Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Did The Unthinkable...

Yes, it pains me to admit it, but I actually went to see Cowboys and Aliens last weekend. My gut told me not to do it, but I didn’t listen. I am ashamed of myself. You have my confession and now I will attempt to make amends, to warn others of the pitfalls of this movie, and on a larger level, of failing to follow your own gut feelings. I have learned my lesson, now I hope to share it with you…

When I first saw the trailer for Cowboys and Aliens in the theater months ago, I laughed out loud. I was embarrassed by the volume of my laugh so I looked around, hoping no one noticed. But I was confused. I thought it was a joke because it sounded so absurd and the trailer was pure corn, but I was the only one laughing. (Click here to see my blog post about bad titles) Woops. Lesson learned. But I tucked away in my little brain the thought that I would NEVER see that movie because it would be a pure waste of time and an utter humiliation if anyone knew I had seen it. My trusty gut told me not to do it, but I didn’t listen.

Over time I read a couple of interesting reviews and saw some new trailers that made the premise of the movie seem more appealing. I was gradually being boiled in a pot of water and I wasn’t smart enough to jump out and eventually I succumbed to the pressure.
Here are a couple of my problems with the movie…

1) It was stupid (My first impression was correct- the title was lame, the action cheesy, the

writing was weak and the acting questionable at best)
2) The movie was one giant cliché
a. Aliens invade earth to steal our resources (Wow, never heard that one before)
b. A band of mismatched heroes try to save the day (We’ve got the tough guy, the preacher, the ethically challenged tycoon, a kid, a dog and a good looking chick)
c. They made a half-baked attempt to answer deep philosophical questions about redemption and race relations (Seriously? It’s Cowboys and Aliens)
3) The movie was too long. In its defense, I would probably say the movie was too long if it were only 1 ½ hours. I just wanted it to end. As is, it ran a full 2 hours. (Literally, as the very last frame faded to black I found myself wishing it would fade more quickly)
4) There were too many distracting inconsistencies (I was about to share some examples but found it too frustrating)

In short (I know…too late) the only thing redeeming about this movie was the large pile of candy wrappers at my feet when it concluded. Mmm Candy!

So why mention this on a writing blog? Because from a storytelling point of view, these problems I had with the movie can also be problems in our writing.

1) Does our concept pass the smell test?
2) Is our action and dialogue realistic?
3) Do we write using clichés?
4) Are our characters original?
5) Is the length appropriate for the genre?
6) Is the story consistent within the framework we’ve established?

At the end of the day, we have to love what we’ve written. If we find inconsistencies that cause confusion we must assume that others will have an even bigger problem with it. Go with your gut. If you like it, write it. If you write it and it doesn’t turn out as you envisioned, rewrite it or maybe even scrap it.

When you are satisfied with your work, let test readers have a go. What are their honest feelings about the chapter, scene or book? Then ultimately you make the decision about what remains. Go with your gut. It’s your decision and you are the one to live with it.


Joan Sowards said...

Good points made! Thanks for the review and writing lesson.

Stephanie Black said...

See, it was a worthwhile experience after all, Steve, because you were able to gather some great writing advice for us! :)

Steve Westover said...

Thanks Joan.

Stephanie, you are an eternal optimist!

Danyelle Ferguson said...

You just saved me from taking my hubby to see the movie for our anniversary. Thanks! Now he'll have to sit through a chick flick with me instead. ;-)

Steve Westover said...

Danyelle, don't punish him with a chick flick. It's not his fault Cowboys was sooo bad.

Rachelle said...

Ha, love how we writers can learn something from everything! Thanks for sharing these insights because they are spot on.

Canda said...

Yup, I went too. I was hoping for steampunk. Nope, just a very long commercial for a video game. Good points though for thinking about our own stories.