Over the Christmas holidays I spent some very good times with my wife’s family in rural Ontario and I had a good talk about writing with my brother-in-law. He’s a United Church Minister and he writes (and delivers) a very good sermon.
In an offhand way he said, “You’ve got to hide the hard part in the middle.”
I asked him what he meant and he explained it’s all that stuff that people need to hear but don’t want to, all that stuff about sacrifice, and personal responsibility and doing what we all know we need to do – even if it’s hard. Maybe especially if it’s hard.
And I thought that’s true of any kind of creative writing. You need the hard part, but you do have to hide it a little.
Good examples, I think of dealing with the hard part, are shows like The Sopranos and The Wire and Deadwood.
You can like the characters in those shows, you can laugh with them and even hope that things go well for them but the shows never let you forget that they’re sociopaths – dangerous anti-social people who have gone too far to be redeemed (my brother-in-law may disagree with that ;).
But leaving out that side of Paulie would be leaving out the hard part, the part that makes me uncomfortable when I laugh along with him on other situations. Leaving that stuff out would let me, the viewer, off the hook too easy.
I had a couple of paragraphs in here about how I couldn’t get into the movies of Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith because I feel those guys leave out the hard parts, but that would just sound like sour grapes.
Maybe they do deal with the hard parts well enough or maybe it’s not even that important to put in the hard parts. Can stories – especially crime fiction - be fun and violent and pretty much consequence-free?
I don’t know. I just know writing the hard part is hard.
Even for those of us who love writing as much as this guy.