I just finished reading Mustache Shenanigans by actor/director Jay Chandrasekhar. It’s the first non-research book I’ve read for pleasure in four years, and frankly, I needed the mental break. No pun intended. One of the points he brings up, almost cliché, is the conflict between the artist and the industry. How the current film industry is only concerned about the blockbuster earnings potential of a movie and markets to people whom the industry generally considers shallow and with the attention span of a housefly. (My paraphrasing.)
When I was a kid, I got into reading a series called Thieves’ World, which was created by Robert Lynn Asprin as a “shared world” for a group of authors to write short stories in. Some of the writers included Poul Anderson, Andrew J. Offutt, C. J. Cherryh, Janet Morris and Marion Zimmer Bradley. The format was interesting and the stories well written, and often exciting. The downfall of the series, though, is that as it progressed, each writer felt the need to “out-do” the others in the group. Eventually the whole universe of Thieves’ World spiraled into a competition no longer about the struggles of men and women, but the struggles of the very gods. And it was far less enjoyable.
It’s like that these days with movies. One of my favorite movies is Running Scared, featuring a pair of Chicago cops played by Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal. The car chase on the “L” was fantastic, and the shootouts were, well, reasonable. Look at any movie these days involving car chases and shootouts. They’re all over the top. I enjoyed The Walking Dead series when it first started, but had to give it up because it seemed that each new season was not about making a good story, but increasing the shock value of the violence and gore. That’s the current creative industry today. It’s all about the special effects, the “Wow” value, the shock, the momentary thrill, the ability to out-do the last movie. I am frankly sick of it and I think The Industry is short-selling the viewing public.
All of this came to mind as I reviewed the feedback from my beta-readers. I’m very happy with what I am hearing, and I have been given some good points resulting in improvements. But the thing I hear from some people more closely tied to the publishing world, is how a book needs to be structured “these days” in order to get the attention of agents. It’s all about chasing the agents and the potential movie deal. You must do this, this and this. Major hook in the first page, or the reader will put it down and not pick it back up. Write for the reader who has two minutes to spare throughout the day. Don’t have side plots. Make sure you have a specific bad guy with an ultimate confrontation with your protagonist. Like Wonder Woman versus Ares.
It feels like the writing version of driving through one of those McMansion neighborhoods popping up everywhere, where every house looks exactly the same, but with a different paint job or slightly different layout. Not where I want to live. I may not be following the conventional wisdom in my trilogy, but that is the point. The recent movie, King Arthur, was all about the conventional wisdom. I hope the message about the box office failure shows that the conventional wisdom is wrong.