A Writing Lesson I Learned from Tyler Perry

ImageOkay, 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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2 thoughts on “A Writing Lesson I Learned from Tyler Perry

  1. Tyler Perry is quite fascinating to me! When I see other Blacks singling him out for criticism, I can hear the seething jealous at his lack of “high brow” content (though I would disagree with that idea). When I want an artistic movie or a political movie or an action movie, I do not look to him for this!

    But when I – a Black woman from Alabama – want to experience a good story filled with characters I recognize in some way, I turn to Mr. Perry.

    When I read some of the criticisms of him, I can only think that they are from people who CLEARLY do not understand hyperbolic, southern Black culture. It is the same reason why we are often accused as being…let’s see…too: nosy/loud, colorful in our clothing, uneducated in our speech, angry/melodramatic when we express ourselves…you name it! And yet, in almost EVERY TP film I see, I can recognize at least some of the characters as being like people who occupy my real life. And that is where Mr. Perry shines. It is why Samuel L. Jackson gets a lot of kudos for what many see as melodramatic, over-the-top portrayals in film (but which, i suspect, is a lot of Mr. Jackson just drawing on his normal, southern, Black roots).

    We are in an interesting time when Black artists are moving up in media,and during which “uppity” negros are lashing out any portrayal of Black people as being anything other than married saints who earn 7 figures!! REALLY??!! And in the meantime, NONE of these critics are producing any alternatives to match their idealized and limited views of “blackness.” The demand that ALL black comedy is “coonery/buffoonery”; that ANY Black woman be married to a Black husband and that they have children; that ALL Black people on tv and movies be earning 7 figures and have a Ph.D. in something!! They forget that we are also allowed to be who we are without shame. We are allowed to be creative and to fail sometimes as a part of a normal life. We struggle sometimes!

    LAWD how I cannot STAND the uppity, never-satisfied-yet-never-solving-the-percieved-problem, thinks he/she is too educated to laugh, embarrassed by the fact that certain Black people even exist, negro! I HATE how they will gloss over 1,000 positives so that they can insecurely zero in on 1 perceived negative. In the case of Tyler Perry, his movies deal with subjects that are very real struggles for many in the Black community, such as child abuse, rape, marriage struggles, money struggles, you name it. He also features Black people who are wealthy, well-educated, diverse, upwardly mobile, and occupying space that we rarely get to see Black people occupy in film. Somehow, the perceived “positive” portrayals and positive messages get missed because one of his characters is a “man in a dress.” Somehow, we are supposed to feel ashamed of his excellent portrayals of the hyperbolic, storytelling, singing, dancing, struggling, joyful, and everything in between, of a large segment of the Black population in North America. Educated negros like myself are supposed to forget about where we came from and sweep it all under the rug because…because…because…white people might not like it/understand it/accept it/ believe in it (because, lets be honest with ourselves, those who disdain TP are really seeking white approval on some level).

    I say kudos to Mr. Perry for doing what he does so well! I am happy to see him branching out past Madea as well, and I hope his fanbase will allow him to grow, while continuing to support him.

    Liked by 1 person

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