How to write gooder?

I know I know, the “gooder” joke has been overplayed at this point. No worries I’m retiring it today. That was the last gooder joke I’ll ever do, I promise. Maybe a last one for the road.

Lately I’ve been asking myself about a lot of things. Some of them work-related, some of them life-related and some of them me-related. I want to be a better creator, and I want to write good stuff. I also want to eventually define “stuff”, and use fewer adverbs.
How do I get there? I’ll start by looking at what I think is good / great writing, and try to analyze the crap out of it. Hopefully, this will give me some insight. Why am I doing this here? Why not. You are after all readers of my works of fiction, I’m sure you have awesome advice to offer me.

For the record, that’s not sarcasm.

19-2

I once wrote about mentioned Minuit, le soir (official site). I think this series was the best television series to come out of Quebec, bar none. Unfortunately, it came to an end – a great ending I must add – and left a void in the Quebec television for a few years.

19-2 is my new “Minuit, le soir”. I didn’t like 19-2 the first time I watched it, but the series has the distinct advantage of being on at the exact point in time where nothing else is on TV, and I have watched everything I DVR’d in the previous week. Uncanny.

Anyways, I watched a few episodes and now I’m hooked.

I’m not exactly sure if readers not in Canada can see this show on Radio-Canada – or online at this Hulu-like site called Tou.tv, but if you can I strongly encourage you to watch episode 9. It’s in French so you may not get all the subtlety of the dialogue, but about 30 minutes in, the cops look at a YouTube video of one of their colleague getting ambushed and severely beaten up by 4-5 teenagers.

I dare you to watch this scene and not feel the sadness, the powerlessness and the rage I felt. When the cops walked out of the station afterwards and one of them said: “The bastards are dead!” I was 100% behind them, ready to hold the kids down while they took turns beating the crap out of them.

Kids. I was ready to beat kids. Even if I knew the scene is a work of fiction. I even had a warning about graphic violent scenes when we came back from the commercial break. In that moment, I was ready to grab my jacket and march with those cops.

Parenthood

This is another show that I can’t watch after putting on my mascara, because it makes my allergies act up. Full disclosure: I’m a fairly emotional guy, and it’s not that hard to make me cry.

Further disclosure: The only story line that I’m not emotionally attached to is the Cosby – Jasmine adultery storyline. Honestly, if I was Cosby I’d dump that bitchy Princess’ ass in a heartbeat and move along. The whole separation thing happened over how to fill the dishwasher*, and that should be a clear indicator: If two people can’t agree on how to stack the dishes, and if they can’t agree to disagree on that fuckin’ minor detail, they really shouldn’t be together.

*I know it had nothing to do with the dishwasher, and everything to do with Jasmine (and Jasmine’s family) being a complete control freak. Arguments about the dishwasher are rarely about the dishwasher. I still think Jasmine is a bitch – an annoying, controlling, fear-mongering, using my child as an argument bitch. I can’t wait for Cosby to move on.
Ahem. But this post is not really about Parenthood.

This post is about how these two television programs, these two works of fiction have an effect on me, even though I know from the get-go that they are just works of fiction.
Any dumbass can whip up a book, a blog post, a movie and manage to “get me” by making me believe that the story presented is not a work of fiction. There’s nothing that makes me hate a book, a TV series, a movie, etc. than being tricked into an emotion. I think when an author does this; she is using a cheap technique and the only emotion I feel is anger towards the author, which nullifies any emotion I may have felt at the work, and furthermore makes me not watch / read anything else from that author ever again.
The sixth sense managed to toe that line perfectly. When at the end the audience realizes that Bruce Willis’ character is actually dead, and has been dead since the beginning of the movie, we are shown many scenes in which Willis is not touching anything, not moving anything, not really interacting with people around him – well except with the kid who is the only one seeing dead people.

Oh. Spoiler alert.

Anyways, when we reach the conclusion of the movie, the audience is surprized, and impressed that all these hints were there for the taking, and that they still didn’t get it.
In other movies, the hints are too obvious. Wall Street, Money Never Sleeps comes to mind, when we see Gordon Gekko smile to the camera on the subway, or sometimes the producer decides that in some strange twist of time-space continuum the character is acutely aware that there’s an audience following his every move and never breaks character even when he’s alone on screen, like in The Tourist when Johnny Depp still acts like he’s some hapless English teacher even though he’s alone in his hotel room, a cheap trick to try to fool the audience.

And I agree that The Tourist is not the greatest movie ever made, but it could’ve been so much better with just a few minor tweaks.

StileProject / PostSecret

It’s even easier to trick people online. I was there when Stile pretended to hang himself on camera, and the effect was great… until he revealed it was a prank. I stopped reading StileProject shortly afterwards.

What if I told you PostSecret is ran by one fat bearded guy sitting naked all day in his basement? He spends the day making collage after collage of fake secrets, on fake postcards, generally after drinking large quantities of delicious alcohol. If I could prove that to you beyond any shadow of a doubt, would you still experience the same attachment to the fake postcards, or would you simply ask me when I grew a beard and if I could post pictures of said beard?

To further drive my point home, I’m sure if I blogged about how my kids got ran over by a drunk driver, and are now in intensive care and how we’re not sure they’ll make it through the week, I’ll manage to get some emotion out of you. You might offer me hugs and “hang in there” in the comments, you might ask your friends to pray for me Twitter, you might send flowers to my house, you might cry even though you don’t really know my kids, you might spend a small part of your day wondering if I’m okay. Heck I’m sure some of you got emotional reading the previous sentences. It’s easy to trick you into emotions if I push the right buttons, but that doesn’t make me a great writer, it only makes me a great trickster.

I’m already a great trickster. No challenge there. 😉

How to I achieve the same connection – a true connection if I can call it that – without a trick? How emotional would you be if I prefaced my blog post by “This is purely a work of fiction, my kids are fine!!!” in red 24 point bold typeface, if I had tagged the post “This is a JOKE” and filed it under “Not a true story”?

This is purely a work of fiction, my kids are fine!!!

I want to know, because that’s what 19-2 and Parenthood do to me. Even though I know from the get-go that they are works of fiction, they still get me, without tricking me. They still manage to make me laugh and cry, sometimes in the span of a few seconds.

That’s how gooder I want to become.

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2 comments

  1. It takes practice, I think, just like any craft. Keep it small, intimate and real. What’s so great about “Parenthood” is that you can relate to just about every character on one level or another. It’s not big and in your face, but it’s authentic, and they show you situations any parent can relate to.

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