Things I Learned About Writing From Watching A Bad Steve Martin Movie

A few nights ago, The Remix and I went to our local dvd rental place. And it was slim pickin's, let me tell you. On our third lap around the store, we noticed a movie called The Big Year.

We hadn't heard of it before but it starred Steve Martin (love), Owen Wilson (like) and Jack Black (tolerate). The synopsis was that they were three competing bird watchings, attempting to see as many different birds as they could in the span of a year. It sounded just strange enough to be funny.

Spoiler Alert: It wasn't.

As the movie droned on and on, and as my Facebook feed hadn't produced much to distract me during the first thirty-four minutes (that felt more like thirty-four hours), I found myself getting increasingly irritated with the direction the movie was going. 

We expected a group of hilarious actors, in the middle of a forest, fighting over each other to see birds but the characters hardly interacted at all! It was like watching three separate movies, about three separate bird watchers. 


For example:
Steve Martin's character is super-rich and decides that he's going to take time off of work to see more birds. Jack Black's character is super-poor, living with his parents, but the two of them really want to beat the bird-seeing champion, played by Owen Wilson. At one point, Steve and Jack's characters actually team up to throw Owen's character off the trail. I was expecting Steve's character to offer Jack's character a partnership, which he'd pay for. After all, they got along really well, had a lot in common and want to beat the champ. The only thing standing in their way was Jack's character's lack of funds. The movie would have been MUCH funnier if they had teamed up because the solo scenes were so boring.

There'd be huge build-ups, like something was going to happen...and then NOTHING WOULD HAPPEN! It was as if the writers didn't want the script to be predictable but they went too far in the opposite direction. We'd be expecting one thing to happen, but then something else completely out of the blue would take over. It simply didn't make any sense. 

Not. Good.

And then there was the end. Oh, MAN, was the ending bad! Not at ALL what it should have been, considering how blah the rest of the film was. I don't want to say that it was the worst ending of all time but it sure was up there. No real resolution, no cheering - nothing at all.

*whomp, whomp*

So what did that teach me about writing? Actually, quite a bit, really. It was like a mirror being held up to my face, showing me the error of my ways.

Here's the deal: I suffer from two writing conditions. They are, "cheesy-philia" and "predictabile-itis."

Cheesy-philia [cheez-ee-fil-i-a] 
The fear that what I write will be cheesy, sappy and/or inauthentic, leaving readers no choice but to roll their eyes. 

Predictable-itis [prih-dik-tuh-bhul-i-tis]
The fear of writing predictable plot scenes that will have readers wondering why I can't come up with a creative idea of my own. 

Although I feel that The Big Year owes me two hours of my life back, it opened my eyes to why a little bit of predictability with a few sprinkles of cheese can really make a story better.

I realized (as I screamed at the screen) that people read books (or watch movies, whatever) to ESCAPE reality. Life doesn't guarantee a happy ending, where loose ends are tied up in a beautiful Tiffany bow. We want to be whisked away into another person's life. Someone who maybe has it worse than we do, or better. Someone who gets in trouble, falls in love, solves a mystery or whatever the case may be. 

Do I like the anticipation when I know something's coming? Why yes, I do.

Do I cry sometimes, even when I know the author's manipulating me, playing my heart like a fiddle? Why yes, I do. Sometimes, I even like it (shhhhh, don't tell).

So then, why the heck am I so worried about being predictable and sappy? If that's what I like then why aren't I following a similar formula? I have no freaking idea how I got it in my head to do the polar opposite but I can say, with certainty, that I'm going to be working hard to cleanse myself of these two potentially career-damaging conditions.

*loads sappy-ness syringe*

*injects into MS*

Oh yeah. That's the stuff.....that's the stuff, right there.


  1. Wow...I had never heard of this, but now I know I'm not missing anything! I feel the exact same way you do about Steve Martin and Jack black...I tolerate Black, but sometimes he's intolerable ha. I wonder if people actually love him? Steve Martin is just awesome ;D

    Great post!

  2. Oh yeah, Nate. Skip this one. Not good at all!


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