How watching “bad” movies makes me a better writer – Lynn Almengor

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By Lynn Almengor

There’s a special place in my heart for “bad” movies. I don’t just mean mainstream blockbusters that fell flat, but low-budget train wrecks where the filmmakers clearly had something to say, but their message got mangled in translation. If you’ve ever watched Mystery Science Theater 3000, you know what I’m talking about. These movies are so off-the-wall strange you can’t look away. But studying them can offer us something better than a few laughs — the opportunity to become better writers.♥

Now, obviously, you can learn a great deal from studying cinematic masterpieces like The Godfather — whole college courses are built around that notion — but sometimes it’s difficult to understand why these movies work so well. Because in good stories, the seams don’t show. It’s the curse of the editor — if you do your job well, people don’t realize you did anything at all. Plus, if you’re like me, even honest attempts to analyze great movies leave you so engrossed that after 20 minutes you’ve forgotten to do anything but sit back and enjoy them.

But when you watch “bad” movies, the seams are everywhere. Fraying in your face, they highlight each component of the whole, pulling you out of the trance. You can’t help but notice plot holes, unnatural dialogue, or the biggest story sin of all — extraneous information. Shots drag on forever, irrelevant conversations abound, and there are so many competing themes that none of them resonate at all. It’s enough to drive you crazy!

Then it hits you — oh wait, I do this too. That beach scene I wrote? Sure, it might be funny, but it doesn’t advance the plot or develop characters in any meaningful way. And why on Earth did I spend two pages following my protagonist as she parked her car, checked into the hotel, changed clothes, and finally walked out to the beach, instead of simply starting at the beach where the real action begins? I’m the worst writer ever!

But you’re totally not. We all write crap in early drafts when we’re still figuring out the story, and spotting crap is so much easier when you’re not emotionally invested. Watch enough of these movies and you’ll start seeing not only the filmmakers’ mistakes, but their intentions, which are just as important. Because when you know what they were attempting to do, it’s easier to brainstorm ways they could’ve better done it — which is great practice for editing your own work.

But even during your darkest days when you feel like burning your manuscript, know there’s one more reason I love “bad” movies. Despite failing on multiple levels, these films are endearing in their earnestness. They were passion projects by people who not only had a vision, but were determined to follow it through, often on their own dime and with very little support. These people made things happen. So even if your project isn’t perfect, you’re still my hero because you had the guts to actually do something that most people only dream about.

Lynn Almengor is a novelist and filmmaker living in Philadelphia, PA. Her debut novel, Now That We’re Adults, follows a group of geeky 20-somethings in Scranton, PA, as they struggle to figure out life and love after college. When not writing, Lynn can usually be found playing video games, watching “bad” movies, or goofing off with her husband and their four ferrets.

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