Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What I Learned About Writing From

Project Runway

I know.  I know.  It's not even about writing.  It's a reality show about fashion design.  I warned you in the first post that I'd be taking inspiration from lots of different places. 

The big thing is that it's about creating something.  Creating something that will help you achieve your dream.  I think that fits.

1)  Work to your strengths

Every week the contestants are given different challenges--make a prom dress to a sixteen-year-old's specifications, design an outfit using only items you can find at a hardware store, dress a drag queen or design the best resort outfit you can.  No matter how far out the challenge, the outcome is supposed to be a garment that could be sent down a fashion runway.

The designers who do well are those who know their strengths and weaknesses, and work to their strengths.  Especially on the wackier challenges. 

We all want to do it all well.  But let's face it, we all have something that stands out about our writing.  Why not play that up?  Yes, I work on strengthening my plotting, but I don't forget about character building and dialogue.

2)  But that doesn't mean you can't stretch

"I don't do menswear."  Or gowns, or resort wear, or whatever.  That doesn't cut it on the runway.  When you're given a challenge, you either perform or go home.

As writers, we're lucky.  We can write whatever we want.  No one is standing over us demanding, "Write a steampunk romance set in the old West."  At least, not once we get out of school.  But it certainly doesn't hurt to stretch ourselves a bit.

Can I add a little more humor to your stories?  More romance, mystery?  I've tried using a setting that I have to research, that I'm not familiar with.  I've found that I enjoy it.

3)  Don't repeat yourself

Too often, good designers get stuck.  The judges all loved the dress with the intricately folded fabric detail.  Then the next week the designer sends out a jacket with folded fabric, then slacks, etc.  It gets old fast.

We've all seen it happen with books.  Series can be especially susceptible.  I know I revisit certain themes, but I really try to beware of characters and situations becoming cookie cutter.

4)  You are responsible for your own work

As with most reality shows, there is a confessional type camera that films each individual talking behind the scenes.  Gloating, backstabbing or whining. 

Last season, one of the contestants complained to the camera.  "How do I get the judges to appreciate my brilliant designs?" 

Can you find the problem in that question?  She put all the responsibility on the judges.  What she should have asked was, "How can I improve my designs so I can impress the judges?". 

It's hard to accept criticism.  To hear that maybe we're lacking.  Much easier to blame the critic.  They just don't get it.  I'm trying very hard to listen to critics, really listen and determine how I can take that criticism and improve.


Marie D-W said...

Great analysis. Of course I watch every year and am always impressed with how important it is that the contestants hear the criticism, work with it but not let it take away their individuality. Whoever does that seems to win. Well maybe not Gretchen, I'm still in proces over that one.

Ali said...

Totally. I just watched season 3 of HGTV's "Design Star." All of the comments you made about Project Runway would fit just as well with the other show.

One designer, for example, was very artistic and in an early episode, she painted an artistic touch in a room that really impressed the judges. Then, by a few episodes later, the judges were walking through the latest room, saw the mural on the wall and muttered, "We've seen that before," and turned away, utterly unimpressed.

Fleur Bradley: said...

I guess this means as a writer, you should raise the bar for yourself. Great post and thoughts as always, Deb.

Debbie said...

@Marie-I still don't get the Gretchen thing either.


@Fleur-Hoist on my own petard. I hate it when my words come back to bite me.

Steve Bevilacqua said...

@Marie - I liked Mondo, but apparently the judges thought that his designs looked too much like Seth-Aaron's, who won the previous season.
@Deb - I think you're right. The lesson here is you should raise the bar for yourself (but hopefully not seem too much like the previous season's winner.)