Being a Better Writer: How Much Drama is too Much?

Welcome back readers, to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! Written via time travel … technically. As I am still in Alaska, this post was written and scheduled in advance, so I won’t see your comments until I return. That said, thanks to the magic of technology I can still deliver Being a Better Writer to you despite being—peers ahead—currently finish off another longline set.

So, with no news, there’s little for me to do but dive right in. So I’ll start by asking the question posed in the very title: how much drama is too much?

The prompt for this question came from a story I was reading a few weeks ago, in which two characters who were getting pretty close suddenly and out of nowhere had a massive moment of shared agonizing over holding one another’s hand. And I don’t mean “It became a big deal.” I mean “It became a big deal,” to the degree that everything else that had been going on in the story stopped dead while these two characters agonized over it.

Now, I’m not saying that someone agonizing over whether or not to reach for someone’s hand is a bad thing. Or an improbable one. Or even one that doesn’t bring the world to a halt for the duo involved. But as storytellers, we not only need to consider all of those things but as well everything around that moment or event. In this case, the story had not to this point had such a moment of drama. In fact, things had been quite the opposite, with the characters being very relaxed and at ease with one another. Again, not to say that there aren’t moments of transition from ease to panic in real-life relationships, but what happened here was less a transition and more a leap off a cliff. Or maybe up it, and the audience was left at the bottom. Not only was it quite sudden and out of the character we’d seen so far, but it also brought the rest of the story to a screeching halt, everything going on hold for a long segment of panic. Pacing? It was dead by the time that sequence was halfway over.

Which got me thinking, and led to me adding this topic to the list. How much drama is too much drama?

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How Marvel’s Movies (and Others’ Products) Have Changed Storytelling

Pop quiz for you. Don’t worry, it’ll be easy to answer. Have you ever read any licensed literature? Like Star Wars books, or Star Trek, or Warhammer, or … Sands, really any licensed property? Or maybe seen a tie-in TV show to a movie? Played a game of a movie or a book?

Basically, anything that could be considered “secondary canon?”

Right. I can already tell I’ve lost some of you. So let’s back up. Let’s say you are a movie producer. Better yet, you’re one of those producers like James Cameron who often writes, produces, and directs your own movies. And you’ve just made a hit.

Now, with this hit on your hands, someone has come to you and asked for a chance to expand on the universe! They want to write a trilogy of books that tie into the movie and extrapolate a bit after it! Awesome!

But … you don’t want to write a trilogy of books. You want to keep making movies.

“No problem!” says the publisher with the contract. “We’ve got an author lined up! They’ll write all three. We just need some notes on the movie, for you to answer some questions, and that’ll be all we need!”

So you sign the paper, and the trilogy comes out. You collect a small licensing fee, and a bunch of fans of your movie go on to read the book and form excited theories and ideas.

Except … a year or two later, when you sit down to write the sequel, you’ve got a bunch of ideas that don’t quite mesh with the world and liberties the author of the book trilogy took to flesh out their story. Not that you know this: You probably haven’t read them. Or, if you did read them, you’d know the score as being thus—

The movie came first, therefore the movie is the final word.

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