Listen, we’re all in quarantine so what are you gonna do, watch the same movies you’ve watched SEVEN BAZILLION TIMES?
No. You need some fresh content, new stuff. And the best stuff hiding on Netflix is definitely foreign films.
THE PLAGUES OF BRESLAU is tight, fast, and twisty. All the things a good mystery/thriller should be.
And that’s why I want to talk about it. Because structurally, it’s interesting, and well done. This film also brings up nerdy storytelling debates, such as, “What the hell is a mystery/thriller, and how is it different than a mystery or Jack Reacher punching people in the face one more time?”
Mysteries, thrillers, and mystery/thrillers
Mysteries are easy to spot: there’s (1) a murder in the beginning, (2) a grizzled, alcoholic detective who investigates multiple suspects, starting with trip to the local nudie bar–this is apparently required by law, and (3) a series of sketchy suspects who are all plausibly the killer.
In the end, our detective sobers up enough to unmask the killer and either slaps on the handcuffs or poses a math problem.
Thrillers are also pretty easy to define.
A bad thing may happen. The central narrative question is, can it be stopped?
That question is the same whether the threat is a great white shark going nom-nom-nom, an alien on a starship with Sigourney Weaver in a T-shirt, or a terrorist who stole a nuclear weapon or three.
So what’s a mystery/thriller?
Pinning down mystery/thrillers
You can’t really pin them down, not before doing single-leg takedown and going for an armbar.
Okay, you can pin them down.
A pure mystery has ONE murder and makes you wonder who did it, why they did it, and whether they’ll get away with it. Which they won’t, so really the surprise is who, why, and how the hero catches them.
Mysteries merge into Thrillville, population zero because everybody dies in Act 3, when they do two things: (1) boost the public stakes by putting more people at risk, or underground, and (2) identify the villain far earlier in the story, when it pivots to a thriller.
You gotta have those two ingredients. More people in danger, or turning up dead, and that earlier pivot.
THE PLAGUES OF BRESLAU does this perfectly.
We find out who the villain is earlier than a pure mystery, and learn why they’re doing it. The stake are higher than a pure mystery because it’s not one murder, but a series of killings. A mystery is about getting justice for that one death. Thrillers are about stopping carnage.
What’s great is this movie doesn’t cheat. There are tons of mystery/thrillers where the villain’s motivation is paper-thin, or non-existent. And there are plenty of mystery/thrillers that aren’t suprrising or shocking. You see them coming, and that puts the B in Boring.
I truly enjoyed THE PLAGUES OF BRESLAU, which does a great job of subverting the detective genre.
SPOILER: the villain wins, despite dying, and the hero wins, too, because the villain prods her into getting rough justice for the death that haunts her. (Fiance/husband/partner? Not sure — I watched this thing with the subtitles on).
It reminds me of SHIMMER LAKE, where the character you think is the hero is really the anti-hero/villain, doing the wrong things for the right reasons. And you understand why and agree with him, because he’s getting justice when the system failed.
If you haven’t watched it yet, finish up the Polish mystery/thriller goodness, then fire up SHIMMER LAKE, which is funny, shocking, and brilliant. It’s also a movie told in reverse, except it’s not a Cheaty McCheatface like MEMENTO.
No, I’m not a zombie, sparkling vampire or Jean Claude Van Damme-ish universal soldier.
I simply haven’t posted in forever, and have missed the readers of this silly blog, who’ve taught me a lot and are always, always witty and entertaining.
So: with a crazy busy session at work, my evil choice was (a) come home and write a blog post, (b) hang out with the wife and son, (c) do laundry, pay the bills and possibly sleep or (d) finish and edit a novel.
I chose everything but (a) and it was the right choice. And now I’m coming up for air.
To folks who are into these things I like to call “books,” here are a few things I learned finishing a new novel, which is the most fun you can legally have as a writer.
(1) Keep switching it up and taking risks
If you keep writing the same sort of story with the same sort of heroes (6-foot-4 and Hollywood handsome) and villains (posh British accent and disfigured somehow) in the same sort of scenarios (stolen MacGuffin could destroy the world!), then hey, it’ll get stale. Same thing with non-fiction, whether it’s newspaper and magazine pieces, speeches or whatever you’re into.
Mix it up. That’s how you grow and learn.
There are endless ways to structure and execute writing. You can steal from anywhere:
Stand-up comics are amazing at setups and payoffs, and can do them in the most ruthless shortage of words.
Poets make sure every line is a magical spell.
Narrative non-fiction is actually a secret treasure chest of great stories that totally work as fiction except they actually happened, and they use the same structural tools as narrative fiction, also known as fiction.
Playwrights spell their own names wrong, yet they’re the masters of dialogue.
Linked movies and serial shows show you how to plot mega-stories (22 movies by Marvel that all tie together!) and how great beginnings can go completely wrong (Season Eight of GAME OF THRONES).
Screenwriters are the absolute best at structure, which is the evil secret to anything of length. And everything has SOME length.
Even if you write stark Nordic mysteries or spy thrillers, romance authors and horror writers show you how to do emotions right, and nothing matters without emotion.
(2) Writers are helpful souls–take the help, and offer help whenever you can
I only started this blog after romance authors found my silly ad to sell the Epic Black Car.
And I learned an amazing amount from them. Am still learning.
For a journalist-turned-speechwriter, writing thrillers for fun, romance is the last place I expected to look.
Look in those unexpected places.
Answer questions from folks starting out.
The other person who taught me an insane amount is my sister, Pam, who won a Nicholl Fellowship for screenwriting. You wouldn’t think screenwriting has anything to do with speechwriting or novels. But you’d be completely wrong. Screenwriters are the absolute best. They’re building skyscrapers that hold up to hurricanes. Meanwhile, other books on writing tell you to build a two-story house out of drywall, then you wonder why the thing falls down after the first rain.
Also: there are authors, writers and editors I met here from around the world, folks who are continually witty, talented and interesting. I want to give a shout out to two in particular — Alexandria and Joshua the Sharp — for their help this year. You two rock.
Keep on meeting people, on Twitter, the Gram, the Book of Face or whatever new thing Silicon Valley invented last week. You never know who’ll turn out to be amazing and will change your life, or whose life you might change. YOU NEVER KNOW.
(3) Take things apart to see how they work
If you read this silly blog (and hey, you’re doing that now), it’s clear just about every post involves taking something apart to see why it’s either (a) horrifically good or (b) beautifully bad.
That’s the interesting and fun part of stories, books, movies, music videos and speeches. How do they work and why?
What could you do to fix a flawed piece or improve something that’s already amazing?
Complaining about something is the easiest thing in the world. You can throw a Nicholas Spark novel across the room (go ahead, that’s kosher any day that ends in Y), walk out of a lame movie or end a show on Netflix after 5 minutes and say, “That sucks.”
Except there’s behind those words. Zero intellectual weight. Anybody can kvetch about something that stinks, or gush about artistic things that are seven separate flavors of awesomesauce.
It takes no talent to do those things.
Figuring out HOW things rock or stink–that’s the fun and difficult part.
Don’t bother with sending your novel around for beta readers to chew on, editors to edit and proofers to proof. You’ve got 50,000 golden words, right? THEY MUST BE SEEN AND PUBLISHED, TOMORROW, and you’ve already told the dealership to order a black BMW because the advance will be huge.
Forget sending queries to literary agents. Call them on the telephones, right now, or get their cell number and try dinner time, because they’ll be home.
If your novel is truly great, bypass those gatekeepers and fly to the Isle of Manhattan to hail a cab for the offices of Random House with the only copy of your manuscript in your locked briefcase. Make sure there are copyright notices all over the thing and a confidentiality agreement drafted by your attorney before anybody gets a peek, lest they steal it.
Do you have your plane ticket yet? Go get one, right now.
Okay, those folks should be busy on Travelocity while literary agents and editors are hiring a team of former Special Forces soldiers to greet them in the bowels of JFK’s parking garage.
You may have 50,000 words and a spiffy badge, 34,000 words and a feeling of failure, 13,000 words and a newfound hatred of literature or 3,923 words and a pile of index cards that say things like, “The scene where Emily discovers that she hates her husband and wants to become a nun. Then he makes her ham and eggs. The eggs are soggy but the ham is delicious.”
Yeah, I know it’s probably a Word doc. Stick that thing in a virtual drawer. Don’t touch it, not even to fix that scene where Emily is at work and the serial killer is in the copier room, expertly printing his manifesto on both sides and making the machine staple that sucker in the upper left corner before he kills the CFO with an industrial three-hole punch.
2) Take the first page of those five great books in your genre and study them. Just the first page.
Now take your manuscript (mss if you’re a hipster) and print the first page. Only the first page.
Compare them all. Different authors have different styles, sure, but you shouldn’t be writing in second person, or first person plural, if all five of the bestsellers in your chosen genre of memoirs are say, first person. Just a guess. For giggles: Top 9 reasons to write in first-person plural
If you want a quick look at taking a red pen to the first pages of famous novels to rip them up, in a good way, check out these:
6) After a month, go back and crack open that NaNaWriMo manuscript again.
Listen to your editors. Use what you’ve learned about storytelling and from reading great books in your genre. Fix the ending. Fix the beginning. Kill off every character you can and combine their roles.
Keep on working on it while you dream up the next novel, which should not be a sequel. Different characters, different setting.
Does the new idea feel like work, or would you happily burn a day off to crank out chapters? Toss ideas that feel like drudgery and hold fast to concepts that make you excited. Because this should not feel like punching a clock in a Ford factory or going to meetings in a cubicle farm about your TPS reports.
Writing it should make your heart beat faster while you smile. You may even cackle the evil cackle of glee. All those are Good Things, and should be encouraged.
Also: The thing about writers and editors is this: they’re friendly, and as long as you’re not a jerk, they’ll chat with you on Twitter and help you out a little. Great people. I LOVES THEM.
Also-also: If you want to know anything, check out The Writer’s Knowledge Base for a massive collection of articles and posts on every topic a writer could want. It’s like a mega-powered and secret google for writers and editors. Plus it’s free. This thing is a public service. Use it, and tell the folks who run it thanks. Send them tips when you spot great posts or stories and some good karma.
Because there’s a lot of good karma among the folks who love books. This isn’t a zero-sum game where somebody has to lose for somebody else to win. People who love books and writing also love fellow writers and editors. We’re brothers and sisters in arms, battling word counts and deadlines and plot bunnies. It shouldn’t be stressful. Because this is fun stuff, the making up of stories to entertain each other.
Writer peeps tell me they’re doing NaNoWriMo, which is Esperanto for “I’m trying to write a novel in a single month, and I’m 10k behind already, so I’ve quit my job and divorced my husband. I vaguely remember that we had some kids. Ready for a sprint?”
God bless all who sign up for this. I believe a novel is the toughest thing a writer can tackle, and the most rewarding.
If a friend of mine said they were doing NaNoWriMo, I’d want them to have a good experience and not pull their hair out because they missed two days of writing at that wedding and now they need to write 3,000 words a day and IT’S NOT HAPPENING.
It’s great that there’s a national month encouraging folks to write a novel. I just don’t want new writers to bang their head against the wall and feel like a failure if it doesn’t happen. You’re not a failure. The math is stacked against you for NaNoWriMo.
So here is what I would say to that friend wrestling with word counts and freaking out, or to anyone considering doing NaNoWriMo next year.
1) Spend all of October training for this literary marathon
For writers, a novel is like running a marathon. You don’t pop up off the couch on Nov. 1 and bust out 26.1 miles. You’ve got to train and build up to it.
Ignore the veteran pantsers and their crazy “I never outline” ways. Anybody writing a novel for the first time on Nov. 1 should spend October doing this:
Read SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder and STORY by Robert McKee
Figure out what primal story, per Blake the Snyder, you’re going to write—that’s your genre
Watch movies (hey, this homework stuff is tough) or read your favorite books in that genre, and see how those movies and books do setups and payoffs, reversals and revelations
Map out a three-act story, using Blake’s spiffy Beat Sheet, and if you want to get technical, he breaks Act 2 in half, so you’re really looking at four Acts
Figure out your story on that one-page Beat Sheet, and do whatever research you need for the Writing of Many Words
2) The goal is actually more than 50,000 words
You might say, “Hey, mister, fifty thousand words is a lot to write in a month. Don’t make this any harder.”
Sure, 50k is a lot. We’re talking about 1,667 words per day, every day. Except 50k is a novella, not a novel.
It’s more like half a novel.
Google it. Go on, I’ll wait.
Okay, not really. I’m over there, watching funny cat videos.
So: Literary agents, publishers and book peoples have all these standards for word counts when it comes to novels of different genres, and if you’re going to run a literary marathon, let’s make sure you hit 26.1 miles, not 14 miles and call it a marathon.
Chuck Sambuchino is an editor, author and expert on what agents and publishers want in different genres. Here’s a TL;DR version of his post about word counts for novels: “Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere.”
Therefore: you’re really shooting for 80 to 90k. Which leads us to Number 3.
3) Make it NaNoDecemberO to stay sane and married
Trying to hit 50k in 30 days is hard. The math, it doesn’t add up.
I know full-time authors who write one book per year. Maybe two. If they wrote 50,000 words a month, they’d be cranking out six to ten books per year.
Which doesn’t happen.
Not even Stephen King puts out six books a year, and he (a) writes faster than anybody, (b) has decades of experience writing fiction and (c) has the money to spend all day doing nothing else, if he wants.
People doing NaNoWriMo typically are not independently wealthy, retired or able to call on decades of fiction writing experience. I bet most folks have full-time jobs and kids and life. So asking them to write at least 1,667 words a day is asking a lot.
Especially when the real finish line is really 80,000 or 90,000 words.
80k words in 30 days is 2,667 words per day
90k in 30 is 3k a day
People expect three bullets, except I don’t have another set of numbers on this point, so here’s the start of an infinite set, just for you: 1 2 4 8 16 32 64 128 256 512 1024 2048
That’s crazy talk. Old school authors like Hemingway would count their words, words printed on these things called typewriters, doing it by hand with a pencil. And they’d call it a day when they hit 500 words, going off to drink bourbon and watch bullfights, because 500 words a day is roughly three books a year.
Let’s make it NaNoDecemberO and give you two months to write a full novel instead of a novella.
80k words in 60 days is 1,334 words per day
If you go long at 90k, that’s still only 1,500 words a day, less of a workload than NaNoWriMo’s 1,667
That’s right: write fewer words per day and actually have a full novel instead of a novella
Therefore: go ahead and turn it into NaNoDecemberO.
It’s okay. The NaNoWriMo police won’t come to your door and take away your keyboard. You’ll get more sleep and your friends and family will thank you for doing something incredibly hard in 60 days instead of 30.
4) No matter what, don’t set a goal of more than 2k a day
You might think, “Hey, I’ve got a free Sunday coming up, and I’ll spend six hours writing, 2k an hour, so that’s 10 to 16k, easy.” Might happen. Probably not.
It doesn’t matter what kind of writing you do or whether you write an hour a day in the morning or all day as your job. Reporters, screenwriters and authors all seem to hit the wall at 2k a day.
Though you can edit all day. Hmm. Interesting. Write 2k, then edit like a madman. There may be something to that.
HOWEVER: Let’s say you can go all out and hit 3k a day, every day. You’re going to miss days. Weddings, anniversaries, holidays, soccer practice, late nights at work. It’ll happen. If you need 3k a day, and miss a day, now you have to make up for it with 6k tomorrow. Ugh. Even spreading that out over a week would be tough.
Don’t be a literary tough guy and set yourself up for painful falls. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 2k a day or less is smart.
5) Don’t do it alone
Writers are friendly and helpful. Ask. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.
And find some people to trade chapters with and such. You don’t want vague happy nonsense like “it was great” or vague critical nonsense about how they hated chapter 2 and don’t know why.
Find a few fellow writers who need critique partners. Everybody needs beta readers.
Or omega readers. 🙂
Yes, that’s an inside joke. And a good one. I’d throw down a double-sized happy face, if I knew how.
6) Let’s turn January into NaNoEditMo
The secret to all writing is editing—and the longer a piece of writing is, the more editing love it needs.
Don’t bother with critique groups where people read chapters aloud. Are you really going to read 80,000 words to the group? Might take six days. Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.
There are all sorts of books, blogs, web sites and secret societies when it comes to editing fiction. Dive into it. Learn all about editing, and practice on things you steal from the Interwebs or pull down from your shelf.
Because you can’t edit yourself. Not at first. It takes experience bleeding on the pages of others before you can turn your own pages red.
The way to learn is from horrifically beautiful writing and amazingly bad prose. Mediocre stuff doesn’t teach you how to edit.
One thing will pop out fast: story and structure matter more, over the long term, than the quality of the writing. You’ll probably enjoy entertaining trash in the genre you’re writing far more than literary novels where every sentence is a poem, and this is true if the genre novels are insane stuff about a zombie pirate in love with a robot ninja from the future.
Also: Yes, somebody has probably written that exact book. Bonus points if anybody can point me to the cover of that novel. I’ll do a blog about this zombie-pirate/robot-ninja shebang.
Also-also: NaNoScriptMo would actually be fun and practical. A screenplay is about 15,000 words and that’s 500 words a day. Hemingway would approve. Then he’d drink a whiskey and watch a bullfight.
Readers and writers need each other, and we won’t connect when there are thick, artificial walls and book covers so filled with testosterone – or estrogen – that you may as well nail up signs that say “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” or “RUN AWAY, MEN, FOR YOU ARE UNWELCOME.”
I don’t want fiction so segmented that it becomes little fiefdoms, or ghettos, with this section for men, this one for women, little kids here, gay literature over there, big kids there, lesbians here, left-handed straight white guys here and right-handed women who are into quilting and cats in this corner. I read whatever Dan Savage and David Sedaris write, though I’d never have found them if you hidden them in a gay and lesbian corner, which is a bit too near a closet.
Good writing is good writing, period.
Here’s a brief plot summary for a novel. Read it and tell me where it belongs in Barnes and Noble.
Hank is an investigator who solves murders. But he can’t stop a new serial killer, at least not officially. Because that killer is going after the employees of his wife, a prominent businesswoman. This is a case Hank can’t touch and can’t ignore. The killer knows it — and he’s getting ever closer.
All too easy, right? This is pure mystery/thriller. You put it next to Lee Child and James Patterson.
Nope. It’s a romance novel. Some stores might get wild and put it in Romantic Suspense. This is BETRAYAL IN DEATH by J.D. Robb, aka Nora Roberts. All I did was change the genders of the protag and love interest.
The initials Nora Roberts put in her pen name also tell us something. Why do female authors, even crazy famous and insanely successful ones like Nora Roberts and J.K. Rowling, have to hide behind initials?
You could say J.K. Rowling went with initials long before she got famous, out of fear a female author wouldn’t be taken as seriously writing an epic fantasy novel. I blame J.R.R. Tolkien for this trend. (Sidenote: George R.R. Martin, you’re a copycat, but I love you.)
Yet after J.K. Rowling earned enough money to buy her own planet and staff it with Brad Pitt clones, she wrote a non-Harry Potter book … using the pen name Robert Galbraith.
So even the world’s richest author, who just happens to be female, still seems to feel there’s a bias against female authors.
As a writer, a reader and a man, I think that’s sincerely screwed up.
My wife has the World’s Largest Collection of Novels, including 5.92 metric tons of Deep Literature, fantasy, romantic suspense, non-fiction, plain old romance, sci-fi — basically everything. I wrote this post after comparing the backs of her romantic suspense collection to the blurbs on the back covers of my Ginormous Horde of Mysteries and Thrillers and saying hey, these are ALL THE SAME THING.
Let’s look at two more plot summaries, one for a book that turned into a movie and another for a movie.
A poor and passionate young man falls in love with a rich young woman and gives her a sense of freedom. They soon are separated by their social differences.
Has to be a romance. Even if I switched genders, there’s no other subplot involving a presidential race or a stolen nuclear bomb. Nothing but a love story, straight up.
Nope. Didn’t switch genders or touch this summary at all. Pulled it right from the IMDB page for THE NOTEBOOK by Nicholas Sparks, who says he doesn’t write romances or even love stories. He writes literature, and his stuff belongs next to Hemingway. (Not making that up. Go ahead and google it.) And yeah, they don’t shelve his books in the romance section, because “Duh, he’s a man.”
I’ve met a ton of romance authors from this silly blog, and whether they write historical things involving men in kilts, romantic suspense or wild stuff involving Shapeshifting Dolphin-Men and the Women Who Love Them, they are united behind one core belief: a burning hatred for Nicholas Sparks. (Related post: The Red Pen of Doom guts THE NOTEBOOK)
One last shot, this time a movie:
Vanessa is beautiful, rich — and haunted by the deaths of her parents and her lover, who died during Vanessa’s secret crusade against the criminal empires tearing at the city. Now a recluse, Vanessa is jolted when a charming burglar steals her mother’s pearls while a new villain threatens the entire city. Should she open her heart up to the handsome new member of her board of directors, or should she risk everything by trusting the cunning thief in a risky battle to save the city?
Tough one. Might flip a coin here. Here’s the trailer for this movie, and yeah, all I really did was switch genders and leave out a description of the Batcave.
You might argue these are isolated cases, and that romantic suspense is a very different genre from romance, seeing how the love story is far stronger than what typically passes for a love interest in mysteries and thrillers written by male authors.
That argument is weaker than a half-cup of Folger’s Instant Decaf.
Lee Child is the kings of thrillers today. Every one of his novels has a love interest, typically the biggest character aside from the hero, a strong woman with a badge and a gun who (1) is crucial to helping Reacher beat the bad guys or (2) gets kidnapped along with Reacher, so it’s just the two of them against the idiots who made the fatal mistake of breaking our hero’s folding toothbrush.
Want to get more literary and old school? Take away the relationships and love scenes from the Easy Rawlins books and you’d cut them by two-thirds, making Walter Mosley cry. From reading every book in this series, I can say the heart of it isn’t really solving mysteries or racism back in the day, but the bromance between Easy Rawlins and his deadly best friend, Mouse.
The villains get far less attention. The latest Easy Rawlins novel has a villain showing up in the climax that I barely knew existed, and that was fine, because the real point was connecting Easy with all his friends and family one more time, especially Mouse.
You could argue all those books are written by men, and these other books, well, they’re written by women. And sure, there are women who’ve always written thrillers or mysteries and their work has always gotten shelved in the neighborhood of Lee Child and James Patterson. But not many.
The reverse is also true. There are men writing regular genre love stories novels … but hardly any use their own name, or even initials. They’re using female names.
Online, these walls fall away. Books don’t have to get shelved in only one place – you can tag them in all kinds of categories. However, I’m one of those people who likes to go to actual Stores of Books, and hold them in my hand, and buy them using pieces of paper decorated with dead presidents. Call me crazy.
There is a benefit to a few walls. There’s no point in throwing everything together and making people search for books alphabetically.
I’m saying it’s possible to go too far in the other direction, and to miss out on broader readership by making tinier and tinier niche markets, year after year, with only a few books by big-name authors marketed to everybody. Keep this up and we’ll have one tiny shelf labeled MAINSTREAM and it’ll all be authors who’ve figured out they’re so big now, they don’t even have to write the novels, because they can put their name in big letters, the co-author in little print and let the checks come in the mail. Hey, it’s not a bad gig, if you can get it, and these authors worked hard. James Patterson is a master of co-writing a zillion books and you can tell he works hard with co-authors so each book is in his signature style.
What’s crazy is how far this trend has gone, seeing how an author being dead isn’t a barrier anymore. Books by Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum will keep haunting prime real estate of bookstores as long as lesser names are willing to cash the lesser checks.
It’s like Hollywood sequels made long after the original director and star died. Even if the book or movie is great — and Eric van Lustbader is a far better writer than Ludlum — it still feels weird. All those Tom Clancy books that Tom Clancy never wrote will, for years and years, take up a crazy amount of prime real estate at book stores. And that’s what I’m really talking about here: real estate at book stores, which is getting so Balkanized, the Balkans are going to sue for copyright infringement.
Break the mold, then set it on fire
“We’ve always done it this way” is a bad strategy. If you study breakout hits in any medium, they don’t stick to the mold. They pick that mold up, break it and set it on fire.
The first Harry Potter book was clearly aimed at kids. Look at the cover. And sure, 12-year-old boys buy books, and they see a lot of movies, and yes, Michael Bay has made 6.2 bazillion dollars with endless TRANSFORMER movies based on this demographic alone. Yet it wasn’t just 12-year-old boys who bought all those Harry Potter books.
People actually pay more attention to something out of the ordinary, as long as you don’t try to keep it caged up in its own little demographic closet.
It’s not true that men only want to read books, written by men, about young, perfect tough guys who are 6’4 billionaires. Who’s the most popular character on GAME OF THRONES, among men and women and whoever? This guy. BECAUSE HE’S AWESOME.
On paper, Peter Dinklage should get nowhere in Hollywood, while all the tall, young actors with chiseled abs should skyrocket into fame every time they’re cast into the latest action movie that costs $300 million and still bombs. Dinklage, Brian Cranston and the rest of the cast of Breaking Bad prove that actors don’t just have to look like Abercrombie and Fitch models to make it. Acting skills kinda matter.
Mike from Breaking Bad is an old man, but he’s far tougher, and more interesting to watch, than 99 percent of the perfect 20-something actors who get asked to carry movies like TRANSFORMERS 15: OPTIMUS PRIME GETS AN OIL CHANGE.
Find a wrecking ball
These days, publishers and booksellers are doing plenty of other demolition work. Every time a novel becomes a hit movie, teams of carpenters show up at Barnes and Noble to create a new section for this new genre that isn’t really new:
Young Adult Fantasy (HARRY POTTER clones)
Young Adult Fantasy Romance (Hey, TWILIGHT made a bazillion dollars, why not us?)
Young Adult Dystopian Craziness (HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT)
Next month, it’ll be Young Adult Zombie Dystopian Coming of Age Stories in Stick Figure Graphic Novel Form, (DIARY OF A WIMPY KID meets WORLD WAR Z)
Blake Snyder was onto something with his SAVE THE CAT books, where he smashed the myth that story and genre is about setting (westerns are in the Old West! Sci-fi happens in space!). Doesn’t matter whether your protag with a badge and gun wears pants or a skirt – it’s a mystery/thriller.
Snyder broke down story into what happens and why, and how the story works. In the old, stupid model, JAWS is a horror movie, FATAL ATTRACTION is a domestic drama and ALIEN is a sci-fi film. Wrong. That’s looking at the setting instead of the story.
All three of those movies are a primitive, visceral version of the story he calls Monster in the House, which is one of the oldest tales ever. There’s a monster in the house, and either you kill the monster or it kills you.
Eating you is optional. Villain’s choice.
So this is my not-so-plaintive cry, which is different than a plaintiff’s cry, because I’m not suing anybody: I don’t care whether the story was written by a man or a woman, whether the protag is a man or a woman, straight or gay, short or tall, young or old. I don’t give a rip whether the story is set in 18th century London, present-day Seattle or a space station orbiting the seventh moon of Jupiter.
All I care about is whether the story is any damned good.
Thrill me, surprise me, make me laugh.
Bust the locks on some of these literary cages. Unshackle authors and readers from the obsolete expectation that demographics is destiny.