Critiquing the Lion King... And Other Problems with Being a Writer

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Writing is my life. I don’t mean I sit at my computer all day and come up with blogs or bang out best-selling novels (don’t I wish). No. I mean, I live, breath, and think writing... and it’s all my husband’s fault.

I’m married to a professional writer. My husband, Alex, has eleven traditionally-published novels to his name, plus a handful of self-published books. You may have heard of him, the illustrious A. Lee Martinez.

Oh, you haven’t? Well, unfortunately, that’s what being a writer is all about. Writing is often a labor of love in obscurity. Ideally, for money.

As such, writers get really comfortable with talking about the craft of writing. I don’t mean to sound obnoxious using the word “craft.” But seven years being married to a writer has taught me that storytelling is so much more than putting words on a page.

Alex and I talk about writing. All. The. Time. We talk about storytelling the same way other families talk about politics. I must confess, before I decided to try my hand at writing a novel, it irritated me a little bit to have Alex pick apart movies I enjoyed. Nothing was sacred. He critiqued the Lion King.

Fast forward through nine years of the DFW Writers Workshop's weekly read-and-critiques. I’m telling Alex about a bizarre episode of a show I’m watching. This show is usually pretty good but this particular episode is so bad it's breaking my brain. As I’m describing the issues I have with the clearly first-draft nature of the story, Alex just pats me on the back and says, “Babe, it’s because you are a writer.”

I’ve had other moments where my new-found ability to analyze storytelling has led to some uncomfortable truths. I loved a certain superhero movie... while I was watching it. But on the drive home, my brain decided to dissect it, even without Alex in the car. "I gotta say, if you peel away the bright colors, rock anthems, and fan-favorite characters, it’s just an okay movie. Fun? Yes. Thoughtful? Not really."

Does every movie have to be thoughtful? I think so if they want to be remembered twenty years from now. But stories that stand the test of time don’t finance the next big blockbuster. Good enough is good enough, but that’s not good enough. (English is weird.)

We deserve good stories! And I’ve found them in the most innocuous of places. Take the movie "Happy Death Day." On the surface, it looked like a by-the-numbers Groundhog Day rip-off with a serial-killer twist. Except it wasn’t. Sure, the main character got murdered over and over again, often in creative and grizzly ways. But her arc as a human being was fascinating. She really used the opportunity to hold a mirror up to herself and to make some changes in her life. Plus, I didn’t see the ending coming. The movie is brilliant. It had its cake and ate it too! Serial killers AND self-actualization!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that living with a writer is dangerous. Good stories are no longer good. Bad stories are suddenly great. As it turns out, writing is contagious.


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