years of blogging professionally, I’ve noticed that my movie-watching habit has inadvertently helped tighten my writing skills. In particular, the “bad” movies I’ve watched have taught me a lot about what works–and what doesn’t!–where writing is concerned.
At their core, “bad” movies suffer from one (or more) of ten basic writing issues.
Issues that should be avoided at all costs by bloggers!
The Room had very awkward dialogue, not because of Johnny’s (Tommy Wiseau) unrecognizable accent but because the characters said lines no one would say. It comes off as a would-be drama made by a space alien who loves movies…but doesn’t understand humans.
The Rifftrax version pokes fun at Johnny’s live-in girlfriend being called his “future wife” (repeatedly) rather than his fiancée. This was just one of many issues the screenplay had where a common/well-recognized term was replaced with something laughably unsuitable.
Avoiding contractions also added to the odd readings: “I did not hit her!” “You are tearing me apart!” Why not say “didn’t?” Or “you’re?” (It wouldn’t have saved the movie by any means, but it certainly would have helped).
The Room isn’t the only movie that suffers from dialogue issues. Battlefield Earth is also famous for its repetitive exchanges and strange language usage. (This is also a pacing issue, which I’ll get into below).
Blogger Takeaway: Read your writing aloud. Or have a friend read it aloud for you. If your writing is hard to say, it’s likely hard to read.
And don’t be afraid to use contractions. You’ll still be taken seriously as a professional even if you indulge in “casual” language.
Overuse of Jargon
Related to the above, the overuse of undefined jargon can alienate moviegoers. This is one of the reasons high fantasy and hardcore sci-fi is sometimes considered inaccessible to new audience members.
The 1984 movie-version of Dune handed out terminology flyers to movie-goers at the theater door so they could understand jargon like “Fremkit,” “Kanly” or “Kwisatz Haderach.” It didn’t work well, of course, as trying to read the cheat sheet in a darkened theater was nearly impossible. Those in attendance who weren’t already intimately familiar with Frank Herbert’s originally written work (which, in fairness to the movie, also had a glossary added to it), were left baffled by what they perceived as an “incomprehensible” work.
Blogger Takeaway: I’m not saying that the fantasy or sci-fi genres need to be casualized—I used those genres as an example, but, this post (while it does discuss movies) is about blog writing. And, as a blogger, it would be in your best interests to make your writing easily understood by all of your readers.
If you must use industry-specific terminology, or make obscure references, hyperlink to the definition. Or set up an easy-access glossary ala HarrisonAmy Copywriting.
Neglecting the Audience
Having a connection with the audience is important, especially if it’s a human connection. There’s a reason The Terminator followed Sarah Conner rather than the killer robot. She’s the one that’s relateable.
However, in his review of The Spirit, Roger Ebert noted, “There is not a trace of human emotion in it. To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material.”
Blogger Takeaway: Relate to the audience. Even if your target audience is small, you have to relate to them. You can’t please everyone—but you should strive to please at least some people.
Always ask, “Who am I writing this for?” If you don’t have an answer, chances are you’re writing a vanity piece. That belongs in your private journal, not on your blog.
According to Copyblogger, if a blog article doesn’t help, entertain, or inform the readers: Toss it.
Inept Editing/Lack of Drafts
Did Ed Wood really deserve to be called “The Worst Director of ALL TIME?” His movies from the 1950s were campy, but they weren’t that different from other low-budget movies of the era. In the case of Glen or Glenda (an empathetic peek into transgender & transsexual issues), Ed Wood’s work could even be called “groundbreaking” for his time.
Unfortunately, Mr. Wood’s habits of screenwriting with no rewriting, and deeming the first take of each scene as “good enough” while filming were detrimental to his career.
Ed Wood now has a cult following, and rightly so: He was an impassioned filmmaker whose early works have a sweet, pure quality to them that (perhaps thankfully) cannot be duplicated.
…But imagine how far he could have gone had he been less careless.
Blogger Takeaway: Bottom line: You want people laughing with you, not at you.
Editing is important.
Students are often culprits of turning in first drafts as final drafts. And, trust me; their teachers are treated to plenty of unintentionally hilarious material.
You’re a professional writer now. Act like it. Editing & rewrites might be boring, but they’re necessary.
When I think of pacing issues, three things come to mind: Padding/filler, overlong intros, and needless rehashing of information.
Padding/Filler – 1960’s The Leech Woman and 1964’s The Starfighters both suffer from overuse of stock footage. 1971’s Blood Waters of Dr. Z/Zaat features long stretches of the main character walking from one scene to the next. More recently, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith featured a fight scene between Anakin & Obi-Wan that was dragged out so long it became dull rather than thrilling.
Overlong Intro – 2005’s Alone in the Dark has an opening scroll that drones on for just shy of 2 minutes before the movie starts (and it doesn’t really improve from there).
The title characters in the movie Hobgoblins don’t show up until a third of the way through the movie (although you can hear one growling 5 minutes in there’s no clue to what it might be). The same can be said of one of my favorite movies, Them; however, unlike Hobgoblins, Them is saved by its tight focus—keeping it fast-paced and suspenseful in the face of the “missing” title characters rather than becoming a baffling mess with a glaring oversight.
Rehashing Information – In The Deadly Bees, the villain recaps the entire movie for the audience while revealing his evil plan. Even the classic Hitchcock film Psycho suffers from this: A psychiatrist rehashes the entire plot after the film has sufficiently come to a close.
Blogger Takeaway: Break up your post into acts (headers are your friends). Keep it simple. Remove fluff. Don’t waste your reader’s time.
The old blogging format of “Tell them what you’re about to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you just told them” is now (and always should have been) a big no-no! Conciseness is key.
In that spirit, Part 2 will be up next week. See you there!
Lauren Spear (née Tharp) is the owner and creator of the multiple award-winning LittleZotz Writing. She’s written hundreds of bylined posts helping freelance writers to become BETTER freelance writers. Thousands if you count all the articles she’s ghostwritten (but she’s not allowed to talk about most of those).