I don’t read many books about screenwriting, but my assistant Stuart Friedel does. From time to time I ask him to write up his impressions.
Dean Orion has something worthwhile to say about writing. I’d certainly read his blog. But his new eBook, Live to Write Another Day, is a lesson in the pitfalls of self-publishing. He doesn’t know where the book is best, and brushes over points that deserve whole chapters, or makes chapters out of what should be entire books.
The early chapters are almost all superfluous. The Writer Gene — the title of the first chapter, as well as a phrase Orion appears to have adopted as a sort of brand — is a chapter on knowing you’re a writer because you have to write. What does a chapter like this accomplish? Are any aspiring writers saved from decades of suffering because they read this chapter and realize they don’t have The Gene?
It would work fine as a blog post, or an online rant. As a chapter of a book though, it makes me lose faith in the author. It sets up an expectation of chicanery, like he is trying to gain my trust by getting me to nod and agree a little bit before he tries to sell the snake oil.
The other early chapters are about process — his process, specifically. At times, they seem to be for people who have never written a word before, defining basic terms and spending pages on ideas like finding a good writing environment. At other times these chapters feel like advice for struggling veterans — for people doing this for so long they’ve forgotten how to do it any ways but theirs, and their ways aren’t working anymore, so they need to be exposed to other options. But the basics in here are so basic that I’m not sure a veteran could stomach them.
The first few chapters’ topics and tone feel dad-like — a pep talk given not because one is needed, but because that’s what dads are supposed to do. Advice dispensed by someone with advice to dispense, but who is lost when it comes to how or why or when or what.
And in TV-dad-like fashion, after a bit of rambling, he finds his footing.
Chapters 7, 8, and 9 — on Giving, Getting, and Executing Notes, respectively (and respectfully) — are substantial, and full of fantastic, from-all-angles advice on a vital and too often ignored subject. I find that a large percentage of the firstname.lastname@example.org inbox is made up of questions on notes — and half time time, the asker doesn’t even realize that’s what the question is about.
These chapters cover the obvious, like being respectful and offering constructive hints, but they also get into the more abstract parts of the subject, like figuring out what notes to ignore, and maintaining ownership over your script while others are trying to mold it in ways you may not agree with. These chapters are worth the price of admission.
The next chunk of chapters are good, but again skirt more towards blog territory. He has worthwhile advice on pitching, working with writing partners, writing for hire, art vs commerce, and finding a writing community.
The book ends with an Afterword that made me angry — because it should be an entire book itself instead of an afterthought. Orion has spent a lot of his career working in interactive media, from video games to theme park line entertainment. And he speaks intelligently about it. About how narratives and character arcs and emotions should play into games, how writing and design interact, the present and future of transmedia story telling — topics usually discussed theoretically and academically, rarely practically or with this kind of experiential insight. His point of view is unique and well informed.
But it’s just a tease. A few pages tacked onto the end of a book about something else — something Orion is in a position to speak about, but not a unique or particularly authoritative position. So the afterword gives us enough to get excited, but not satiated. Instead, it shines a light on the book’s weaknesses — what was done wrong in those earlier chapters, and was not done right in this.
Dean Orion should be writing about writing. He should write a book on writing for interactive media, a blog on writing in general, and maybe even a few self-published eBooks on topics that deserve more substantial coverage, like giving and getting notes or working with writing partners. But this book isn’t a cohesive whole. It may be worth purchasing for its best parts, but I don’t recommend sitting down and reading it cover to cover. It’s too jarring of a ride.