I’ve sat on a committee that reviews manuscripts submitted for publication for the last three or four years. Every nine months or so I receive a stack of PDFs to read, review, and then discuss with my colleagues. It’s been a fantastic education in how to write, and an even better one and how not to write.
When things go off the rails in a manuscript, almost always it’s because there’s an absence of story. Someone gets interested in a particular topic enough to write a book about it. They are captivated by the details of some person, or some event. So captivated that, in writing it all down, they forget to provide the connective tissue that weaves it all together. Into a story.
My own shortcut for describing what it’s like to read these: “this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” Great information, dull as a doornail.
Beau Miles uncovers the same issue with his own work in Junk Films, a commentary on four of his films, films that never saw the light of day. Because he forgot to tell a story.
Beau, you went to the Outer Hebrides, with this great group of people, with a camera that has a microphone within it, and you didn’t talk.
Ironically, the story of the failed films is, in itself, a good story.
I don’t write books, I write blog posts. But blog posts can tell stories too, and when the stars align they can tell good stories. One thing I’ve discovered in writing blog posts for 22 years is that the good ones always hurt just a little to publish: if, at the moment I’m about to click Submit, I feel twingey “can I really write this?” butterflies, that’s a good sign I’m onto something.
Miles found the same thing: if you don’t care, nobody else will.
I used tape to fix up my pants: that’s a story, Beau. If there’s one thing about my films, I try and make them personal, because that’s the only expertise I have, on myself. Stories are hard to tell because they become the essence of a big thing into something small. You gotta nail it: you find yourself waffling on and you’ve bored yourself.