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Musing: Reality RV For Authors
Author groups across social media buzzed last week with the announcement of a casting call for the newest reality TV show—America’s Next Great Author. Yes, the cameras will focus on a group of want-to-be authors as they battle for the crown.
I’m sure you’re already comparing the concept to other reality TV shows and thinking of the similarities. Just like American Idol or America’s Got Talent without singing and dancing. Survivor minus the deserted island and buff bodies. The Amazing Race except for speed. Top Chef sans knives.
No, this “groundbreaking reality television series geared toward anyone who loves drama on or off the page” offers the riveting spectacle of watching writers write. Or, worse, writers talking about writing. Or talking about what they want to write. Or something.
They will film the pilot episode in San Francisco. One lucky winner will receive “a prominent role in the pilot episode” and $2,500 cash prize.
No, that’s not a typo. I did not leave out any zeroes from that dollar amount. They are basically offering the equivalent of exposure and air fare (yes, contestants have to pay their own travel and lodging costs). And that’s only to the winner. Everyone else just gets, well, exposure as a loser. What a deal!
But let’s focus on the winner. They will be selected based on the quality of their submitted sample first chapter. Or the carefully constructed story outline. The well-designed characters.
No, don’t be silly. The judges don’t have time to judge their writing skills.
Each contestant will have a full minute—yes, sixty seconds!—to pitch their story idea to a “panel of renowned judges, a roaring bookish audience, and rolling cameras.”
I have to admit, the phrase “roaring bookish audience” might be the most entertaining description ever. In fact, the reality TV show I’d like to see would pit partying book clubs against each other for the right to join the roaring bookish audience. Trust me, some book clubs know how to have fun and they would make a fantastic audience.
Sadly, considering the budget afforded to the recruitment of authors, I’m guessing they won’t have travel budgets to fly in an excellent audience either. Nope, some poor intern will handpick seat-fillers by standing out on the sidewalk and giving away free tickets to any takers. Still, in San Francisco, that could be entertaining.
Once the buzzing crowd packs the auditorium, each author will step to a microphone and pitch her book. It will be just like Shark Tank… for $2,500.
If the pilot succeeds—and I can’t imagine any reason it wouldn’t—the producers will expand their casting calls to other “iconic American cities” where hopefuls will line up for hours to get their sixty seconds of fame.
Of course, if this follows in the path of shows like American Idol, the producers will air the worst possible presentations.
A nervous young man will pitch the Apocalyptic Alien Werewolf Romance story he’s been secretly writing for years. A judge will scowl, throw his number two pencil in the air, and scream, “That’s been done before! Give me something original!”
Dreams crushed, the man will stumble from the studio with tears streaming down his face, rip his applicant number from his chest, and disappear down the sidewalk as the camera fades to commercial.
When we return from the break, a video will roll showing a child getting her first library card. In a voiceover, her mother will explain that the kid wrote her first short story from her crib. A shot follows of the girl curled up with a book. Her father describes the extra shifts he took on just to buy paper. A wise-cracking sibling appears, then grows serious as he says how proud he’s always been of her.
The presentation fades and we go to the live feed as she pitches her idea to the teary-eyed judges. And then they vote as the dramatic background music builds.
The jovial comedian will shout, “Yes!” The sequined starlet will stand, pump her fist in the air, and cry, “Yes!” You can’t quite place the has-been actor who occupies the third chair, but he will stagger about like he wonders how much he’s getting paid for this appearance and mumble, “Yes.”
Then the tension will mount. The curmudgeon at the end, the one who likes nothing, will rip off the sunglasses he’s wearing for some inexplicable reason, throw his hands up, and scream, “Yes, a thousand times, yes!”
As confetti falls from the rafters, the author cries with joy and hugs each of the judges. She’s done it! She’s earned her golden ticket. She’s going to the Writer’s Retreat!
In a move never seen before in the history of reality TV, six “charismatic finalists” will live together in a house. Well, never seen if you don’t watch much TV. Don’t fret, though, because I’m sure they will all be friends and never fight.
And what are the six contestants supposed to do with their month in the house? Start and finish a novel.
Yes. Start and finish. In a month.
Now, I’m not saying a novel can’t be written in a month. There are authors who do that. Experienced authors. Not rookies.
Every November, hundreds of thousands of people take part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with the goal of drafting a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It’s a terrific program and something you should consider if you’ve ever wanted to write a novel. The reality, though, is only about one in seven participants completes the challenge. What they have at the end is a draft, not a completed novel. It’s a start, a great start, but it’s not done.
The producers of our reality TV show understand that, though, and are making the process as focused as possible by leaving the writers alone with no distractions for the entire month, right?
Well, except for the TV cameras tracking their every move. And the inevitable not-manufactured-at-all drama for those TV cameras. Or the “live-wire challenges” the producers are planning.
Challenges? Yes, as if we haven’t ripped off enough reality TV setups with this premise, we need to introduce the Survivor-style challenges. They haven’t told us what those might be yet, but I have some ideas.
First, I’m hoping that more clothing will be involved than Survivor. I’ve always wondered why no contestant on that show is ever wearing clothing appropriate for an extended stay in the great outdoors. They all seem to be surprised they were going to a deserted island (Hey, before we start, let’s all dress up and take a three-hour tour in this boat because nothing bad has ever happened in that plan.) Thus, their clothes always disintegrate and they end up running around in their underwear.
In fairness, that works on Survivor where the candidates are overwhelmingly fit. We writers are, shall we say, slightly less fit. We’re accustomed to gallons of coffee and cabinets of snacks, not weight rooms. If the show allows a bunch of writers to sit in their underwear working on their manuscripts, ratings would tank.
I heard you snicker. No jokes about that being the most genuine part of the show. I can assure you all of us dress well before going to work in our houses where we see no one all day. Right now, I’m in a suit and tie. Would I lie?
Before any of you respond that lying for a living is what we writers do, let’s turn our attention to the challenges. I have a few proposals to get the creative juices flowing:
Ingredients—A surprise guest will present the authors with a list of three items that don’t appear to go together. Say, aliens, werewolves, and the apocalypse and challenge them to write a romance story including each of the elements.
Focus—Challenge the contestants to write 1,000 words as fast as possible. The second they start, however, large monitors will appear with social media feeds, cat videos, and text messages. If the writer loses focus and glances at any distraction, they receive an electric shock.
This would be a suitable spot for a product placement. I know of some editors who would invest in electric shock to get a writer to meet his deadline. Probably a good time to mention that my next novel really will be out soon. Honest.
Uncooperative characters—Halfway through the month, the writer will discover their characters have all decided not to follow the outline, and each goes off in unplanned directions. No, wait, that’s real life.
Movie Offer—In week three, an agent will appear saying their manuscript is perfect—absolutely perfect—for a movie deal. Well, except for a couple of minor changes. Rewrite it as an Apocalyptic Alien Werewolf Romance. And we need it today.
Inquisition—As we move toward the last week, we need to up the excitement and tension. The writer’s entire Google search history appears on screen. Real FBI agents will enter and ask for explanations of why the author looked up eleventy-seven bazillion methods to commit murder.
Each week, at the conclusion of the episode, a group of literary critics will stagger in from the bar next door—I mean, gather in a dignified manner—discuss the fate of our contestants, and vote one of them out of the house. The host will dramatically close the laptop of the loser without waiting for the backup to finish. The contestant will walk off into the distance as the critics giggle gleefully.
By the time we reach the end of the series, the roaring bookish audience will scream and cheer for their favorite of the two remaining candidates. Each will stand in front of the judges and pitch their finished manuscripts.
Telephone lines will open for voting. The tension will build as the camera tightens on their faces. The announcer will drag the announcement out through at least one commercial break before naming our winner as America’s Next Great Author!
The lucky author will cry with joy. In an emotional presentation, they receive a giant check for $2,500—less the publisher’s cut, the retailer’s share, the agent’s commission, and taxes.
Welcome to reality!
Reality TV For Authors: More Information
If you want more information, here is Publishers Weekly’s take on the show and the view of Writer Beware. If you want to take part in the annual challenge to write a draft of a novel in November, check out NaNoWriMo. The author community is very warm and welcoming.
Gratuitous Dog Picture: The Conspirators
Typhoon listens gleefully as Roscoe maps out a suggestion for chaos and mischief. Don’t worry—these two are always planning something.
Liars’ Table: 30% Off At Kobo
Haven’t read Liars’ Table yet? Kobo has the ebook on sale for 30% off through July 25. Use coupon code JULY30 at checkout. https://www.kobo.com/ebook/liars-table
Have a terrific week and read a good book! See you next Monday.
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