Sunday, July 28, 2013

Don't Be Afraid to Be Honest

'Honesty' is a watchword for writers.  "What do you honestly think?" we ask, showing our second or third draft to a friend for the first time.  "Be honest," we say to our writing group, or "let me be honest" when we're on the giving end of criticism.

But a different kind of honesty has been on my mind since I saw Pacific Rim.  That'd be the Guillermo del Toro movie with all the giant robots and giant monsters.  Go see it now, in fact.  It's in theaters.  I'll wait.

No really.  I'll still be here when you get back.  So will the rest of the internet.

Now that we're on the same page: did you notice how frank everybody was?  How the film wasn't afraid of the emotions it was invoking, how it didn't flinch from love, awe, fear, and rage?  How it went beyond 'not flinching' to showcase these feelings, even in moments when many modern movies would turn to wink at the camera and say, yeah, we know this is a bit ridiculous?

This is a 'cool' film, in that there are giant monsters everywhere, and robots, and Idris Elba, but at its core Pacific Rim doesn't care about looking cool.  Nobody appears impassive or above the action, except for Ron Perlman's character—and look how well that turns out for him.  (Not well, if you didn't listen to me a few grafs back when I told you to go see the dang movie.)  Nobody holds ironic distance from the kaiju, and as a result the movie feels fresh and exciting and new, even when it's invoking common tropes.

When I'm writing first drafts, I have a tendency to get clever, to wink at myself or at the camera.  There's a strong temptation to have cool guys not look at explosions.  That approach is great and has its place, but in a world full of self-awareness and irony, maybe we can make better art by being emotionally honest, by feeling the situations through which we force our characters to stumble.

Have you ever caught yourself being too clever in a scene?  Or too distant?  How did you respond?


  1. Definitely have caught myself/been caught out with too much distance in my writing. I think as a reader, I read for escapism, and I was trying to carry over that escapist mentality into my writing. Glossing over the uncomfortable and hurty bits. But it makes for a less satisfying story, so I had to learn to get over that.

    1. That's just what I mean—when we gloss over or go for distance, the story ends up less satisfying, & as a result, it's less of an escape for the reader!

  2. I totally agree about the need for less irony and more real emotion. Trying to get at some intimacy/honesty in a scene today--this was helpful!!


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