don't paint behind the backdrop

Writers worry about the wrong things.

Take a lesson from film producers. The cardinal rule of making movies is to get every red cent up on that screen. Don't waste a penny on anything viewers won't notice.

It's a relief to realize that movies aren't real. The illusion ends at the backdrop. Doesn't matter what things look like on the other side. You certainly don't need to paint back there. If something's visible, be meticulous—the image is crisper and clearer than ever. If not, don't sweat it.

(Clearly, Ridley Scott lost the thread by insisting on functioning parking meters in Blade Runner. We all fall for the illusion now and then, perhaps the master illusionists most of all.)

Staging a show, the human eye is at your mercy. Distance is forgiving. So are theatrical lights. From the third row back, a well-lit play glistens with lustrous, hyperreal clarity. Ordinary people take on mythic proportions and the audience is transported to another world, richer and more vibrant than our own. After the show, up close under a fluorescent bulb, those shabby costumes and plywood sets shed their glamor. Hamlet becomes Harry, and Harry is wearing pancake makeup and a polyester cape.

The page is forgiving in many ways you may not realize. To make the most of your efforts, learn its limits and direct your efforts accordingly. For example, no one really cares whether your chapter titles are clever or not. How much time should you really spend finessing them? Likewise, should you agonize over whether to divide the book into parts as well? Only the academics care. Deliver on your promise to the reader, the promise being What Goes Outside The Book, as David Mamet might put it. Excite the reader's curiosity, then satisfy it. Inform. Inspire. Entertain. Don't waste time seeking le mot juste. Any mot will do if you help me solve my problem, whether that problem is bankruptcy or boredom.

The easiest way to avoid the Ridley Scott trap is to read while you write. Have a stack of books going and sample from them liberally along the way. As you read the works of other authors, notice what you notice. Then, notice what you don't. That stuff you don't really see? Chances are, readers don't care about it either. The ones who do are the sticklers you'll never satisfy anyway.

Gather your strength, your energy and enthusiasm, and put all of it into the characters and costumes, the sets and special effects. Exuberance. Honesty. Flair. Look at how this guy eulogized his mom and bring that vigor to your own work-in-progress. Get every dollar on that screen and forget about the rest.

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