Recently I read about a new Italian reality show featuring, are you ready for this, writers, a sort of Project Runway or American Idol for the scribbling trade. No way, I thought, and then I stumbled on one of the Iron Chef programs, and I began to rethink my opposition.
Lest you be unfamiliar with the Iron Chef format, let me sketch for you an entertainment set in a crowded industrial kitchen with a bevy of chefs and sous chefs all frantically preparing elaborate meals under time pressure– rather like a newsroom on deadline. But the creators, not content to have us watch other folks sweat while they work, have added a commentator.
Translate this now, if you will, to the realm of pen and ink, or more likely, the computer keyboard. I don’t know how the Italians did it, but I envision a semicircular set with laboring scribes arranged around the table and a big video screen mounted in the center under the control of our announcer–and please make him or her frenetic– who can bring up the content of any of the writers for our delectation.
Our master of ceremonies will need to be fleet of foot to keep track of the writers’ progress and quick to switch away from a tedious ‘get the character from here to there’ paragraph and onto a steamy romantic scene or an attack of the zombies. Since audiences love to see people called on their errors, our literary maitre de ought to be a good grammarian with a keen nose for cliches and unintentional double entendres.
To ensure success, I’d also advise a careful selection of genre-bending writers: mysteries mashed up with science fiction; Chick-Lit keeping company with slashers and romance flirting with techno-thrillers.
With a little care, we might be entertained somewhat along these lines:
“Welcome again to Real Writers. Remember we always feature Real Writers with Real Plots. I see Charlene is busy with her flirtatious copywriter, Suzanne, who’s opening the door– to Brad, who we learned last week has a homicide habit. Bad move, Suzanne! Is that a gun in his pocket? We’ll know in a minute.
“How’s Martin doing? Oh, very nice! The terrorist cell has planted a bomb in a cement mixer. And our hero is stuck in traffic on the Deegan. Good touch, but maybe too much tech in the fifth paragraph, Martin, and watch that dangling modifier.
“Claude, my man! Locked room mystery. Love it! And here comes our forensic specialist. Is she still wearing that coat from chapter one? We all remember the spaghetti sauce on the collar. Give her a little sex appeal. Talk to Charlene about wardrobe.
“Luella. Still on the opening? Dear, dear. The seashore setting is wonderful–“the immortal crashing breakers of grief”– a literary classic, but plot, action. Oh, a seagull. Listen, unless it talks, that’s not going to fill the bill.
“Martin! Still on the Deegan. This is no time for excess realism. Oh, right. The ticking time bomb plot. I know you’re on the case. And where’s the cement mixer? A block from the ambassador’s residence? Guys, is this suspense or not?
“Yes, Claude? Cliche as old as Hitchcock? Let’s not be catty. Oldies can be goodies.
“What’s Charlene typing? “Talk about cliche– the locked room mystery! A classic format, Charlene.”
“Woman in jeopardy isn’t exactly new-minted, either.”
“No, you’re right about that, Martin, but we’re all supportive here. Writers working together, that’s our format.
“Luella, that last line’s got to be bleeped! And no, no, Martin, careful with that cup. Sorry about that folks, bit of coffee on the lens. Charlene, Claude, watch the equipment! We have limited liability, remember.
“Well, folks, nothing like a full and frank exchange of literary opinions, but that’s all for today for Real Writers. Remember, Real Writers, Real Plots, Real Excitement!”