All modern writing is built on writing that came before.

“You’re always talking about genre. That’s for hacks! I’m a creative person who writes serious art.” I hear variations of this a lot. I’m sure it’s intended as a serious defense of a philosophy, but to me it always reads as both an excuse for a lazy understanding of genre and audience expectation, and a fundamental misunderstanding of how culture works. This is the writing version of creationism.

Writing is concentrated thinking. Everything is built on what came before. To understand Tarantino, understand his influences and then you’ll see the specific brilliance that made him understand the art of the past and create new developments that pushed the art forward. It’s an evolution.

We can’t produce purely original thoughts because we’re the beneficiary of all the ideas and writing that are part of the culture we grew up in. Without that support and framework, we’d be like pre-lingual humans or feral children trying to talk. We might be able to produce something, but it wouldn’t be something the audience could necessarily recognize.

It’s important to understand how writing and genre works and how it feeds into the expectation of an audience.  Knowledge is power, even if you’re a genius like Mozart. Actually, especially if you’re a genius like Mozart. In his words:

“It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.”

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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