Skip to main content

Nobody Knows Anything

“Nobody knows anything...... Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.” --William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade
In this quote, William Goldman was referring to the motion picture field, but I think the same can be easily said of storytelling in general, of books and movies, of video games and shorts. Anytime someone has a creative idea, a new story to tell, no one has any idea what's going to work or not.

I think this is a prime example of something to keep in mind when you're dealing with people in just about any industry that involves the sale of stories.

This is one of the reasons why I think it's so important to write what you want to see. No one knows for sure what's going to sell and what isn't, so why spend time trying to chase it?

Sure, there are things you can do to make your novel more saleable, but there's no guarantee that it will sell. Your story must be sound, yes, and it needs to be the best story it can be. It needs to look and function like a story and have correct grammar and spelling. Otherwise, it could be the greatest story in the world but no one will buy it. These are things you do with your craft. You need to hone your craft to the best of your ability and then tell the stories that speak to you, rather than chase a trend of someone else.

That's why every book I've written seems like a departure from the last one. I couldn't swing to more drastic poles between each of my novels, but I write what interests me.

I have no idea if this works or not. Will the people who find me with The Serpent's Head, which is a sci-fi western, care about The Aeronaut, which is a steampunk World War I espionage love story? I have no idea. But people seem to like them both and they're both selling, so that works well enough for me.

The truth is this: I don't know what is going to work for sure. I can make an educated guess, but that's all it will be: a guess.

But why would I spend time writing something, anything, if I didn't believe in it and it wasn't what I wanted to write? Life would be so bland and boring if I spent my time trying to chase every bestselling trend. And I'd be behind the curve significantly. By the time I could write a book that chased a current bestselling trend, there's no guarantee that would be the trend anymore. Better I work to write what I want and try to set the trend.

It's also important that you take this notion, that no one knows anything, and apply that to the bad feelings you might get when you get a rejection. People might not be rejecting your story because it's bad, but because they don't think it will be easy enough for them to sell. They could be wrong, though. All they're doing is guessing.

And isn't that a heartening thought? The publishing and motion picture industries are predicated on a variety of guesses on a daily basis.

I don't know about you, but it makes me feel a little bit better about this whole process.

As for my writing:

I have a bunch of stuff coming out soon, some of it even later today, but none of it has posted yet. Watch my twitter or this space next week.

It's also President's Day. And to that end, what better time than now for me to remind people of my book, A Children's Illustrated History of Presidential Assassination? Get yourself a copy and spread the word about it. Even the older books can use the boost in word of mouth and sales.

As a reminder: The Aeronaut and Escape Vector are still out and still need your purchases and reviews. If nothing else, they can use you telling people about them. If you want signed copies, visit the shop here on this page.

Also! here's the full list of "rules and guidelines" I've been collecting over my years of studying writing advice and process

As far as my work outside of all this: There's a lot of great stuff on Big Shiny Robot! and Full of Sith for you. 

And please, please, please don't forget to check out any of my books, drop reviews of them on Amazon or Goodreads, and follow me on twitter and Facebook!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Anatomy of a Scene - City Lights

We're going to break down another scene this week, and it's one of my favorites in cinema history. It comes from the ending of City Lights by Charlie Chaplin, which I think is the greatest romantic comedy ever made. 
It's a touching film from 1931 and I would make it mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to learn to tell a story.
The scene we're going to be breaking down comes from the very end of the film, so if you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil it for you. Go watch the film. You can rent it for $3.99 in HD on Amazon or for free on Hulu with a free trial or plus subscription. You should just buy the Blu-ray, though. You're going to want to revisit it.
For those of you familiar with the movie, or for those of you who are going to ignore my pleas to watch it and go ahead with this post anyway, I'm going to set this clip up a bit before you watch it.
City Lights tells the story of Chaplin's Tramp and how he falls in love with a blind flower …

Anatomy of a Scene: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid might be one of the most meticulously well-written movies ever made.  William Goldman scripts are almost always something special. He's a master of creating something that's interesting, every scene has a kinetic energy to it that keeps you moving. He's a talented prose novelist as well. His novel of The Princess Bride might be even better than the screenplay and the film.

But today I want to talk about a scene in particular for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:



This scene comes early in the movie and we're still working to understand the relationship between Butch and Sundance, as well as Butch and his gang.

Goldman does something amazing as he's able to mix humor, character building, excitement, suspense, and an advancement of the story into the scene. There are so many building blocks at play here, and because the scene is so entertaining we hardly notice.

And the dialogue is so sharp I can't even stand it.

One of the mos…

Anatomy of a Scene: The Third Man

It's time again to break down a classic scene. One that's well-written and, in my view, a fine example of excellent craft.

I've done some of these articles from books (like The End of the Affairand Starship Troopers) and other movies (like Citizen Kane, City Lights, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), but now it's time to take a look at a scene from The Third Man. It blends the best of Orson Welles (as he's in the film and drives this scene) and Graham Greene, who wrote this particular screenplay.

Before we get to the scene, we need some context.

The Third Man is a tale of the black market in Vienna, just after World War II. It's about a cheap, dime-store Western novelist named Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotton) and his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles.) Lime offered Martins a job in Vienna, so Martins leaves America and arrives, only to find that Harry Lime is dead. Penniless, without a friend or reason to be in the country, h…