What You Can Learn From Bad Writing
A quick rant I realized would be better served as ‘what to do when you encounter poor writing.’ Learn. When you see something doesn’t work, problem solve it so the next project you have can benefit later. The best tool a writer can gain is self editing. Solving problems in other works helps you learn to look at your own work objectively and see what’s lacking.
So I watched this tonight with the bf. I don’t have a lot of time for reading, but I do have a few hours here and there to give to a movie. My main reason (outside of entertainment) is to learn as a writer. What I want to emulate and what I don’t. Here is what I learned from the failure of this movie.
(Disclaimer: I haven’t watched any other movies in the Oceans series. They never appealed. The idea of an all girl heist though did, plus the great cast, which just makes this all the more annoying.)
- You need character connection. I didn’t care about any of them. At all. There was no emotional connection. There was no reason to empathize with these characters. None of them were struggling, none of them had problems or anything relatable. No pain in their lives. They were just there, pawns, with nothing to learn, nothing to prove, nothing to gain, and with no interest in growing.
- You need stakes. When jail looks easy, when being poor with only $45 is as simple to remedy as conning someone at a register and snagging a hotel room, nothing matters if it all goes wrong. There were no stakes. There was no threat of violence or death. No mortality. It was a bunch of girls playing a game and the worst consequence was being locked away for a while. Yawn.
- You need conflict/drama. Everyone was ‘IN.’ Everyone. No one fought it. No one fought each other. There was no one who wanted more, no one who couldn’t stand another character, no one who had something to prove. No egos. No sick child, or backstabbing sister, or nosy neighbor, or jealous ex. No broken leg, or sudden fog, or a panic attack, or a flat tire. This again comes back to that problem of lack of character development. They threw a bunch of characters in there but never fleshed them out. They didn’t come with baggage and unpredictable behavior like normal humans. They were perfect pawns and because of it they didn’t add an element of interest.
- You need doubts. Every single character there had no fear of failure. They had no fear of jail. They had no fear of their family being targeted by other teammates because maybe one of them is a crazy bitch. They had no fear of leaving their kid alone to fend in the world cuz they’re in jail for the rest of their lives. Is the money worth it? Is the thrill? Is your life that bad that you’re throwing it all away over a hopeful payout? These characters were robots. Worse, they were sociopaths. They didn’t even get a thrill from their wins just as much as they felt no fear from losing. Boring.
- You need feminism. They built an all girl cast for a reason, then they never followed through with how women kick ass. How they’re brilliant, how they’re overlooked and underestimated, and trying to reach impossible standards of external beauty plus work and home life perfectionism while their inner lives suffer. Because the characters were so 2 dimensional, the whole point of an all women cast was lost because the things that women are dealing with were ignored.
- You need character goals. What would 38 million dollars mean to you? What would you do for that kind of shit? How committed would you be to get that money? How could that greed fuck up your actions? How could that motivation push you to be the best at something you might not be so great at anymore as you age? How could it get you to hurt people you love or cut off from society or crawl through a sewer or something? Get some fucking complexity in there! Character growth, push, pull—anything!
- You need fuck ups. OMF, it all went according to plan. They told you what they were going to do and then they did it. That is not a movie; that’s a boring ass documentary. That’s leading a dog around a ring and being mundanely pleased when you win an award. Oh, it might be the ‘perfect plan’ but it makes for a fucking shitty movie—and that’s the biggest issue.
Things that work aren’t entertaining. Characters who get along aren’t entertaining. Movies without conflict about well off women who are bored being housewives or running their current successful business aren’t entertaining. You need the exaggeration, the contrast of rich and poverty. You need the drama. You need the conflict. You need the doubts and you need shit to go wrong. You need that one character who you’re certain is talking to the Feds but you can’t replace them because they’re essential, but wait, no, it was the other one and it wasn’t the Feds they were talking to, but your ex who tries to rob you with a bomb you manage to escape, but one of the other girls is caught in the explosion because life is fucking messy and shit goes wrong and if you were only a better person, less greedy, someone else wouldn’t have ended up dead.
You need humanity and its flaws, ugly and beautiful. A lab created diamond is flawless, and because of it, cheap as dirt. The real diamonds are identified and known by every flaw they hold. People are murdered by relatives to inherit these rocks. Entire communities are enslaved and left starving and in poverty while forced to mine diamonds even when we have so many already in the world, diamonds are fucking worthless and their circulation controlled to appear otherwise. Why? Because that’s humanity for you. Insane, impractical, driven by motivation and fear and self hate. Flawed and shiny.
Good stories are about people, not about plans. More so, it’s not the end (though the character should be driven to that goal and running from their fears and conflicts and sometimes fighting every damn step of the way) but the journey of how they get to the end that should be the focus. It bothers me that I keep finding lackluster storytelling among these beautiful sets, dazzling designs, and big named actors. Shouldn’t this shit be a given at this point? When did Hollywood forget how to write a solid story?