Friday, June 10, 2016

Respect the Formula

On YouTube there's a user by the name of Razorfist. When he's not talking about videogames and comics, he's talking about movies. He's often mocking in his tone, and rightly so, but he's also not wrong about what he says. However, out of all his action film videos the one he did in 2011 for Segal's Out For Justice most directly hits the salient points I'm after here- how to make commercially-viable genre fiction.

With all the hatred RazörFist has been hurling at the video game industry, we were about due for a good old fashioned '80s / '90s action flick, and this time Steven Seagal provides the ammunition with his 1990 classic Out for Justice. Watch in awe as we witness the mustache bandit's violent homicidal rampage, Steven Seagal's fake Italian accent, and Gina Gershon's perfect melons.

Again, Razorfist's taking the piss, but he's not wrong. What you need out of an action film is this:

  • An obvious villain for an antagonist. (No moral ambiguity here.)
  • A signature action sequence that sticks with the audience well after the fact.
  • A protagonist who is Iconic in nature.
  • Protagonist engages in righteous slaughter against the villain until he kills the villain.
To which you can, and whenever possible should, add: a hot chick for the protagonist to deal with. "Story" is irrelevant; the audience demand here is to watch Iconic Hero do Heroic Deeds (which routinely do revolve around righteous slaughter, and have since then Ancient World; read your mythology), kill the bad guys, and get their just rewards (which, often, is what the girl is for- but not always). It's the secularization of old and sacred drama, and you're a damned fool to not see it as such. Same applies to Romance, Horror, and other genres with known formulae at work.

Yes, it's a formula. Yes, it's been lampooned plenty of times. Yes, lots of people deride it as low-brow and crass.


The definition of a professional is someone who make a living doing it. Professionals DO NOT BALK at reliable gigs. They may use psuedonyms or some other cover to avoid "tainting their literary credibility" or some such bullshit, but they do it because they like Civilization and want to enjoy its benefits- and that requires paying for shit, which means money. That action movie formula? That's a reliable gig, and plenty of folks who now get Oscars once hustled in the genre film trenches hustling to get fucking paid.

That's you, right now. No sales. One sale. 42 sales, 15 Hugos, and a TV series or two. Whatever, you need to get paid and that means not shitting on reliable forumlae for commercial viability. Being "arty" or "literary" is reserved for people with Fuck Off money or patronage.

This is the practical end towards the "know your audience" maxim. You need to know that audience so you can deliver the goods and get paid. You're not some fru-fru bullshit artist. You're a craftsman, a fucking working-class work-with-your-hands craftsman, and your craft is story-telling. Your job is to make stories that others will spend money to buy from you. You wouldn't shit on a proven formula for making a chair, a shirt, or Mac & Cheese, would you? Fuck no, that's retarded. You'd leap at that shit and be grateful for it.

Respect the formula. That's what makes you the money, because that's what's proven to be what the audience wants. It also takes a lot of work off your shoulders; you can focus on making a very good work of that sort--on your execution--than wasting time on reinventing the wheel making characters that readers don't want to see, or conflicts that get readers to use your work as toliet paper, or other failures to provide the value that your audience expects out of you. They want a bolt-action rifle. Don't fuck around; just make the best fucking bolt-action rifle your skills can manage.

And if you aren't looking to go pro as writer? Respect it anyway. If no one reads your writing, then you might as well not write at all.

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