Streaming for the exits

I am going to talk about why a moviegoer might ask for their money back.

“What does this have to do with how to improve my writing?” you ask. Well, in becoming a better writer, sometimes you need to look at where your writing succeeds—not only at the places where it could stand improvement.

Have you ever walked out of a movie before it was over? If you answered “yes,” can you recall why you got up and left? What was the reason?

Back in my early 20s, I took a girl on a date to see a movie called The Perils of Gwendoline, which looked okay in the coming attractions. “Gwendoline” was played by the young and attractive Tawny Kitaen and the film looked like a lightweight Raiders of the Lost Ark with a dash of Rocky Horror Picture Show…if you can imagine that. Okay, Perils of Gwendoline, here we go!

And we went alright: We were outta that theater 20 minutes after it started and we were not the only ones.

Was there something particularly offensive about the movie? No.

Did its production values look as if it had been shot on Super-8 film and edited with a butter knife? Not at all.

The problem was that it was uninteresting. Boring. Gwendoline failed to “hook” a significant part of the audience, who went streaming for the exits. (My apologies to the cult following that Gwendoline has developed over the years. Perhaps I would view the film differently today than I did then.)

On the other hand, I was transfixed by a movie released the same year called Repo Man—a quirky indie film with a largely then-unknown cast (save for a barely-known Emilio Estevez and perhaps Harry Dean Stanton—if you were an aficionado of character actors). The plot (“Find the Chevrolet with the aliens in the trunk!”) was on the thin side. However, what it lacked in star power and plot line, it made up for with a significant quantity of interesting things that grabbed your interest and kept you interested.

(Interesting, isn’t it?)

In my last blog entry, I talked about redundancy and overwriting—using seven words to say what could be said with three or using the same sentence structures over and over. In pointing out the shortcomings in your own or another’s writing, it’s sometimes very easy to overlook what’s already good.

I took those redundancy examples from a manuscript that became a book called Across the Hall: Real Love the Right Way by author Monique Francisco. But far more important than being a source of such examples, Real Love is a great example of how a good story trumps any technical flaws. Francisco weaves three plot lines and takes the reader up and down the emotional roller coaster: I hissed at the “bad guy” and fell in love with the good guy(s). It held my interest, without effort, and it’s not even a genre I commonly read.

So, Francisco might have had a few things to learn about tightening up a sentence or a paragraph (we all did at one time or another) but there was little I could tell her about how to improve her storytelling or how to improve her book.

Q: What can you do with a perfectly-punctuated yet dull story? A: Use it to start a fire.

The story is the most important factor.

You can always find an experienced freelance editor to correct the grammar, punctuation, etc. (Hey, an experienced freelance editor writes this blog!) You can even find an experienced freelance editor to work with you on the overall flow of your story. (That’s called “content editing” or “substantive editing.”)

So, the moral of the…story is to have a story to tell and to tell it well and interestingly. The rest is technicalities.

Contact me if you need a freelance editor or copywriter.

# # #

Steve Wagner is a Los Angeles-based freelance copywriter and editor whose clients include American Songwriter magazine, The Hard Truth magazine, the public relations firm MWPR, in Burbank, CA and the diversity consulting organization Global Collaborations, Inc., in Houston, TX. If you are seeking a professional editor, contact him at swagner (at) writer-editor-etc (dot) com and he will be happy to talk with you about your project.

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