Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
Legends say that when a victorious Roman general returned to Rome, he was allowed to march his armies, his captives and his spoils through the sacred streets of the city. He would ride in a great gilded chariot in all his finery – and at his feet would sit the slave who held a small bunch of burning straws which during the procession turned to ashes. The slave would repeat to the general a phrase meant to remind him – at that particular moment of triumph – that he was only mortal:
“Sic transit gloria mundi.”
(“Thus all the glories of the world pass away.”)
– Keystone Publishing, “Court Jesters and Public Slaves”
Glory comes in all shapes and sizes.
The glory of publication – The glory of acceptance.
All glory is fleeting. You must always move on to the next challenge if you want to keep the crown.
This is the greatest truth that a writer needs to hear. That there is no sitting on one’s laurels. Careers have arcs just like stories.
There may be financial successes for you and acts designed to flatter the ego. There may be tributes and resounding reviews.
The only thing that matters is the truth and the ever increasing body of work.
Any one writer who has but one book out, even a Gone with the Wind, must be considered suspect.
I’m a story teller but within that vehicle I strive to tell the truths of my life. To say at every turn – with every day of writing and with every finished work – that I WAS HERE.
To paraphrase Ellison:
“For a brief time I was here and for a brief time, I mattered.”
In the end for a writer, the body of work is the only sign that you were ever here.
The Stephen King of Funny Cat Videos
“There are two ways into Hollywood – you are going to have to write what they’re buying or sell them your dream.”
– Scott Meyers, screenwriter of K-9 and Lecturer on Film at UNC-Chapel Hill
I recently came back from a conference in sunny San Diego where I ran a writer’s workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror writers with author Peter Clines (Ex-Heroes, 14, website )
We had an excellent group. Writers of all ages and experiences.
Lots of enthusiasm. Lots of talent.
Lots of zombie stories.
Most of the writers who attend these kinds of workshops are new, pre-published and still trying to find their voice. One can hear the resounding echoes of other writers in their works – Rowlings, Collins, King, etc., and I expect this at the beginning of many careers.
Because these writers are each in the process of developing his/her own process.
But there are a couple of dangers here.
The first is about VOICE:
Some authentic voices were emerging out amongst these writers, but many tried to write the way they believe writers should sound, instead of sounding like themselves. So what you end up with are very clever people trying to sound clever when they could simply unclench a bit – and just let their very clever, talented, and interesting selves shine through.
The second problem is about PERSPECTIVE:
Now, I don’t mind zombie stories – I believe whatever genre and sub-genre excited these new writer enough to actually write is a good thing . . .
. . .In the beginning.
But – for example – did you know that, when you enter the phrase “funny cat videos” into the search engine for YouTube, you get something on the order of 3,600,000 hits . . .
3.6 million variations on the same theme. And over 1 billion entries if you so the same search on Google.
All cute, all adorable – and all pale variations on a theme.
Voice and perspective. Hard to develop, harder still to mainstain, but vital to the soul of the writer.
Without them, you are just another guy with a video camera documenting the hilarity of something that is not quite human. And in that lies the real problem: Nothing in the known universe has ever been more human than Story.
Now . . . you could become the best at this. The most popular, most universally loved, the absolute Stephen King of Cat Videos if you like.
The nature of drama and story is breathtaking and powerful, unique and emotional. The real estate of the page is some of the most precious in the world and your time and treasure are severely limited. Why spend it writing about something that looks like any of the 3.6 million other, similar, non-unique cat stories.
When one person’s writing becomes indistinguishable from another and these two people have never met, it is the culture speaking and not a person.
You have to know – you have the power and the spark in each of you.
There are things that you want to say, need to say and they can come out through theme and subtext – blatant and true at the heart of your story. You have to always say what you believe needs saying.
In short, you have to sell them your dreams.
Your goal should not be to be a great craftsman of something entertaining but ubiquitous. You’re better than that. The popular vampire and zombie stories that fill the popular media today are the high-calorie fast food of our time – not because of their genre but because they were written as attractive products and not as works of Craft and Art. And while some excellent writing has been done in their names, there can be but one Bram Stoker, and one Mary Shelley and one William Seabrook or George Romero.
These types of stories are akin to working with licensed properties. The constraints can be invigorating but they don’t allow the writer to tell your story – because you are telling their story
Because, at some point, what they’re buying is no longer likely to be the same as what they’ve bought
You can’t control or predict what they’re buying. Trends change, sometimes on a dime and one would have to be clairvoyant to know where the industry and the public’s desires are going in advance.
But, in the end, here’s what everyone really wants: A good idea, excitingly told and competently written – that they can’t get anywhere else.
Give me a new perspective. Meet the story with conflict and drama. Take me out of myself.
All these things are within your control
Art Holcomb is a screenwriter and comic book creator. His most recent comic book property is THE AMBASSADOR and his most recent project for TV is entitled THE STREWN. His new writing book is tentatively entitled “SAVE YOUR STORY: How to Resurrect Your Abandoned Story and Get It Written NOW!” (Release TBA.)
Larry’s add to Art’s bio: when he’s not on set doing rewrite work or chasing a deadline for a studio script assignment, he’s also a major screenwriting teacher at the University level, a story development coach and a sought-after workshop facilitator at writing conferences around the world.