Okay, so I don’t really know Tyler Perry personally (big surprise!), but I am a big fan of him as a writer. He often gets brutal reviews from his critics, but he is still off the charts as far as number of viewers. And isn’t that the most important thing we can do as writers? Reach our audience?
A few years ago, I rented a Tyler Perry movie at the local kiosk without really knowing what I was getting into. I thought my husband would like it because of the humor (Madea is hilarious), but what I ended up with was a story that imparted hope and inspiration, as well as a pretty good fiction writing lesson for only a dollar. (Remember when movies were only a dollar to rent at RedBox?)
One thing I’ve learned from Tyler Perry’s movies, and from watching interviews with Perry himself, is don’t be uppity. I often like to read literary fiction and I love artsy movies, so I suppose my artistic tastes should find some of Tyler Perry’s characterizations as trite and simplistic as the critics of his work have said, but those things didn’t bother me because the story drew me in. Maybe my humble upbringing is showing, but even though his movies are not always big budget, I can relate to the characters and what they are going through. They draw me in. I want to see what happens. I don’t mind the sometimes lesser-known actors or rough cut scenes, if that’s what they are, because I’m drawn to find out what happens to the characters.
I think Perry’s movies work for me and others because while Tyler Perry obviously has a message for his black audience, he isn’t uppity about it. It can apply to all people, not just black or white, rich or poor. And on a side note, isn’t that the Christian way to be anyway? But back to writing. It’s all about expanding our audience and giving our readers something they need. I think Tyler Perry gives his viewers, me among them, hope. He makes us look at our station or situation in life and see that it isn’t a prison. We can break out. We can escape. So if he offers his viewers hope, what is it we as novelists are offering our readers for spending their precious time on our books?
I spend a lot of time rewriting just one sentence and I like for my writing to be the best I can make it, but while we always want to put forth our very best work, it’s a sober reminder that readers don’t care as much about our beautiful prose as they do about the story. We should not just write what we think the critics are going to praise. We need to be thinking about our readers as we write. I think Perry’s movies prove that people want a story that means something, more than they want the fancy trappings that surround it.
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