How to Avoid Lazy Writing

One of my ultimate pet peeves when it comes to pretty much any book, TV show, movie or even cartoon is lazy writing. But what exactly is lazy writing? When I say lazy writing, I’m not talking about missing a coma or repeating a word too many times. While those things might be irritating, it would only apply to books or any written material. No, what I mean is that the writers of the book, show, etc had a situation that they wanted and so they forced the situation to happen, whether or not it SHOULD happen. Lazy writing to me also can mean that the writers chose to go with a known cliche that was so obvious the audience is literally able to call it way in advance from the “reveal”.

One of my favorite, or least favorite in this case, examples of this is the show Hawaii Five-0. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the show most of the time or at least find it compelling enough most of the time to sit through the almost hour long episodes, but it is utterly chalk full of lazy writing.

Take the main character, McGarrett. He’s a freaking trained Navy Seal. And what happens in Episode 19 Season 5? He somehow lets himself get holed up in a barber shop, low on ammo and completely surrounded by thugs hell bent on killing him and a guy that they are trying to murder. Okay, wait, surely I don’t mean that McGarrett should have been able to take down all of those men single handedly just because he’s a Navy Seal? No. But what I am saying is that he should have had the knowledge and training to get them out early through the backdoor before they could be boxed in, having had plenty of warning when the thugs rolled up in their vehicles shooting.

End rant (sorta).

Okay, so, I’m pretty passionate about this lazy writing thing. Obviously. But that’s just one example, right?

Well, unfortunately, I see this time and time again in many different shows, movies, etc. That’s not to say it’s rampant or that any time that you try to show a flaw in a character or something that it’s bad.

But when you have a character and they are a certain way, bending them to fit the needs of your plot often just comes across as insulting. It insults the audience that knows the character. It insults their intelligence and it also at the same time undermines what you’ve been saying this entire time ABOUT the character. Maybe next week McGarrett becomes a clown and starts doing balloon animal making because we needed a comic relief episode.

A bit extreme, but, you get the point, right?

Alright, alright, I’m also picking on Hawaii Five-0 a lot in particular. But one example that seems to be a universal method of lazy writing? Having the tough protagonist or character driving a car during a tense situation and them looking away, only to be immediately struck by a vehicle coming the opposite direction.

Did you just immediately think of an example? Yes… We’ve all seen this scene at least one or two hundred times if you watch anything with action in it. And by now? We can all see this coming a mile away.

How can we avoid this? Being creative is one way but another is not to take the cheap way out. Write your characters to always BE in character no matter what the situation. Sure, they might solve issues more quickly BECAUSE they have all the knowledge and abilities and that might seem to make the climax less appealing, but it’s more true to character. You can then also toss more complex stories at us. Your audience will surely appreciate it and it will also be a breath of fresh air.

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2 thoughts on “How to Avoid Lazy Writing

  1. Learning to be a screenwriter myself, the phenomenon of lazy writing is pretty easy to explain.
    The writing process starts from one of three sources: a story idea, a character or a message. Ideally, you start with a story idea or a message, and you let characters grow from that. That’s what you learn when you want to become a screenwriter or any kind of a writer. It’s a big no-no to include characters that do nothing to further the plot.
    However, starting a script or a novel based on a character is much easier. You can use random quirk generators to come up with incredibly unique characters. But writing a story to fit the quirks of the character will end in garbage. The only salvation in such a story is if it’s a soap opera. The Melodrama is essentialy “a story for a bunch of characters”, while every other form of literature or drama is “characters for the story”.
    Apparently, in Hawaii Five-Oh and lots of other shows and movies, writers forget the golden rule of story creation and start off with cool-sounding characters. Then a scene or an episode appears where they have to force their character to do something decidedly out of character (if they had written their character to fit the plot, that problem wouldn’t be there to begin with). They can’t take the natural way out, as in, let the character react as he or she would in such a situation, because that would mean coming up with a new climax, or rewriting the ending, and breaking a lot of other writing rules (especially with regards to structure). While Hollywood screenwriters are crazy about structure, they don’t care much about OOC moments — they’ll just chalk it up to comedy relief or a brain fart or the Rule of Cool. It’s definitely annoying, but unfortunately in the movie business you get farther if you have cool characters than a cool or logical story, because cool, quirky and illogical characters means cool promotional merchandise. Can you imagine promotional guff for Citizen Kane or Apocalypse Now? Aside from posters, T-Shits and mugs, everything else would look like kitsch. But Spider-Man 3 was /swimming/ in merch, even if most people thought the film was stupidly OOC for every character involved. Some films manage to do both: be logical and have cool characters (Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie come to mind — oddly enough, mostly children or animated flicks come to mind).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very well said! It’s really a shame that Hollywood decides to take the cheap and easy way out, knowing that it will work out for profit rather than truly caring about their story and characters. Not all of the time, granted, but often enough that it ends up being extremely frustrating. Of course, there are plenty of writers that don’t do this, but the bad always stands out more.
      I’m glad you’re trying to be a screenwriter! Go furth and write some awesome stuff that will knock the socks off of us~

      Like

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