As writers, when we read, things like POV switches and tell vs show jumps out from a mile away. Since I started writing and learned about exposition and act 1-3 etc I can’t watch movies anymore. At least not without thanking a character for explaining something everyone in the room would already know purely for the benefit of the audience following the plot. My sister now hates the fact that I’ve introduced her to the mechanics of story telling. She hates that she can also now tell when someone onscreen is telling us something or will often blurt out in the middle of a movie ‘…And so begins Act 3’!
So I got to thinking. Before I told my sister about all this, she happily watched movies or read books that were full of the flaws we try to iron out in our writing. Providing a story is written well and invokes the reader’s mind and is entertaining, should we be getting our balls in all these knots over POV switches or too much show vs tell etc to the extent that we do?
Would you rather write for writers or write for readers? I guess the goal is both but can truly cater for both? I guess it’d be like performing a magic trick for a magician! Or cooking a meal for Gordon Ramsay. He might not like how you cooked the steak because it’s well done and in the catering world, that’s a no-no. But if John Smith, who loves steaks well done eats it, he gives a rave review.
But then I thought, what separates the two?
Readers want story and character.
Writers want mechanics and prose.
These aren’t mutually exclusive. Having a thrilling plot does not mean you sacrifice basic writing mechanics or craft. And having polished prose doesn’t mean you sacrifice engaging characters.
I (try to) work on both. I get the plot and character arcs ironed out first, then clean up the prose in subsequent drafts.
You need good prose in order to effectively convey your plot. If your goal is to write forgettable, flat stories that cater to the lowest common denominator or audience, then do it. If your goal is to tell a story in the most effective and engaging way you know-how, do it.
There’s a reason The Matrix (and others) was so loved and withstands the test of time, while some other sci-fi is fully forgettable by general audiences. And I’m trying to think of a forgettable movie, but can’t because… I forgot them. The writing and plotting in The Matrix is well constructed, so developed and layered. While the layman can’t tell you those constructions, they can still tell you it was a great movie.
Writers know how to tell you why it was great. Thus apply those concepts to their own writing and produce more engaging stories.