On Writing: 10 Tips from Awesome 80s Movies

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Breakfast Book Club: Or, How 80s Movies Can Help You Write


I like 80s movies. I like writing. Here are 10 quotes to help you land the giant airplane of words on the foamed runway of victory without using that pesky autopilot.

1. Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn. ~Better Off Dead
So... that's how first drafts happen.

2. Looks like I picked a bad day to quit sniffing glue. ~Airplane!
If you're doing something difficult like writing or revising, now is not the time to go on a diet or start a new exercise regimen. Focus on one thing at a time. Note: This is why I talk a lot about cupcakes while I'm writing.

3. When I'm around you, I find myself showing off, which is the idiot's version of being interesting. ~LA Story
If you're showing off in your writing, people will notice. If your writing is excellent, nothing will stand out. Aim for Unconscious Competence, as described in this great article on rejection by a respected kidlit agent.

4. I am looking for a 'dare to be great' situation. ~Say Anything
Some people wait for "the one". The perfect idea, the perfect character. But any character or situation can be great, if you make it so. The writing is the most important part.

5. In this life, there are nothing but possibilities. ~Empire Records
Your story can go any direction at any time. If it's getting stale, introduce a new character, a new secret, a new revelation. Don't box yourself in by becoming to dedicated to one idea or destination. Don't force it.

6. The next time I have to come in here I'm crackin' skulls. ~The Breakfast Club
a) So... that's how revision happens.
b) There should always be a threat hanging over your characters' heads. Secrets that could be revealed. A crazy wife in the attic. A ticking clock or looming doom will up the energy and keep the characters and the readers guessing.

7. Mopery is exposing yourself to a blind person. ~Revenge of the Nerds
That is, know your audience. Romance readers won't want a complex description of an electric generator. Science fiction readers won't want to know how many grommets are on the corset. Amish love story readers won't want a grisly murder. Don't waste your time on things that will bore or disinterest your readers.

8. "Rue the day?" Who talks like that? ~ Real Genius
Word choice is tantamount to voice. A Russian aristocrat from the 1890s won't say, "Yeah, I guess I'm alright, but whatever." When you're writing and revising dialog, try reading it out loud to make sure the words would really be part of that character's vocabulary and voice. When in doubt, google a phrase to see when it came into common usage.

9. You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. ~The Princess Bride
Having Thesaurus.com on your dashboard is a great boon to writers, but make sure you really, truly know what a word means before you proudly tuck in a fifty-cent term. Know the difference between your/you're, their/they're/there, and lay/laid/lie. When in doubt, look it up. One wrong word can pull the reader entirely out of your story and give them reason to doubt you.

10. Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. ~Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Action is great. Energy moves the story. But make sure you add in quiet moments for your characters to process what's happenings. During the big fight scene is not the place for your protagonist to contemplate her relationship with her mother, but maybe just afterward, when she's in the hospital, would be a better time. Knowing why a character feels the way they feel helps us connect with them.