Monday, August 01, 2011

Writing Lessons from the Movies: "The Band Wagon"

As writers, we all know the kind of story we want to write. As well we should! If we don't know, then what are we doing with an open Word document in front of us, trying to string words together? Having a vision for our story is important.

In the 1950s musical classic The Band Wagon, we get a great lesson about not letting go of that vision, nor allowing someone to so skew your story that it's barely recognizable when they're through with it.

If you're not familiar with the movie, here's a brief run-down. Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) is a washed-up movie actor in the twilight of his career, looking to go back to his Broadway roots and return to the stage. His friends, playwrights Lester and Lily Martin (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray), have what they feel is the perfect vehicle, and persuade him to return to New York City. Upon Tony's arrival, they take him to meet the person who they want to direct their venture, Jeffrey Cordova (James Buchanan).

Fred Astaire & Cyd Charise "Dancing in the Dark"
Picture from Wikipedia
Cordova, however, has a very different plan for Les & Lily's upbeat musical, turning it into a musical drama that doesn't leave the audience with a smile on their face. The show is a flop.

As the cast is commiserating and saying their goodbyes, Tony takes things into his own hands, tells Cordova that they're going to revamp and take things back to the original show the Martin's had planned. When they do this, The Band Wagon becomes a hit.

You can probably tell where I'm headed with this (hey, you're smart!) but the important lesson for us writers is this: don't let others tinker with your story unless you're sure about the changes they're suggesting, if it really, truly improves things. Take everything your crit partners say and look at it thoroughly and with a cautious eye. Don't just take their suggestions as gospel truth.

When you get notes back from critters, agents, or editors (though mostly, the critters), take things in, try to see what they're saying, then let it steep in your brain for a while. I've gotten some of my best ideas when I let things sit rather than making the jump into editing immediately. I'll start thinking about one point, mull over possible changes, then sometimes, particularly if it's major, I'll call up the critter or meet them for coffee and have a brainstorming session. I actually have one critter from my local writer's group that we do this nearly every time I see him. He'll walk me to my car and we'll stand there and talk and brainstorm.

Some of my best ideas come while we're talking. I make a mental note, or, lately, pull up the voice recorder on my phone and make some notes as I'm driving home.

Just remember: keep in mind the vision you've got for your book. Not everyone is going to be pulling for you--or even see what you can see in your book's rough form.

My question for you: Have you ever received constructive criticism from someone where their vision for your book was polar opposite from yours? If so, how did you handle it? Did it end up being helpful?

Until next time,



P.S. My good friend and sometimes guest blogger Linda Yezak's novel is out on Kindle! When I bought it on Thursday, it was $0.99! I don't know if it's still that low, but I'd urge you to go buy Give the Lady a Ride. It would make her happy. -- LS

2 comments:

Terrie said...

I think it is hard to accept creative criticism, but it is important to keep the valid suggestions, but not let go of your vision- someone will come on board.

Great post

Liberty Speidel said...

Terrie, thanks for stopping by. If you've seen the movie, I think you'd see a difference between creative criticism and shaping a finished work into something completely different. I've a pretty good idea of that... The Band Wagon is one of my daughter's top picks for movie viewing. ;)

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