From the Second Floor #10
I’ve discussed writing dumb many times. It’s a serious conversation. When you can provoke an audience with stupid, your stories and the readers following them will race to the last page.
What is writing dumb?
It’s an art. It’s knowing how to pull the audience into the work, yank their strings, entertain them even with the unexpected, and know how to twist a scene or chapter into the impossible and still explain them in a way that an audience accepts.
Take for example:
It’s stormy. Rain is pounding the house and the power cut off. Your heroine hears a noise. She believes it originated in the basement. She finds a flashlight, but the batteries are dying. What does she do?
If you write the story in a normal voice, she runs for the door to get help.
Why would you do that when you take the chance of losing your audience? No, she doesn’t run. When you write this scene, you need a moment of writing dumb. The flashlight dims and when she reaches mid-way with the bottom of the stairs only a few feet away, she continues. She goes for it, and that’s when the flashlight dies. Now she’s in the dark. Will your heroine scramble up the stairs? No, of course not. She enters the basement looking for a candle and walks over warped creaking floorboards in slow, methodical steps. Wind from a broken window causes the candle to flicker and go out. Will she retreat? No! She’ll look for a match.
Writing dumb is an art. Everything your brain conceives in character development – you turn around and write an opposing nonconventional simulation.
Let’s take a soap opera for a moment. People standing a few feet away don’t hear a “must hear” clue. Later, in that same restaurant or hallway, standing right where they were earlier, two characters offer a clue or blab critical storyline gossip – and guess what? Your characters hear the whole conversation. Now he or she can blackmail others with the overheard information.
A perfectly timed cell phone call interrupts conversations. People do careless sex until the time is right for a pregnancy. They use the ‘who’s baby is it’ and this forces the audience to guess – and suddenly they’re involved.
Will important people get caught even though they are doing the obvious? No, of course not. What fun would that be?
In a soap, you can have a characters carve out a kidney from a stranger to save a life. Does it have to be a perfect match? Not on your life. No time for testing.
What about surgery on a kitchen table without instruments? Works for the audience if the man is being saved is their hero. They don’t care about rusty knives. They want the guy to live.
Dumb writing gets better. People jump out of a plane, the parachute doesn’t open. They land in trees. Cut to the hospital. Both survived. How? Who cares?
Think about the opposite of every exchange and then create it in a doable way. Are details important? No, not if a life is in danger or their hero is about to die.
On a soap opera, do the characters think about safe sex? Takes too much time. The audience wants the characters to dive in and get on with the action. What about that afternoon drink? In the soap opera world the characters can drink all day every day. Does it hurt their health? Who cares? The audience doesn’t. They never think about their beloved characters getting sick. Actors don’t get sick. What fun is that?
Will dumb writing work in a novel? Sure, as long as you justify the creation in a way that makes sense. Romance novels do it all the time. Grant you, in real life people do stupid things, so enhancing them works if you’re good at the descriptions. Remember, you drive your characters. You can make them work, kill them off, or give them a disease.
In an action packed story, you have limited time to develop romance, personal feelings, children growing up, household issues or marriage problems. You want the audience to flip those pages and race to the end. Did their hero live? Did he get the crooks or killers? If you satisfy the reader or viewer, most of these issues can be part of the reading satisfaction. Drop a hint here and there, a phone call or text message. It saves dealing with unnecessary dialogue or descriptive locations not important to the story. The reader or viewer wants action and more of the same.
Writing dumb is an art. It’s not for every book or screenplay. It doesn’t work at all in most stories, but the market is huge for a great story full of pie ingredients when the crust is unnecessary and used for filler material.
Writing dumb can be lucrative when you master the art of doing the opposite of what the audience expects.
How do you learn writing dumb? Many can’t or will never get a handle on the words just like most can’t sing, dance or fly a plane. You can tell by the stories you share with others. Can you easily pull the wool over their eyes? Is it possible to fool the unexpected? Will you learn to tease and hold back the truth no matter what? Like I said, it’s a gift to gab. That translates into words that dazzle.
There must be a reason for everything you write about. Take a simple scenario and make it complicated. Have characters do things they’d never do in the real world.
What excites you can only be expanded into the outrageous and then take it one or two more steps over the edge.
When you set goals to write fast, your time is limited for detail. That means you need problems not easily solved, but your characters are witty, stupid-dumb and managed the impossible. Going over insane levels to get the point across works if dumb writing makes it justifiable.
As long as your audience accepts the insanity of each development and doesn’t stop to question your decisions you’re home free. Only when the audience stops and wonders about the canvas you painted will you find yourself in trouble.
You can’t fool your audience, but you can entertain them. There is a huge spread in-between the two. Don’t assume your audience is dumb because they’re not. They bought your book, watched your TV show or paid to see a good movie. They demand entertainment and when you try to fool them the whole things falls apart.
I’ve written screenplays, directed films and created novels that all have snippets it writing dumb added. A few readers will never get it. Critics may bash you, but when the audience loves the work the critics become irrelevant. I’ve said before, every review helps a writer or filmmaker and I meant every word. Anyone taking the time to read or view my work is appreciated. I welcome reviews, good and bad. They all help. Not everyone will like your work. There are those who may even hate what you do or how you did it, but if your core audience likes it and accepts the path chosen – you’ve done your job well.
There’s a lot more on this topic and we’ll talk more about it another time. Writing dumb can be very rewarding. As I’ve said before, I know writer’s making six and seven figures yearly writing very silly stuff that sells and entertains.
Keep the faith and continue writing no matter what you do. Find time and get to the last page with a smile.
William Byron Hillman © 2015
NEW RELEASES – WITHIN AN INCH OF THE MOON – a romantic/suspense/contemporary fiction novel. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UT0V24E
LET’S SUE ‘EM - a romantic/suspense/ contemporary fiction novel http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009M9E790
QUIGLEY’S CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE – a family tale with romance/emotion/classic message/wonderful characters/a book children will love to read over and over: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ANVNQ6G
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Rollie Kemp Novels
Ghosts and Phantoms Part I: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056WR6I6
Ghosts and Phantoms Part II http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056WR7YE
Bad Rap: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DNIHCYI
Hoax – Prematurely Terminated
In editor’s hands – Looting
Doug Hamilton Mysteries
Let's Sue ‘Em http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009M9E790
(Over a Cup of Caramelized Chocolate – Completing Final Draft)
Romance/Suspense – Contemporary Fiction
Within an Inch of the Moon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UT0V24E
Veronique and Murray: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0071F05MU
In development Veronique and Murray's Honeymoon
In development Noah’s Journey
Dream Searcher http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EC19DJW
Motion Picture Stories
Zebra's Rock and Me http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004PL08LM
Quigley's Christmas Adventure http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ANVNQ6G
(Available in audio book soon)
My next feature film to direct is:
Quigley's Christmas Adventure(Sequel to the hit film Quigley)