Writer Wednesday – Don’t Tell Her It’s Me

The title of this entry is the same as a somewhat low budget movie released in 1990. It was fairly silly at times with rough pacing and was not well received by critics at the time. At one point in particular, it was difficult to believe anyone would not have caught on by that point. All that said, it was a fun little movie and one which has a surprising amount of lessons for a writer.

Lesson of the Screenplay

It was the first Screenplay by Sarah Bird as she transitioned away from traditional writing. This is perhaps the first lesson we can take away from the movie. She wasn’t familiar with the vast difference from book to movie and it led to a number of problems in the finished product. To most easily understand this, I will offer two statements from the author herself.

  1. “It was a surreal experience and completely enjoyable right up until the point at which I sat down and watched the movie. And then the dream ended,” she says. “It was such a shock.”
  2. Never having written a screenplay before Don’t Tell Her It’s Me, Bird says she learned a few things from the experience. “The big lesson was how much the visual overwhelms the verbal and how you have to write visually.” She adds that it makes little difference how clever the dialog is if the screenplay is not written with the visual in mind.

Those two statements should go a long way for aspiring writers in both mediums. If you intend to do both, you might consider even more closely still. I have said in previous posts that books aren’t cinematic and this only goes further to confirm the statement.

Lesson of the Romance Writer

Early in the film, the reporter named Emily is supposed to interview the protagonist’s sister, Lizzy. She doesn’t realize who she is talking to and ends up insulting Lizzy and forwarding a number of stereotypes. Lizzy takes it in stride and clarifies that the name of the character that was just insulted was actually taken from her mother’s maiden name.

Later in the movie, we learn about just how well educated Lizzy is and why she decided to start writing romance novels in the first place. While Lizzy is certainly a busy-body and not necessarily as wise as she could be, she does show just how much more someone is than what the viewpoints might say. It shows you how no matter what sort of writing you may decide on, you will be viewed through a lens of assumptions. How Lizzy handles it in the film is perhaps the best way that such things can be handled. She simply accepts that someone else views her in that way and dispels the views through calm conversation. Given how I have seen some people respond to the stereotyping, there is certainly a useful lesson here.

Lesson of Expectations

The primary plot of the movie revolves around how the protagonist, Gus, is seen by Emily. After a long battle with disease, he is mostly bald and overweight. Despite having many qualities she claims to want and after her affirmation that appearances don’t matter, she is utterly uninterested in the man. In fact, she doesn’t really get to know him at all before coming to this conclusion. While this sort of thing isn’t uncommon in the real world, how it is handled thereafter is unusual.

Lizzy convinces Gus to ‘become’ the hero figure of a romance novel. Lean, tan and supposedly foreign, he ends up living out all of the typical tropes of the romance hero. Ignoring morality issues in this for a moment, it is important to understand why this is a lesson for a writer. We say we want many things, and perhaps we do. Be that as it may, we still reveal our true hearts in what we watch, read and otherwise bring into ourselves when we are alone. We behave ashamed to want these things, but that doesn’t change that they are there. We all want to be heroes. We all want to find that wonderful person who also happens to match our ideal person on the outside too. Each of us desires moments of escape and to live through some other person’s world.

When we read, we draw ourselves into that world the author creates and immerse ourselves in it. We love those books that are powerful enough to make us feel like a part of that reality. Whatever you write, know that there is someone out there who wants to be a part of it. Know that what you put on the page is tugging on the hidden heart of someone out there. If you can write it well enough and make the world immersive, then you will find a fan base. Both you and they will find something you want and everyone will be better for it.

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t seen the movie, go give it a look. It was recently released onto DVD. You probably won’t think it is Shakespeare, but you may find it entertaining. If nothing else, there are any number of lessons one can take from it.

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