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

Write and publish with love and fury.

“Writing a book by committee is a great idea in every way!” said everyone but the writer.

Imagine all the people from all the classes you’ve ever taken in one room. Each group has its own character, but today we’re going to focus on the outliers and oddball characters with whom you’ve gone to school. I’m not talking about those who stand out for their smarts and sweetness. I’m talking about the girl who, just before the last bell rang, reminded the teacher about extra homework for the class just before the long weekend. Remember the annoying guy who always had another question or inane comment to add long after a subject was beaten to death? And don’t forget the person who was really stupid, but for some reason thought he should speak a lot. Worse, he was smug about it.

Now put all those people you didn’t like in school and put them in charge of your work in progress.

That pressure behind your eardrums is your brain trying to escape.

This scenario isn’t entirely theoretical.

Recently, I listened to two different podcasts about two of the most successful television shows that exist. These were true fans…but:

1. On several points, they seemed determined to be confused about plot points even though the answers were readily available on screen, if only they’d looked.

2. Several weenies missed subtleties that weren’t really that subtle. It’s not the fault of the show’s writers if you aren’t paying attention. If you’re missing something, stop tweeting while you watch The Walking Dead

3. Someone objected to issues within the shows that are non-issues. e.g. Is Leonard’s mom on The Big Bang Theory really a licensed psychiatrist? If true, she’s terrible! Answer: it’s a comedy and you aren’t supposed to like that character and it’s a comedy and it’s a comedy and oh, for the love of Thor! Stop!

4. These dedicated amateurs had one or two good suggestions (I’m guessing by accident.) The rest of their requests for changes were objectively terrible, like dumping beloved characters that made the shows work, for instance.

There’s a reason we don’t write by committee.

It’s good that writing is a lonely job. You don’t get book ideas and plot points from other people. The elements develop organically, rising up from character and logic and by answering the question, “What’s next?” And then answering it again and again until you stop writing or die. The writing grows from the act of writing.

Input is helpful after you’ve done the work, sure, but don’t even ask a trusted friend what to do when you’re still in the second draft. He doesn’t know. How can he? You wouldn’t ask if you should turn left or right when all he knows is that you’re somewhere in New Mexico.

“Is this the right direction? Should the Mom die in the middle of the book?” A good friend will tell you to keep writing and hang up on you so you can get back to it. Finish something before you show it to anyone. You’re in command. Steer your ship solo. Lots of people will have their say later.

Everyone has an opinion on everything, even more so when they know less about the subject.

Once upon a time at a writing conference, an author asked me about the book I was writing. I gave him the broad strokes and he said, without hesitation, that my second act was “wrong”. If there’s a high school suicide in the first act, then the main character has to be torn up about it.

“Not if he hated the suicidal kid’s guts to begin with,” I replied. 

“Dude!” he said without a microbe of doubt, “High school kids don’t act that way. They shouldn’t act that way!”

“In my book they do.”

Summarily dismissed, I slunk away and have since dedicated my life to hating Stephen King with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. (No! I’m kidding! The offending author was not Stephen King. I love Steve! Him, I would have believed.)

Here’s the crux:

There are few rules in writing, but one I’m sure of is this, “If it plays, it plays.” You can make anything work in context. You can sell anything if the story sells it.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

People doubted me, but I created a sympathetic hit man named Jesus (in second-person throughout, no less.) I create a lot of anti-heroes and no, I don’t care if readers love and agree with all my characters. Loving and agreeing with characters is overrated. Interesting is more important than loving.

Many of my stories don’t yield an easy happy ending but give unexpected, yet satisfying endings instead. I rarely do happily ever after, but you’ll often find transcendence there.

My main character in This Plague of Days is on the autistic spectrum and hardly ever speaks (and when he does, it’s often in Latin phrases.) When Doubting Tommy asks, “How the heck are you going to make that work?”, the answer is, “Watch me.”

My mission isn’t to write something easy that entertains. My mission is to write something different that entertains. Too much consultation, especially early on, would squelch my process. We don’t write by committee because committees are how most things don’t get done. Committees are where good ideas go to die. Committees are where you’ll find three reasonable, intelligent and helpful people compromising with one insane fascist to arrive at something closer to crazy than good.

Choose your beta readers, editors and allies carefully and don’t show them anything too early in your process. The book is only yours as long as you’re writing it. After that, it goes out to the world and it’s up to thousands of readers to decide if your vision pleases them. 

Make sure that, whatever you write, it pleases you.

~ The latest All That Chazz podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com. You’ll also find helpful affiliate links to my books there so you can buy them, which is quite a happy coincidence, isn’t it? Thanks. For a topic sort of related to this one, you can also get the latest update on Season 3 of This Plague of Days here.

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iCarly, Art and what it means

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The news came in last night that I am no longer an artistic hero to a friend of mine. My fall from grace came when I announced on Facebook that I looked forward to seeing the series finale of iCarly. As a crime novelist whose anti-hero gets tortured and frequently kills, clearly I’d damaged any tough guy rep I’ve built in the Hit Man Series. I’m not too torn up at my fallen status in the eyes of my friend, but his joke did get me thinking about the big question: What is the nature of Art and what’s good Art?

As a stay-at-home dad, I’ve watched a lot of kid shows with my children. Most shows came and went as the kids went through stages. Teletubbies was a short foray followed by The Wiggles. Dora the Explorer was great but the kids outgrew it and declared it a “baby show” quickly. iCarly hit my kids at just the right time. As the stars of the show got taller, so have my kids. The two constants have become Spongebob and iCarly. Somebody told me they thought the stuff that qualifies as Great Art is the stuff that lasts. (Not sure about that. How long does a shooting star last?)

Let’s address the worry first: What’s a grown man doing watching iCarly? It’s simple. I have a pretty bleak outlook and monstrous rage I sublimate with humor. iCarly is silly fun and in each episode I was sure that everything would work out okay. Entertaining TV lights a candle where there is so much darkness.

It is clever silliness, though. If you are a little older and you watched the iCarly finale with your kids, there was a moment when you roared with laughter and your kids have no clue why. They did a tribute to another iconic moment in television history: The group hug/group shuffle from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That bit was a wink and a nod for the old ones watching with their kids. I loved it.

Watching iCarly kind of balances out my favorite shows: Dexter, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. I’ve also become riveted by season 1 of a Showtime drama  called Sleeper Cell which is a taut story about an FBI agent who is out to bring down terrorists. He’s undercover and also happens to be Muslim. I mention these shows not to try to win back any lost cred, but to say that Art comes in all shapes and sizes, tastes and brands.

Please click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

Please click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

Recently a troll went to work on a colleague’s blog, acting unnecessarily rude in a comment thread. My first reaction was what troll’s want: I was annoyed. Then I thought about the chasms and vast distance between iCarly and Sleeper Cell and how I enjoyed them both for different reasons. A commentator from On The Media mentioned recently that he didn’t think a famous self-published author’s work was very well-written. He then added, “But how great does it have to be when you can buy her books for $2.99 cents?”

I suspect the troll doesn’t understand what the commentator groks: There is no real Art in the sense that “This is The Good and This is the Bad.” There is nuance and too many variables for our pea brains to handle when it comes to what people like. The commentator allows a nuance that doesn’t register in Troll World: If you get it cheap, you don’t expect it to be perfect. And what a relief that is! We all strive for excellence, but nothing is perfect. Through that lens, I saw the troll differently, too. In Troll World, criticism is used to try to control others so you feel better about yourself. How else to explain anger directed at artists that comes with a heat that should be reserved for perpetrators of genocide? My annoyance melted to pity. How sad and lonely trolls must be when they project such anger. They bring no joy because they have no joy.

There’s room for all kinds of Art. That book you love? I hate it. The book I love? You hate. Someone once said criticism (distinct from trolling) has value because it isn’t merely subjective. It is intersubjective. Yes, when it’s practiced at a high level, you can provide measures and good reasoning why I shouldn’t like something. However, like and love is like laughter: It is involuntary. Bad reviews are often irrelevant. I notice now that a vocal group (the minority?) don’t trust good reviews, either. A good critique is often entertaining, but that does not automatically equate to believing the critic. Several times I have soothed a fellow author’s hurt feelings over a bad review by pointing out that people often pay no attention to a bad review, especially if it’s poorly written or the reasoning is shaky. Criticism is an art in itself, but I give it a small a, not a capital, because it based on what others speak, write, produce, act, direct or sing first. I’ve read a lot of art criticism, but for its own sake, not to determine which movie to see on any given Saturday night. The critic is not me. To believe the critic, he or she has to share my sensibilities. How often do we match up so well that we can switch out our opinion for another’s judgment? Rarely.

Art is the place where we meet strangers in safety. You wouldn’t want to meet my characters in real life. They’re dangerous. I write

A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.

A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.

stories of Bad versus Evil. But I’m complex and I have an emotional range. There’s room for a sponge who flips burgers and whose best friend is a starfish who is so creative in how entertainingly dumb is. And there was room in iCarly for Sam to get into and out of trouble by beating people with a slab of butter in a gym sock. Spencer hanging with an ostrich? Priceless. And we need Gibby and Guppy to be freakishly obtuse and endearing because all your surreal friends in real life are in jail for possession.

What’s good Art? That’s not the big question I thought it was. The nature of Art trumps the question because Art is so much bigger than that question. Art is multidimensional with infinite variety, as varied as we are. There’s room for everything and for everyone’s individual taste.

And now, one last time: “Gibby!”

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire as well as a bunch of books of suspense including Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and Self-help for Stoners. His new book, Murders Among Dead Trees, is the definitive collection of his short stories. It will be released later this week. To hear the All That Chazz podcast, go to the author site, AllThatChazz.com. For all the links to Chazz’s books, click here.

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Writers don’t get enough credit

Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory)

The kids asked us which celebrities we want to date. At first, in deference to my beautiful wife, I said no one. Then my daughter said, “Mom wants to go out with Johnny Depp.”

“What?” Time to reconsider. There are celebrities I’d like to meet, sit around and talk with over a big plate of nachos. I know Kevin Smith would be cool to hang out with because he’s funny off the cuff. Same with Joe Rogan. But mostly, celebrities would disappoint in that regard.

Just as winners on Survivor rarely credit luck for their win (though that’s an obvious component), actors often want their fans to think they are every bit as clever and witty as they appear on TV.

That’s why I appreciated Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory. In his Emmy acceptance speech, he took great pains to thank the writing staff for their work in getting him up on that stage. Jim Parsons makes Dr. Sheldon Cooper live. He’s a talented comedic actor who does a lot with body language and expression to make such a weird character work. But the words coming out are from a script and he knows it.

Thanks, Mr. Parsons, from writers everywhere.

And no, I’m not worried about losing my wife to Johnny Depp. But he doesn’t live next door , either.

Filed under: television, Writers, , , , , , , ,

What writers can learn from House

Chronology of Enderverse stories, showing wher...

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Fans had an interesting response to last week’s episode of House. I’m not going to spoil anything for you. Let’s just say some people loved it and some people hated it. As far as I could tell, celebrants and detractors were pretty evenly split. Many agreed the episode was a heartbreaker but they drew different conclusions about the success of the story: people loved it and hated it for the same reasons.

This is why you don’t arrive at your story by committee.

The episode was, by any measure, a success because people cared. The web was full of passion about House and lots of amateur advice about what should and what should not have happened.

The worst response to your fiction is not a negative reaction. The worst response to your story is, “Who cares?” As you write your story, listen to your instincts. And know that if you try to please everyone, you will fail.

Take risks.

And if it plays, it plays.

Filed under: rules of writing, television, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Bad Writing, Jim Belushi and Charlie’s Angels

Last night I watched TV as I puffed along on a treadmill at the gym. Jim Belushi’s sitcom was on. I was listening to a podcast on my headphones but the

Big Bang Theory writing is flashy, fast and funny. Good writing there.

 onscreen captions caught my eye. It was an According to Jim episode with all the predictable elements: a hot wife, Jim, a wacky neighbor who is fatter than Jim so the “star” looks smaller. There were a couple of cute kids running around.

David Cross tells a story about Jim Belushi (in Cross’s excellent book I Drink for a Reason) that is pretty awful. I won’t repeat it here. Go get Mr. Cross’s book for the full chewy goodness. Anyway, Jim is no John. But that wasn’t why I disliked the show. Yes, there was a tone of he-man homophobia which was distasteful and seemed dated to me, but it was the writing that was most egregious.

Perhaps it was the captions that alerted me to what was going on in the episode. I don’t mean the story per se. I mean the subtext of bad writing. Jim was there to crank out the stale and predictable jokes. The neighbor was there to make Jim seem more normal. The part of the wife could have been played by a whiteboard. She may, in fact, be a terrific actress. We’ll never know. No one on the staff was writing for her.

As I ran on the treadmill I wished I’d seen it from the beginning so I could keep a tally of how many times the wife’s lines were:

“What?”

“Yeah?”

“Okay. Okay? Okay.”

And then back to “What?!”

Wouldn’t it be great if everybody in the show got great lines? It’s either a power/insecurity thing* or the actress really couldn’t remember words longer than a few at a time. Maybe some day she’ll get to be a mindless exposition device. On this show, she may as well have been a cue card.

Watch The Big Bang Theory. Everybody gets great lines, not just Sheldon. Watch King of Queens reruns. Kevin James was consistently funny and you never once thought, “I bet that guy’s a real prick.” King of Queens was an underrated show, but it’s exactly what According to Jim would have been if it were any good.

Good luck to Mr. Belushi in his new fall show, The Defenders. I sure hope he got a whole new bunch of writers. I don’t want to see Jerry O’Connell going through entire shows saying “What? What? What?” so Jim can throw out another pithy line. It won’t matter too much. From now on, at the gym I’m sticking to Writing Excuses podcasts on my iPod.

BONUS:

*William Goldman relates a great story about the tense set of Charlie’s Angels. The actresses grew to hate each other and counted all the lines and words to make sure no one was getting more lines than they were. The writers ended up calling it Huey, Dooey and Louie dialogue because the angels would each have a line of equal length at all times.

Cheryl-LaddAngel 1: “I think we should…”

Angel 2: “Get to the beach!”

Angel 3: “…and find our Charlie!”

Quack!

Quack!

Quack!

A producer was asked the secret to Charlie’s Angels success. He didn’t laud his writing staff or the acting. He said one word: “Nipples.”

Filed under: Media, Rant, writing tips, , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

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"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

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