C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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What I learned from House of Cards and a young ventriloquist


House of Cards has returned to Netflix and I binge watched, just like all the other seasons. As I took it in, I wondered what lessons I could apply to my own writing.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. When too much time passes between seasons (or between books in a series) it’s easy to lose the thread. I sat there thinking, who are these people and what are they talking about? I have to put out my books in series faster. If I can’t, I need good recaps.
  2. I’m a fan of varying the tone. House of Cards was especially witty in its first season. Now it’s relentlessly grim. Plots should be music with up ups and down downs. This is the drone of an air conditioner.
  3. When the plot gets so convoluted that you have to make a character say, “I meant to do that all along,” the plot’s not working. I get the feeling the writers are as lost as I am.
  4. Why aren’t they doing what hooked us in the first place? In earlier seasons, when Kevin Spacey turned to the camera for a witty aside, it was magic. The soliloquies were intimate. In the latest iteration, he hardly does it and, when he does, it’s big and over the top, stepping much farther out of the moment. It was clever and well-written before. What the critics complained about before finally seems true: it does feel like a gimmick now.
  5. Those loose threads where problems just seem to float away (hint: somebody taking a fall) are irritating. That’s not suspense. That’s providing a temporary solution that’s too easy.
  6. Do the deaths from past seasons matter or not? While some crusaders are digging into the mystery and corruption, we’re also given the message that losses have no consequence.
  7. Who am I supposed to be rooting for? There seem very few people to like. I loved Dexter and he was a serial killer. Frank Underwood’s charm is gone. Even the hypnotizing cadence of his speech pattern seems muted now.
  8. When the main character willingly abandons his goal that was clearly his mission from the very beginning of the journey, it’s a betrayal. They told us we were going to Disney. Nope. It’s a trip to the vet.
  9. Some of the sex scenes were hot. Some were grim. At least one seemed unnecessary. Were they just filling time or trying to keep our attention?
  10. House of Cards is overstaying its welcome. There seems a lot of filler. When I got to the end I was surprised to find they weren’t wrapping it up. This show seems destined to dissipate with a whimper, not a bang.

And now the good news

What I learned from a brilliant young ventriloquist:

  1. Wanks will tell you it’s all been done. Maybe so, but if you’ve got charm and panache, you can breathe life into something stale, make it new and different. Some people told me zombie apocalypses were dumb. This Plague of Days goes outside what’s expected of the genre and that trilogy is still my biggest seller years later.
  2. Little moments can make a huge difference. When she says, “Oh, boy,” in the video, I knew this was going to be awesome. When Petunia puts a paw over her mouth to stop her from singing and that girl’s eyes pop, MAGIC!
  3. To stand out, go bigger, bolder and better. Blow us away!
  4. To be loved, stay humble and sweet.
  5. Dare to do what could look nerdy to those who don’t understand.
  6. Perfect your craft. Here’s a kid who spends hours practicing in front of the mirror.
  7. Have fun with it.
  8. The work is an extension of you. Embrace that and you’ll have authenticity.
  9. Don’t expect a standing ovation. When it hits, soak it in. That kind of appreciation for a grand performance? It’s the best.
  10. Art is worth it.* The most unexpected things can have a great impact. I’ve watched that video three or four times now. I cry every time. If you don’t weep for such greatness, change out that motherboard you call a heart, you robot!

*Except mime and juggling. That shit is never worth it.

~ Check out my latest stress relief podcast at AllThatChazz.com. Buy some cool books while you’re there because that relieves your stress and mine. There are rewards for patrons. 

Filed under: publishing

3 Responses

  1. acflory says:

    Reblogged this on Meeka's Mind and commented:
    Whatever you do…PLEASE watch the video of the little girl and her puppet. Please…:)

  2. acflory says:

    Long time, Chazz and a great post. But may I point out that sheer talent is also a necessary requirement. This Plague of Days was brilliant because it’s perspective was brilliant, and the writing wasn’t bad either. :p That young ventriloquist won because a) she has an amazing voice for her age and b) no one knows /how/ she could sing like that without moving her lips. It’s like magic. And maybe that’s what we all need in our writing, a little magic. 🙂

  3. Candy Korman says:

    All the points you made about House of Cards are the reasons I stopped watching it BEFORE this season began. Season one had some, but not all, of the humorous glee of the original British version, plus more devious and deadly actions. Then all the snide humor melted away in a stew of grim plot twists. I think you may be right about the writers. The threads get pulled and lost and then the plot caves in on itself.

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