The Invisible Novelologist

Saw Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs again.  What a fantastic film.  I planned on buying the DVD, but put it off because I knew I’d probably be seeing it again at the bargain cinema.  But after seeing it, I almost stopped and picked it up.  This is just such a wonderful movie.  Bizarre, goofy, funny, and heartwarming.  Highly recommended.

Onto the subject at hand…

Recently, I found myself in a short debate on the nature of villainy.  What makes an interesting villain?  What doesn’t?  Is a colorful villain the same as a more subtle villain?  Stuff like that.  Rather than repeat it all, I recommend you check out the comments on my Opinions Vary blog entry.  Some ideas are shared, and it makes some interesting reading.

Near the end of the exchange, I noticed something.  I’m a writer.  A needless observation since, if you’re visiting this website, you probably know me first and foremost as a writer.  Safe to say, if I wasn’t a writer, you wouldn’t give a damn about what random thoughts were crawling through my head at any moment, no matter how well-expressed.  So I am indeed a professional writer, and I have the check stubs to prove it.

But more than being a pro, I’m actually a writer.  I think about stories, about characters and plots and premises and everything that makes a story up.  If it’s a book, you know I’ve thought about the sentences, considered how they all fit together, about what they say and what they don’t say.  If I’m reading the book, I’m analyzing it (even against my will).  And if I’m writing it, I’m trying to make sure it does what I want.  Oddly, even when I’m not sure what I want it to say.

If it’s a movie, I do the same thing.  Except I’m not really concerned with cinematography or subtleties of direction that I’m sure are there but usually go unnoticed except for a feeling of something great when it’s there and something off when it’s not.

I can turn this off to some degree.  I saw Legion this weekend, and while there are many questionable plot choices, I also was willing to overlook it because there’s a fight between archangels that is totally badass, and really, that’s the whole reason I’m there.

I have a pet peeve of using the term “storyteller”.  It just seems pretentious.  I also hate the phrase “craft of writing”.  It just bugs me for some reason.  But I do believe storytelling is an art and that writing is a craft.  Though maybe I’d be more comfortable with “trade of writing” because I’m a tradesperson, really.  But instead of making houses, I make stories.  It takes some of the romanticism out of it, but if you ask me, that’s a good thing.  Because novelology isn’t glamourous.  It’s mostly sitting in front of a computer and typing.

Being a professional teller of stories, I still sometimes get confused about it.  Recently, at the DFWWW’s after-IHOP gathering, a rollicking conversation about Transformers 2 and racism erupted.  The conversation is far too complicated to get into now, but it was fantastic.  It was great because we were all discussing a movie about giant robots and racial perceptions far deeper than one movie about giant robots and about the nature of stories themselves.  One of the most memorable discussions I’ve had in a long time, and one not soon forgotten.

More than an interesting diversion though, this was me discussing storytelling with fellow storytellers.  Really not any different than a bunch of carpenters sitting around discussing hammers and nails.  It’s why I keep the receipts from my IHOP gatherings because it is a business expense.  My writing benefits immensely from these discussions.

People think writing is easy.  Heck, I think it’s easy.  It’s certainly not as hard as breaking your back for minimum wage.  Or manning the counter at McDonald’s.  Or any number of thankless jobs that demand so much and give back so little.  But writing isn’t easy.  You have to think about it.  And if you do a good job, most people aren’t even going to notice.  And if you do a bad job, many people aren’t going to notice either.  People really don’t care that much about stories.  They tend to take them at face value.

I’m often amazed at how often people talk about the story without ever thinking about the writer behind the pages.  That’s how it should be.  I think only bad fiction draws attention to the author, just as bad directing tends to be all about the camera movements and stylistic shots rather than what’s happening on the screen.

But I am a writer.  And I do care.  And I do think about it.  Just do me a favor.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Posted January 25, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I’ve watched this movie SEVERAL times now. It’s one of my daughter’s favorites. My favorite thing about this movie is that every single thing they mention is used later in the story. Even the ratbirds end up with a big purpose. It makes me happy to see a MOVIE with that much thought put into the script. Especially one designed for kids.

  2. A. Lee Martinez
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I agree that the script is wonderful. It’s not just that everything is foreshadowed, but that it’s done so in clever ways you won’t even think about. It’s easy to give everything significance, harder to do so without drawing attention to itself. Watching Cloudy w/ a Chance of Meatballs a second time is rewarding because it illustrates surprisingly subtle and effective writing. Jokes that seem like throwaway gags actually have plot significance that is natural and unforced.

    It reminds me a bit of Kung Fu Panda and the peach tree debate. It’s a great bit of dialogue that only afterwards takes on even great significance.

    Or The Incredibles, which explores characterization in such thoughtful grace.

    Well, I could go on, really. Because much of modern animated film and television illustrates that you can be fun and intelligent at the same time, and that great writing isn’t found in how somber your plot is, but in the wit and heart at the story’s core. Of course, great animation doesn’t hurt either, and any movie with a kung fu battle on a falling rope bridge, a giant robot terrorizing a city, or a spaghetti tornado is bound to be classic. But it’s nice to see films that don’t take that for granted, and take the time to put together a great story while they’re at it.

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