Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Blechta here (and on the correct day, too!)

Charles’s and Vicki’s most recent blog entries are forcing me away from my current topic of electronic books. I just have to wade into their discussion.

I’m generally an empathetic person (that’s EMpathetic, as opposed to just plain pathetic), and I think it’s a strength that makes me a better writer. It also makes me prone to conundrums and often finding myself conflicted. I see both sides of the coin too easily.

I think I’ve sorted out how I feel about submitting work to a “focus group”, though. I am against it.

Vicki is correct about fiction writing being a primarily solitary avocation. In Hollywood, however, it’s customary for several people to work on a script. Having a script writer as a family member, I have a bit more knowledge as to how it works, as well as how well it works.

Yes, you will often see several people getting credit for a screen play. The usual reason is that one person is hired, writes the screenplay, then another writer is hired to fix it because the producer or director (probably both) don’t like it. This can go on several times. The reason you often see the director’s name among the writers is because he or she gets in there to tweak it (most directors consider themselves screen writers as well). Some people make a very good living in Hollywood as “script doctors”, those whose sole job is to come in late in the game to punch up the script and make it more marketable. The screen writing process often becomes very acrimonious. As a matter of fact if you see a certain name in the screenwriting credits (and I’m sorry, I don’t remember it and can’t get hold of my brother-in-law to ask him), it means that someone who should be getting credit wanted their name removed because they think the finished product stinks and don’t want to be associated with it.

So how does this fit into the idea of using focus groups for novels? Just this: you have an idea for the end of your story that your focus group doesn’t like, do you change it? The movie industry often does (L.A. Confidential is a prime example of this.). If your sole focus in writing is to sell as many books as you can, regardless of what you have to do to accomplish this, then by all means, go with a focus group. (How you go about finding the right focus group is beyond me.)

Vicki, I have to disagree with you when you say that movies are different from books. They’re not. However, the Hollywood movie business has chosen to try to create successful movies based on a popularity contest. The sole focus of most productions is to make lots and lots of money. Period. Witness the host of sequels and movies based on popular television shows. If focus groups at screenings don't like something, it's changed, even if it means calling all the actors back and re-shooting.

It seems to me that the difference between books and movies is that most of us (writers) choose to write to please ourselves first, and then, hopefully, bring the publishers, and eventually, the readers on board.

With my most recent novel, A Case of You, I made the decision to be true to what my story-line dictated all along: a tragic ending. I’m an optimistic person by nature. Believe me, I fought the ending that my story created, going so far as to write two alternate endings. They just did not work. I didn’t set out to write a tragedy, but there it is: I wrote a tragedy.

If I’d been working in a Hollywood model, the publisher would have brought in someone else to write a happier, more upbeat ending, something that would make readers cheer instead of weep.

But sometimes, weeping is good.


Next week, I'll get back to electronic books. Please feel free to comment on my previous two entries. I'm surprised more people haven't commented. Let me know your thoughts so the discussion will be more rounded because of other people's input. After all, we are discussing the future of publishing!


Susan D said...

Uh, tragic ending, eh?

I'm not finished reading it yet, Rick.

Rick Blechta said...

I didn't know you were reading it!! Honest!! Actually, it has a really happy ending, it's also bittersweet and some what down and ambiguous.

Damn! I knew I shouldn't have used that as an example. Why don't I listen to myself.

As I was hitting my head with a hammer just now, my wife stepped into the room and pointed out that several of the reviews gave that away. Now I don't feel quite so bad.

Still, I'm very sorry, Susan. I hereby swear I will never, ever do that again.

Vicki Delany said...

Like the story that will live in infamy in my family.

Daugher (Holds up Anna Karenna): have you read this?
Me: No. The only thing I know about it is that she throws herself under a train at the end
Daughter: Why did you tell me that!!
Me: Everyone knows that.
Daugher: I didn't.

Vicki Delany said...

Back to e-books. In this month's Martha Stewart Living, Martha tells us how to pack for a trip. And one of the things she is sure to have immediately at hand is her Kindle. Free advertising doesn't come any better.

Rick Blechta said...

You mean she hasn't come up with The Martha Stewart E-book Reader yet?

She's slipping...

Susan D said...

Aw, it's okay Rick. I'll still finish it. (Perhaps the cover picture alone promises a tragic ending.)

The ship sinks. Beth dies.

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