Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Different Kind of Media Bias?

I am a television junkie. It started at a young age, with my mother fueling my habit. We'd roll the television table around the corner and watch while we ate. When she bought a new set, the old one went in my bedroom. I fell asleep most night with it on.

No surprise that I grew up still loving television. And while I'll watch a not-so-great show if it's fun, my tastes have become a bit more discerning. There is a lot of good storytelling on TV these days. Sometimes what I see on the tube is better than what I see at the movies. There's more originality and risk-taking, especially on networks like BBC, HBO and Showtime. AMC and USA also produce a fair share of good programming.

Which leads me to The Killing on AMC. The review I heard on NPR described it as Twin Peaks meets 24 meets Murder One meets The X-Files. Okay, they had my attention.  Here is the blurb from AMC's website:

The Killing ties together three distinct stories around a single murder including the detectives assigned to the case, the victim's grieving family, and the suspects. Set in Seattle, the story also explores local politics as it follows politicians connected to the case. As the series unfolds, it becomes clear that there are no accidents; everyone has a secret, and while the characters think they've moved on, their past isn't done with them. 

 Cool, right?

Well, no.

I've watched four episodes now, and I don't see where all the love is coming from. Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, NPR, etc. all gave glowing reviews of this show. I will admit that the story line with the victim's grieving family is something I haven't seen handled in depth on television before. It's realistic and well-acted.

However, the rest of the show is one big cliche'. Let me list just a few:

-Cop gets handed a big case on her "last day" at work
-Cop also gets saddled with a new partner
-Said partner has just moved to homicide from vice, with all the twitchy suspect behaviors that an undercover vice cop can be expected to display
-Single mother (Cop) is resisting making commitment to "nice guy" 
-Politician can't trust people in his own camp
-Politician is sleeping with an aide

-It is hinted that politician's dead wife was a victim of violent crime
-Politician's campaign is linked to murder victim
-Victim was a good kid from wrong side of tracks
-Victim's ex-boyfriend is a bad kid with lots of money
-Victim's best friend didn't know what she was up to

And so on.

I've heard the lead, Mireille Enos, praised for her acting. Again, sorry, but all she does is chew gum and stare--at people, at evidence, at walls. It would fine if you could see any kind of emotion or even evidence of thinking going on behind those stares, but there isn't.

Why the big disconnect then between what the critics are all saying and what I think?

I could be totally off base. But there have been enough comments from others that I don't think I'm waaaay out there. I think that critics get in ruts just like the rest of us. They love a book from Author Q or a movie from Director J or Actor V. And maybe they like the next effort. And the next. And soon, anything that Author, Director, Actor or TV Network does is A-Okay by them. 

The opposite happens, too. Author P, Director I and Actor U can do nothing right. Maybe some of their efforts haven't produced the best results. But soon it doesn't matter. The best book ever written or the best movie ever made will be roundly trounced by these critics simply because it comes from these people.

Does this just mean that critics are human? Perhaps. But I find it disappointing when those critiques I've trusted steer me in the wrong direction. Does this mean that now I have to distrust everything they say?

Monday, April 18, 2011

What I Learned About Writing From

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

For those of you who may not have heard of NaNoWriMo, it is a writing event that takes place during the month of November. Participants sign up to write a "novel" in one month. The goal is complete 50,000 words in 30 days. Don't worry about doing the math--it comes out 1,666.6666 words a day. Now 50,000 words isn't quite a novel, but it's a great start.

The writer should be starting a new manuscript. Some preliminary work, such as character sketches and plot outlines are allowed. Then on November 1st, the writing begins.

I've participated three times, and learned some great lessons.

1) If at first you don't succeed . . .

My first time attempting NaNoWriMo, I failed. Epic fail. Life reared its head, and I didn't start until 5 days in. Then I froze. My total word count for the month was about 1,500 words.

The following year, I made it to 25,000 words. Better, but not the goal. Still, it was 25,000 more words than I had at the beginning of the month.

On my third try, I made my 50,000 words and a bit more. So satisfying.

Sticking with it paid off.

2) Writing every day is a great habit to have.

Once I got in the groove and writing every day became the norm, it was much easier to maintain. I got to a point of missing it if I skipped a day.

3) It doesn't have to be great writing.

Putting out a predetermined number of words a day means only that you write that number of words, it doesn't mean that the result is brilliant. And that's okay. Especially in a first draft.

Occasionally, though, there are flashes. Because when you're writing every day, in the groove, your brain works on the story even when you're not writing. So you don't have that boot up time. You sit down and start. And sometimes you surprise yourself.

4) They're more like guidelines really.

The rules say that you will start a brand spanking new project. But what if you have a work in progress? Will the NaNo Police come and wipe out your manuscript?

They didn't take mine away.

See, I had a WIP that was halfway there. I didn't want to abandon it to start the next manuscript. So I finished the WIP during the second week then started the next one. The world didn't end. I finished my first manuscript, and got a great start on the second.

It's your project. Make it work for you.

I highly recommend trying NaNoWriMo. If you've tried before, and didn't make it to 50,000, try again. Maybe make your personal goal to get 1,000 more words than you did the first time. I think you'll be glad you did.