A Writer Should Never Let Their Technique Show by Houston Howard

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Film Courage: How do you feel about the quote “Never let your technique show?”

Houston Howard, Transmedia Author/Instructor: I think it’s a good quote. I think skillful people at their craft know how to do that well.  

For example, I think story structure is great. I’m a big story structure nerd. I love [Robert] McKee and Syd Field, Blake Snyder and all those guys. I love all that.

Where story structure I think gets a bad rap is when people use story structure but they are not good enough to cover it up. And then they let the technique show. 

The great writers though I think use the structure and they are good enough to weave such a tapestry around that structure that it’s structured but you don’t care, you don’t realize that it’s there. That’s where I think the sweet spot is and so in that regards I’m 100% in aggreeance not to let the technique show. 

I mean if you stripped everybody down to the bones, all of your skeletons will look pretty similar. But the thing that makes us all unique is when you start layering in all the different aspects of how we look even to the way we dress. Once we add in all that stuff now we’re all super unique and super different and super interesting and that is what I think makes us individual people.

So people that let the technique show I think struggle with executing in such a way to bury it under their creative. I think people take that quote though to mean that technique isn’t good. Like technique is somehow a bad thing. That technique is somehow this restrictive, pejorative kind of thing. Whether it is or not I think technique gets a bad rap in that way.

So I’m a huge advocate for strategy and technique but the great creators (and this is where the art comes in) is how do you use the technique and use the structure and then layer on top of that so much creativity and such amazing ideas  that people don’t see it though it’s always there.

Film Courage: Somebody left a funny comment on one of our videos and they said “Oh yeah, your structure is great and you have the inciting incident on this page…your script is horrible. But hey…great structure!” Essentially making fun of if you don’t have a great story then all of that is wasted.

Houston: Sure. Entertainment is not paint-by-numbers and that’s the variable, that will always be the variable. Is that whether it’s Blake Snyder or Syd Field or Robert McKee or whether you are doing super story transmedia stuff you can have it all mapped out but the great variable is ‘Are you good enough to execute?’ And yeah because technically your inciting incident can be here and your Act 2 turning point is here and the dark-night-of-the-soul is here and it’s all placed very well but if you can’t execute in a way that makes people forget about the technique, then I think it’s just a reflection on your talent or maybe you just need to rewrite. Maybe you just need to take some more time with it to be able to show your talent.

That being said I think technique is necessary.

Film Courage: Yes.

Houston: And I think a lot of times people throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak. And saying ‘Well story structure, we don’t need that. It doesn’t matter where your inciting incident is, it doesn’t matter if you have three acts etcetera, etcetera.’ I don’t go that far at all. I think that stuff is necessary, you’ve just got to be good enough to make people forget about it.

Question For The Viewers: What are your thoughts on never letting your technique show?

Watch the video on Youtube here

Special thanks to The LA Film School for allowing us to film this video interview on their campus.

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