by Riley Redgate
Last weekend, The Dark Knight Rises made $160.9 million.
Last weekend—as in, within roughly seventy-two hours—this film made a little more than fifty cents off every human living in the United States. Let's just let that sink in for a hot second.
Has it sunk in? Excellent. Moving on:
I saw The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX. (In fact, I saw it in IMAX from the front row, which was both terrifying and extraordinarily painful, but that's beside the point.) And it hit me while I was watching how much impact the phrase "high-budget" or "low-budget" has on the movie industry. All the spectacle of Nolan's film—I can imagine the creators burning through money, mowing it down, eating it up. Money for every explosion, every costume, every special effect. Would it have been remotely the same film if they hadn't spent $280 million on the thing? One can only imagine.
It's interesting on the other end, too—the output end. Only the rarest of authors make obscene amounts of cash, as opposed to the realm of wide-release films, a realm where $13 million in three days can be described as "paltry".
When it comes to cash, no one can deny that films have a higher throughput. Massive amounts in, and (hopefully) massive amounts out. Of course, artistic vision and creativity also have tremendous influence on the film industry—but budget has a huge impact on the final product, and of course, on the existence of the product in the first place. A film that costs zero dollars to put together would be quite an interesting film indeed.
In book-land, on the other hand, the place of origin—the author's brain—isn't necessarily influenced by money. (I say "necessarily" because I'm speaking as someone who has made exactly zero dollars from writing. There's probably someone out there who makes better first drafts when they're having money thrown at them, but whatever.)
The question: Is there a "budget" of sorts when it comes to writerly ways? I believe there is, and I've drawn up a list enumerating the sources that feed into this creative budget:
1) Time. Because there are never enough hours in the day. Time is a crucial resource, and authors who are lucky enough to have an abundance of it will probably see more productivity.
2) Command of language. Because a strong vocabulary, a good sense of orthography, and sentence-to-sentence flow are gifts that keep giving.
3) Familiarity with genre. Because knowing what's become a trope, what's fresh and original, what's familiar and loved, and what's expected from the genre is a well of knowledge you can draw on with every step down the noveling path.
4) Support. Because one is the loneliest number that you'll ever do. (Two can be as bad as one; it's the loneliest number since the number one.) A network of friends, beta readers, critique partners, and cheerleaders is on the "priceless" end of the value scale.
5) Inner peace. Because seriously, have you tried to write when you're having one of those no-confidence days? Don't know about you guys, but for me, that tends to degenerate into me typing one letter repeatedly and staring at my word processor. Confidence: vital contributing factor, in my opinion.
6) Emotional investment. Because it'd be mighty tough to make yourself write about your characters if you don't care about them.
Oh, and 7) Divine inspiration. Because life isn't fair.
People may rant and rave about how different books and films are, and how one shouldn't compare them. But when it comes to budget, the two mediums run on the same principle: When you make a high-budget film (hey there, James Cameron's Avatar) you're hoping to get at least as much as you spent back, right? The more you put in, the more you'll expect out. And similarly, when you put more time into writing, or when you read books in your genre and take mental notes, or when you edit until you're personally satisfied with it, you'll get output. Maybe not monetary output, necessarily, but hey, raise your hand if you think authors are in it for the money.
... yeah, heh, that's what I thought. But what you might get as payback from a big creative budget: personal satisfaction. Satisfied readers. And hopefully—most importantly—a damn good read. Here's hoping yours is a blockbuster!
Can you think of any other contributing factors to your personal Writer's Budget (tm)?
Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina. She blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.