Sunday, November 25, 2012

Identify the Problem

Often, I tell my Creative Writing students that reading/studying bad novels is as valuable as reading/studying good ones.  There's something to be said for being able to recognize the flaws in a piece of fiction.

Case in point:

I'm a sucker for these cheesy Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas movies each year.  I get out my hot chocolate and a cozy blanket, my Corgi at my feet, and hit the "PLAY" button.  Each time, I know I'll be disappointed in the quality of writing, but I don't care.  I like the Christmasy decorations, the predictable romance, the sweet storylines.  Even if they are cheesy.

Well, today, I watched one and was able - even more than usual - to spot the writing flaws.  The story had way too many subplots.  In fact, by the end of the movie, I really wasn't certain what the main plot had even been.  Was it the rebel teacher sparking creativity in his wayward students?  Or was it his coming to grips with a painful past?  Or -- was it the new potential love interest coming his way?  OR -- was it the troubled student just looking for attention?  Or was it the "wishing tree," (which brought the film its title, and was showcased at the beginning and end, like bookends, but served pretty much no purpose in the scheme of things).

I think the main problem was focus.  It didn't have one.  There wasn't a clear through-line, one main idea for the viewer to hang onto.  Instead, it was like a mash-up.  A mixed-up patchwork of stories that didn't work well together.  And I think all it would've taken was some tweaking.  Keep most of the subplots, but pick one and emphasize it as the main plot.

Studying writing -- even poor or flawed writing -- is so key for a writer.  Because the better able we are to identify flaws in someone else's work, the better chances we have at recognizing those flaws in our own.

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