Good writing should grab you with the first sentence.
And that sentence is a perfect example of bad writing. It does not impel you forward to learn more. In a word, it is not inevitable.
Here is what good writing looks like.
”This is a story about a man named Harold Crick . . . and his wristwatch.
”Harold Crick was a man of infinite numbers, endless calculations, and remarkably few words.”
In two sentences we know a lot about our main character -- and we want to know more. Not to mention wondering how those adjectives can be concurrently redundant and expansive with their nouns.
The lines are from a script. Stranger Than Fiction. By Zach Helm.
It is a 2006 film. I must have missed it while it was in the theaters. Or I purposely avoided it. It stars Will Farrell. And I have never been a fan. A little Talladega Nights goes a long way with me.
I have been watching quite a few older films this week on Netflix. Proving my theory that the service in Mexico certainly is not yet ready for prime time.
I jumped over Stranger Than Fiction several times when I saw Farrell’s name. Then I noticed both Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman are main characters.
From those first lines, I was hooked. Emma Thompson is the narrator – because she is writing a book that just happens to be the life of Will Farrell’s character, Harold Crick, who she is planning to kill. As a fictional character.
It is a simple conceit. It gives the screenwriter a presence in his script through the voice of the blocked writer acting as narrator who controls the life of a fictional character who is a real person. Well, a real person being portrayed by an actor in a novel that does not exist other than as a screenplay.
You can tell why I like it. The postmodern self-consciousness of the characters lets the bigger issues play on the surface. The responsibility of artists for what they create. The limitations on the art we produce – and the lives we live. And that noun that continues to show up in all good art – inevitability.
Last week I read a portion of an interview with Stephen Sondheim. He related a lesson he had been taught by Leonard Bernstein. All art must be creative and individual to be good. But if music is not inevitable, it will seem contrived and self-important. And not very good.
Stranger Than Fiction came at just the right time for me.
Since returning to Melaque, I have felt as if I am in a writing well. Not blocked. Just dissociated from my posts. Maybe it is the humidity and the heat. Maybe I am just being a bit too contemplative with a few pending changes in my life.
Whatever it is, I have not been a joyful scribe. But I may have found a bit of focus.
Zach Helm, in the voice of his narrator closed his script with:
”Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies.
”And, fortunately, when there aren’t any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin . . . Or a kind and loving gesture . . . Or a subtle encouragement . . . Or a loving embrace . . . Or an offer of comfort.
”Not to mention, hospital gurneys . . . And nose plugs . . . And uneaten Danish . . . And soft-spoken secrets . . . And Fender Stratocasters . . .
”And maybe, the occasional piece of fiction.”
Some things come at the right time. They are inevitable.