Data is better than hunches

posted in: Creation, Publishing, Writing | 0

I love FiveThirtyEight.com, because it always works with raw data.  So much ‘journalism’ these days goes with anecdotal and “they say” stories, and never bothers to actually look at what’s really happening.  Data gives a clarity to issues that strips out hunches and assumptions.  Facts, as the expression goes, are facts.  Period.

A recent article took a little look at data from The Black List.  This is an outfit that acts as a professional beta reading service for scriptwriters.  And, wonder of wonders, they keep records with real data about the scripts they review.  FiveThirtyEight got hold of that data and lets us have a look at it.  The results are quite instructive for authors working in any medium.  New writers, learning writers, should especially consider it as they try and grapple with their own learning curves.  The only real quibble I might raise with the data set is that it might be skewed by the reviewers, who I seriously doubt represent any sort of scientifically accurate sample of the population as a whole.  In other words, Black List’s reviewers might not be a completely one-to-one correlation with the real audience pool.

But, that aside, there’s some interesting things in the article.  This bit in particular:

Anyone who studies writing, or has managed to climb out of the newbie zone and acquire some skill at the craft, will likely recognize these pitfalls.  Go on any writer forum, and you see these questions all the time.  Would-be and hopeful authors asking “I can’t figure out why my story seems flat” and “my beta readers aren’t invested in my characters” and “someone please help me make my dialog better.”

I might be getting old, but I see a lot of people looking for shortcuts these days.  Not just in writing, about everything.  More and more people don’t seem to want to invest any sort of time in actually learning; they want the wormhole that jumps them up the curve as fast as possible.  Well, taking something like this article to heart is probably the closest you might get to an actual shortcut that works.  By looking at these common pitfalls, and honestly evaluating your own work, you can cut a lot of ‘dithering’ and ‘searching for the problem’ time out of your calendar.

45% of scripts Black List reviews don’t go far enough in completing their plots.  Your story might fit into that category.  41% don’t develop their characters fully.  Yours could be in that category.  I think you see where this is going.  If you’re not accomplished enough to have readers who back your stories, if you’re still a would be rather than an already, slow down long enough to study these issues and compare them to your work.   You could easily find some in your pages, and by finding them now you can be ahead of the game by starting to work on fixing those problems that much sooner.

The article’s a good read.  And any up and coming authors would definitely benefit from doing so, then spending some time pondering it.  Thought; it’s what separates us from the rest of the food chain.  Or, as my 80s childhood taught me, knowing is half the battle.

Now go write something.