Learn To Write Better From Films (feat. Ghostbusters: Afterlife)

Back when conventions were a thing, and even further back when I was on panels at them, I often made references to films, not books, when talking about writing. And I have not done a lick of screenwriting.

Think about it – in our fractured choice-filled media landscape, you would have no problem finding people at least vaguely familiar with a recent major film, but even in a literary crowd there’s going to be people who haven’t read anything Yoon Ha Lee, Nnedi Okorafor, or Jim Hines has written, so whatever point you have is going to be lost.

Second, I often ended up talking about story structure, and in some ways, visual media is a better way to focus in on how things like tropes, format, and the way you put things together have an impact on the actual story itself. And that’s what I’m going to do this week with these (somewhat spoileriffic) quasi-reviews of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, The Expanse (tv series), and Eternals.

Also – and to serve as spoiler space – the Kickstarter for That Which Cannot Be Undone: An Ohio Horror Anthology ends on 28 January. The anthology is scheduled for October 2022 and will include twenty stories from me and other Ohio authors such as Lucy Snyder, Tim Waggoner, Megan Hart, Gary A. Braunbeck, and Gwendolyn Kiste. Check it out and back the antho at:

Spoilers ahead! Don't scroll down if you don't want to see them!

I have nothing against tropes. One of my favorite zombies movies – Train to Busan – has no real surprises in it. It is exactly what it says on the tin. However, the tropes in that movie are executed to perfection, and instantly put it near the top of my favorite zombie films of all time.

What I despise are tropes that are done lazily. And that describes as much of Ghostbusters: Afterlife as I was able to get through – just over fifteen minutes. I was so sick of it that I literally turned it off just after Paul Rudd came on screen. Reading the Mary Sue’s spoilery FAQ, I’m kind of horrified that was the portion they liked – and it definitely confirms that I made the right choice.

I understand that they were trying to harken back to the earlier films, but have you actually gone back and watched a film from the 1980’s? I have – The Twilight Zone – and it is kind of painful for the same reasons, with entire segments of the film built around problematic tropes like the Magical Negro. The Twilight Zone can be cut a bit of a break for having been made forty years ago.

One year before the original Ghostbusters.

The first fifteen minutes of Ghostbusters: Afterlife is literally cut-and-paste trope after trope after trope after trope from movies made in the 1980’s. At one point I predicted the dialogue word-for-word. I recognized specific sound effects, and the overmixed score seemed like someone did the equivalent of a Bing search for "quirky music" or "spooky music" and just took the first result. There’s paying homage to a film or style, and then there’s cut and paste, and Ghostbusters:Afterlife absolutely falls on the wrong side of this divide.

When you go back and read your first draft of your story for structure problems, this is one of the big things you want to watch out for. Yes, you will have tropes, or elements of tropes. That isn’t the problem. You need to examine your work to make sure it is something more than just a stringing together of tropes.

Existing story generators are close to being able to do that; you can do better. Don’t cheat yourself – or your readers.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget the Kickstarter for That Which Cannot Be Undone: An Ohio Horror Anthology ending on 28 January. Check it out and back the book at:

Featured Photo by Myke Simon on Unsplash