One of the greatest temptations in writing is to introduce and expound on things which, although they may excite the writer, don’t necessarily serve the story. Maybe you have a fetish for leather hooker-boots (guilty as charged) and will do anything to force one or more of your characters to wear the thigh-high monstrosities, going on and on in over-excited detail about the design, texture, clickety-clack sounds, and heel-to-toe ratio of the footwear which you’ve so proudly outfitted for your character. This kind of senseless detail is commonly referred to as “Artistic Indulgence, or “Artist’s Indulgence.”

There are endless ways in which artists and writers indulge themselves at the expense of their audience. Maybe you’ve created a character based on your aunt Susan, and although this character isn’t a main player, you feel obligated to give her as many scenes as possible for the purpose of paying homage to your dear, sweet, favorite aunt. This is also a kind of Artistic Indulgence, or maybe more accurately, “Author’s Nepotism.” Whatever you choose to call it, these practices can be fatal to the overall effect of an otherwise good story.

Artistic indulgence of whatever kind is the antithesis of artistic unity. Artistic unity is the practice which holds that there must be nothing in the story that is irrelevant to the plot; that there be nothing mentioned that does not contribute to the meaning, texture, or final result of the story. Artistic unity is the weaving and ultimate uniting of all the puzzle pieces, and every good plot has plenty of it. In short, if you’re going to draw attention to a thing, make sure it pays off, otherwise readers will feel like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down a hole, only to find nothing at the end.

As I have submerged myself deeper and deeper into the education of writing, it’s become impossible for me not to notice both the strengths and weaknesses I see in my own writing, but also in the other books I read and the movies I watch. The most recent storyline which has fallen under my cruel, hawk-eyed radar is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. While I am a fan of the movies and certainly in no position to condemn them, watching it from this new perspective, I couldn’t help noticing some things about the plot that stumped me.

For starters, the movie begins with Kate Capshaw’s character, Willie Scott. For the first several minutes of the movie, we listen to Willie cast out a dull musical number and watch the synchronized dance steps of her and her back-up dancers. Not a big deal really, unless you note that Willie’s performance possesses neither the glamorous musical edge nor the buoyant sexual suggestiveness to appeal to the movies target market audience.

After another several minutes of Kate Capshaw, Harrison Ford, aka Indiana Jones (after whom the movies were titled), shows up and stares at Ms. Capshaw, making her the center of the audience’s attention one more time, in case they missed how hot she was the first time. As the movie plugs along, we walk through Willie’s fears of spiders, get in touch with her femininity as she lords her powers of seduction over Indie, and witness her intellect as she lifts a magic diamond or something. Then we endure another ninety minutes of her face screaming into the camera as her character becomes more and more of a well-rounded player, gaining dimension and strength as she grows and changes with the various adversities she faces. Oh, and in the meanwhile, Indiana Jones is somewhere trying to save humanity or something.

When I was little and the movie was semi-new, I only knew that I didn’t really like it. But now, I was seeing things that made it perfectly clear why it wasn’t working for me. Stunned that a well-respected and professional director like Steven Spielberg would overlook such obvious plot flaws, I turned to Google and learned that not only was Mr. Spielberg enamored with Ms. Capshaw during the filming of this movie, but that the two went on to be married, and I believe, still are. And this… is artistic indulgence at work.

I don’t bring this up to critique the work of any of the actors, actresses or directors of this movie. I am not a movie critic and there are many people who love Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and that is fine. But as I watched it, I kept getting the feeling that there was a better storyline inside there somewhere trying to get out. And this happens all the time… all due to the lack of artistic unity.

Artistic indulgence is something I suppose you can get away with when you’re an established powers-that-be, but for me, as a beginning writer, it is a luxury I can not afford. If I ever want anything real to become of my writing, I have to tell very tightly knitted, powerful stories. I can not create and foster anything just because it tickles my fancy. I can only have one destination: purpose.

In closing, it is my greatest hope that one day, this will not be the case, and for the record, if and when that day ever comes, the first thing I’m going to do is throw a random, screaming hot chick into my story. In hooker boots.

But until then… artistic unity is my greatest ally.

P.S. ~ The beast has been unleashed.

Beautiful Monster is now available in eBook and paperback editions at Damnation Books: http://www.damnationbooks.com/book.php?isbn=9781615727742
Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Monster-ebook/dp/B00948Q0DK/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1347132178&sr=8-2&keywords=Beautiful+Monster+Jared
and Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beautiful-monster-mimi-a-williams/1112783047?ean=9781615727759

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Comments
  1. Kim Justesen says:

    First – I’m so glad to have taught you the meaning of the word “nepotism” so you could use it here! Second – this idea of artistic unity is one that literary writers depend on so heavily that it is considered a fundamental element of literary writing. The thing is that all writers should to this concept of artistic unity no matter if they consider themselves to be writing in the literary vein or not. Holding to this element would tighten so many plots; it would force many writers to drop those indulgences and stay true to the heart of good storytelling.

    Nicely done, again. I take back all the things I said about you failing my class! (kidding!)

    Mimi

  2. Linda Bennett says:

    Hi Jared, I do hope all is well with you. Great Blog!

  3. Good job! Keep up the great work!

  4. Success is steady progress toward one’s personal goals. Jim Rohn

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