Bad Scripts Make Good Lessons
I needed a fix last night – to indulge in some storytelling at the end of a stressful day. I pulled my covers under my chin and my laptop next to my pillow.
But instead of hitting one of my favorite, brilliantly written shows, I decided to watch a new fall offering.
It hurt, but I kept watching, studying what was going wrong. The actors weren’t the problem.
No, the problem was the contrived script. It was a script that wrote itself, with every line and scenario clichéd and predictable. All I could think was, “Why did they waste money, time and talent on a bad script? Why didn’t someone just recognize the problem and get new writers?”
Write the Unexpected
I was an English teacher for 15 minutes.
In my twenties, I was a youth minister/youth worker with Youth for Christ and one afternoon at the high school where I ran a few programs my friend left me in charge of his 11th grade English class.
He didn’t actually expect me to teach them, but I couldn’t resist sharing with them a writing lesson, “Write the unexpected.”
I explained to them that every time they wrote something to challenge themselves to write it in a way they had never heard before. It is more than just avoiding clichés, it is writing the unexpected.
Describe something in words you have never heard it described. Before you move on to the next sentence, see if the one you just wrote stands out as a unique work of art. If not, rethink it.
Brilliant Scripts Make Great Lessons
While listening to the bad script, I thought of the brilliant scripts that make my favorite shows fabulous. The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and Glee are three examples of inspired scripts that stand out because of their unpredictable writing.
The ingenious insults Sue Sylvester delivers, the antics and rules of Barney Stinson, and the theoretical explosions from Sheldon Cooper never disappoint viewers, consistently keeping us laughing and needing more.
We have never seen these stories, heard these lines, or met these characters before. And new is what we want, what startles us enough to make us listen, laugh and come back for more.
I love when a writer stuns me with their ingenuity — when a description or scene is so creatively written that I stop and admire it like a painting on a museum wall. Writing is art and art stands out when it is unexpected.
The Sheldon Cooper Effect
When I watch The Big Bang Theory I am jealous — I wish I were as brilliant as writer, creator, Chuck Lorre. But, unfortunately, I won’t be creating dialogue worthy of Sheldon Cooper in my lifetime!
So what about the rest of us — the not-as-brilliant-as-Chuck-Lorre population? How can we make our writing stand out?
Just as I told that 11th grade English class, we need to rethink our writing. Does that story, sentence, or description stand out as our own? Is it expected?
Not every sentence we write will be a masterpiece. Not every blog post will be our favorite. But we can consistently challenge our writing to be unique — to not just run from clichés, but to bring something new.
Take a mandatory time out before you hit publish and when you come back, re-assess: Are your descriptions ordinary? Can you punch them up with a different angle? Do your points make your reader stop and tweet? Did you push your mind until it hurt?
Does it stand out like Sheldon Cooper?
YOUR TURN: Whose writing do you envy? What scripts stand out for you as brilliant?