Posts Tagged ‘boots’

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.

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     Earlier today, I had an unusual and rather in-depth conversation with a good friend of mine about sex.  We talked about everything from the obvious basics to the more sophisticated habits, rituals and desires of our fellow men and women, musing over the roots of their various tastes and beliefs.  Many hours later, I again wound up engaged in yet another sex-based discussion with a different friend entirely.  This talk centered more around sexual orientation rather than the act itself, but still, today’s sexual theme was not lost on me, and it made me wonder at the sudden prominence of the subject of sex.  After all, despite what it may sound like right now, I don’t usually sit around and discuss the various forms of human intimacy with everyone I know.   I don’t even know what inspired the topic in either case, but it got me thinking of how dominant of a force sex really is in our lives, and how important it is in writing.

     For all the years I’ve been writing, sex has never been one of my subjects until recently (except a little erotic poetry, of course).  I wasn’t avoiding the topic really, it’s just that until I began the book I’m working on now, there was never a place for sex.  I’ve been pretty diligent about incorporating all the other factors that make characters feel more human, such as bathing, brushing their teeth, changing their clothes and getting an occassional night’s sleep, but it never occurred to me that perhaps fictional people like having sex, too.  Until now.

     In the book I’m currently working on, it’s as if all the sex-starved characters of fiction’s past are exacting their revenge on me.  In this story, I don’t think a chapter has gone by that someone wasn’t getting skins, knocking boots, doing the horizontal hokey pokey, or at least getting well felt up.  The particularly challenging thing is, in this book, no one is having conventional sex.  The main character is a perverse, sexually deviant murderer, so most of the time, the sex isn’t even consensual, making this especially foreign territory for me.  But I’m learning.

     One thing I’ve determined about fictional sex is that it follows the same basic rules of fictional anything.  In the world of fiction, everything seems to be slightly dramatized. When fictional characters are rich, for example, they are filthy rich.  If they’re depressed, then they’re really tormented… and if they have sex, they have a lot of sex, and if it’s good sex, then it’s got to be mind-bogglingly great sex.  The key, of course, is striking a balance that is believable but also engaging.  If you don’t amp up the intensity of the characters lives and emotions, then you’ve got a story as dull and lifeless as, well… real life, and why would anyone want to read a book about someone whose life is as drab as their own?  But, on the other hand, if you aggrandize your character’s experiences too much, it becomes melodramatic and ultimately alienates the reader.  Regarding sex, striking this balance is an especially challenging feat for me.

     There are other problems also.  I’m finding that writing about sex (especially sex of the deviant variety) is a multi-faceted and precarious thing in that, on one hand, there’s the fear of repulsing and offending your reader, and on the other hand, setting out to do just that. After all, don’t I kind of want to repulse and offend the reader?  And if so, to what degree? 

     Also, there is description.  Just how much detail do we need?  Do we need to know how bad Martha wants it (or in my case, doesn’t want it), and is it important to mention the exact bodily and psychological responses of each character in this situation? 

     Finally, there is word choice.  This one is especially tricky because there are times that the clinical terms for certain acts (or parts of the anatomy) just don’t properly illustrate the mood you’re trying to create.  Which brings us back to the first problem: am I offending the reader? 

     It’s a cyclical and potentially stressful dilemma, writing about sex.  And add to this your mother’s voice (real or imagined) – disapproving and stunned by your foulness – to the mix, and you’ve got a pretty toxic cocktail of troublesome puzzles to contend with.

     For me, the key to overcoming the stumbling block that is sex can be found in two words:  just write.  I can’t stop and think about what the agent, the mother, the sister, the priest, or the produce manager at Wal-Mart is going to think of my book.  If I do that, then I’ll be writing to please other people.  And if I do that… then I’ve lost all integrity and should look into getting a new, tamer passion than writing.  No matter what you do, some people will love you and some people will hate you.  The way I see it, I’d garner just as much criticism if I wrote stories about butterflies and dandelions… so I might as well write what feels true to me, because in the end, my own truth is all I have… and honoring that is the only way I know how to sleep with a clear (well… somewhat dirty) conscience.