Latest posts by techwriter (see all)
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© Ugur Akinci
There used to be a time when I was simply nuts for the movies…
I used to watch them, think about them, analyze and write about them.
I actually ended up writing 6 unproduced feature-length screenplays as well. At one point I even started to coach other junior-level writers on how to write good screenplays.
In my study I still must have one of the finest collection of screenwriting books ever assembled.
But lately I became aware that I don’t watch movies anymore the way I used to… Most of them simply bore me. Haven’t written a single movie review in years. And I haven’t attempted to write a screenplay in a long while either.
I was wondering about the reason for this peculiar change and then it hit me when I was listening on NPR an interview with a crime writer in San Francisco: technical writing did this to me.
I’ve really changed; if not my personality, my outlook on life has certainly changed during my career as a technical communicator.
Movies are about dramatic conflict. Technical communication is about solutions to conflicts. I now realize that’s why I can’t watch movies or read crime novels anymore even though there are a great many crime novelists whose art and craft I admire greatly (Elmore, Patterson, King comes to mind in a hurry).
I was listening on NPR to this accomplished crime writer relating how with her husband she sometimes discusses in restaurants some hypothetical murder scenes for her novels-in-progress and how they draw incredulous stares from other tables nearby, from people who don’t know that she is a crime author.
That anecdote made me smile because once upon a time I also used to imagine disasters of all kinds to write. Murders, treason and espionage cases, wars, and other assorted mishap and misery all for the sake of a good screenplay. I agree with all great screenplay teachers like McKee that without something happening really bad to someone that we care about there’s no “story” in the professional and commercial sense of the word.
But as a technical communicator I dedicate my professional life to make sure there’ll be no such disasters! When I write a user’s manual my whole goal is to make sure a door will close when the user wants to close it, or an alarm system will be configured properly so that it will go off when bad guys intrude a critical site. The whole point to the exercise is to prevent crises.
Movies try to bring a taste of chaos to our lives whereas technical communication tries to bring order to the same chaos. The two activities cannot be more opposed to one another in ultimate goals.
As a technical writer and communicator I’m trying to make sure every day that I contribute to an orderly, rational, and peaceful world where everything work the way they are supposed to.
In screenplay writing and movies, on the other hand, we try to make sure that the irrational and the “unexpected disaster” will hit our innocent victim (hero) with such a force that their lives will be upended and we’ll spend the next two hours wading our way through a field of “increasing difficulties” in order to arrive at a solution – hopefully (remember the last scene of The Silence of the Lambs?).
A satisfactory film will reach its positive conclusion through the efforts of its protagonist/hero. In technical communication, the positive result will be reached due to the excellence of the system and its documentation.
I’m aware that we can’t live without the thrill of the movies and crime novels. That’s a part of the human nature too and I well recognize it. But I also cannot help but realize how diametrically opposed the world views represented by the movies and the technical writing discipline are.
Tech writing has ruined the movies for me; but I’m not sure if I regret it at all.
(Public domain photos courtesy of Wikipedia)