Before I dismiss you, a word of warning about some mistakes other students have made in this workshop. As writers, it is natural for us to try to emulate those we respect. Ernest Hemingway owed a great debt to Gertrude Stein, and Raymond Carver could not have existed without Hemingway. So there’s nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from another literary work.
That said, there is a difference between inspiration and imitation. Part of workshop is about trial and error, experimenting in order to eventually find one’s own voice. This will be a journey of self-discovery; not a list of rules to be learned from the masters. Copying someone else can improve your writing for the moment, but in the long run it can only harm you.
I’ll come right out and say it: Any student who submits another weak pastiche of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective this semester will be assigned a failing grade.
I get two or three of these in every class I teach. On a technical level, they’re wonderful stories: rich character development, frequent humor, and strong, confident prose. I can tell that the young men and women producing these works have the potential to be excellent writers. And yet they hold themselves back by relying on someone else’s work to provide motivation.
Case in point: last semester a promising student submitted a piece about a confused college graduate who travels to Europe in search of greater meaning. The story was just getting interesting when the protagonist’s father called and informed her of the kidnapping of the Miami Dolphins’ mascot, Snowflake. She immediately flew back to the United States and teamed up with a police officer named Louis, who turned out to be a woman in disguise. You can guess the rest.
And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Maybe Pet Detective was fresh and original in 1994, but today it’s become so ubiquitous that it loses its impact. As a writer, it is imperative that you avoid the expected.
I should add that this rule applies not only to the original Ace Ventura: Pet Detective but also the sequel Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, the direct-to-video Ace Ventura Jr., and the short-lived animated series. I have seen them all, and even if I hadn’t, I would know them by heart through ten years of leading this workshop.
“Make it new.” Do you know who said that? Jim Carrey. Maybe it’s time we listened. Unless former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino has a clear and obvious purpose in your story, just leave him out. Your work will improve and I, for one, will be forever grateful.