Please welcome novelist and screenwriter (TV, film) Dale Kutzera to Writer Unboxed today!
Dale grew up in the Pacific Northwest and worked as a screenwriter for over ten years. Among his credits are the VH-1 series “Strange Frequency,” the CBS drama “Without a Trace,” and the independent film “Military Intelligence And You!” He is a recipient of the Carl Sautter Screenwriting Award, and the Environmental Media Award.
His novels include the “Andy McBean” middle-grade adventures.
He has recently released a plotting guidebook for novelists called “The Plot Machine.”
Dale’s “The Plot Machine: Design Better Stories Faster” is a book spot-on for the WU audience; it’s for intermediate writers, not beginners, and proposes a fresh way to think about story — through the design of the plot itself.
It’s a (Mad, Mad) Marketing World
Now more than ever, writing has become a matter of quantity as much as quality. You can blame the 500 channels on your television, the game machine below it, and the millions of books just a click away on your phone or tablet.
That’s a lot of options for story-consumers and a lot of competition for story-producers.
Standing out in this crowd is either impossible or insanely expensive. Television networks, movie studios, and traditional publishers can no longer rely on old-media to reach a wide audience. The top concern of every agent, editor, development executive, and producer is marketing. The first question asked of every manuscript, screenplay, and television pilot is, “How would this be marketed?”
Genre, plot, characters, setting—the traditional elements on which a work is judged—all take a back seat to marketing. This isn’t to say that leaders in the story-industry are blind to quality, just that ease-of-marketing is the first hurdle a project must clear.
If given a choice, would you market a stand-alone story, or the first in a series? Assuming both are of equal quality, the smart choice is the series, because the marketing dollars spent on story #1 would build an audience for story #2.
Franchise or branding potential is the second hurdle a story must clear. A major decision for writers today is whether their property can become a series (the same characters in many stand-alone stories) or a serial (one story spanning several episodes). Star Trek is a series. Harry Potter is a serial.
This pressure to brand has lead to the decline of stand-alone stories, whether individual novels, anthology TV series, Movies of the Week, or the sort of high-minded theatrical films that win Oscars.
2. Name Recognition
The impact of marketing and branding are all around us. These days, it is hard to find a theatrical film that isn’t a sequel, a reboot, or an adaptation of some pre-existing, pre-marketed property.
Stand-alone books or films are typically the work of name creators who have become a brand unto themselves—for example, the comedies of Judd Apatow, or the horror novels of Stephen King. Traditional-media is like a popular nightclub. Only the hipsters with name recognition get past the velvet rope.
3. Changing Distribution
As traditional media focus on fewer high-profile projects, new means of distribution have broadened the field for everyone else. Filmmakers now look to Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu as legitimate “studios.” Authors can publish directly on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.
These new outlets have changed viewing habits. Our audience is accustomed to binge-viewing stories without commercial interruption whenever they want. The nation no longer watches the same program at the same time on the same night…then talks about it the next day around the water-cooler.
4. Changing Stories
Changing the way we distribute and consume stories has changed the kind of stories we create.
Stand-alone projects are in the decline. On the rise are genre stories (crime, romance, thriller, science fiction) written in series or serial form. These stories are often crafted for “stickiness,” with complex narratives that attract viewers like bugs on flypaper. You can blame the TV series Lost for the popularity of this narrative style, but soap-operas have used the technique for decades.
Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and everything by Shonda Rhimes are deliberately “sticky.” Such shows may attract a loyal audience, but their complexity can be a barrier to new viewers.
This brings me back to the importance of quantity over quality.
If the path to financial success is now paved with franchise stories, then writers have to write more words. Gone are the days when Margaret Mitchell, J.D. Salinger, or Harper Lee could write one novel and then pretty much retire.
Writers today must generate a lot of content. That means writing faster and plotting faster. The ability to design plots efficiently will determine a writer’s success or failure.
Plot like your career depends on it.
How do you plot your marketing?