There’s a scene in the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Parisin which Owen Wilson’s character meets Salvador Dali. I’m a fan of
Dali and Adrien Brody makes him weird and charming and, at that moment, obsessed with rhinos. After meeting Dali, Wilson’s writer character (an undisguised Woody Allen surrogate) starts to think that he needs to let his imagination off the leash and be more creative with his writing. I do wish more writers took chances and drew outside the lines.
Experimental fiction has a bit of a bad rep and sometimes for good reasons. It also gets a bad rep for bad reasons and the big bad reason is the author’s fear. Too often we hear that readers want to be made “comfortable” with a story. Agents and editors want “the same thing only different” from the successful authors they happen upon. You can write a competent mystery, thriller, romance — whatever your flavor — but I don’t think you can do anything great if you don’t stretch at least a little bit. Playing it safe means going with the tried and true. There’s plenty of that already.
The reader and writer in me is screaming, “No!”
A writer wants to do something more, different and great. A reader wants to feel like they are in confident, competent hands so they won’t invest a lot of time in a book and three-quarters of the way through discover the story has gone off the rails. Take your risks but make it plausible within the context of the book. I’ve just put a book down because an author made a choice that was implausible and annoying. For the first chunk of the book, we understand we are dealing with astronauts just back from Mars. After the three-year mission is over, they discover that one of said astronauts isn’t what he appears to be. He’s an astronaut impersonator. Really? Maybe that would work for some people, but it didn’t work for me and I put the book down, possibly never to pick it up again. I’ve got a lot to read. Life’s too short to waste on books that don’t work for me. If the author had made the astronaut impersonator the guy who messed up more, the conceit might have worked. Instead, the non-astronaut is the ultimate astronaut. Yeah, right. Got a brain tumour? Hand the scalpel to the brilliant amateur because he’s read some books and has a fresh take on this whole “surgery” thing. Ugh.
Please do take risks with your stories.
Go to unexpected places and surprise me.
Make me believe
(because I really want to believe.)
Midnight in Paris isn’t a great movie, but there is something very appealing about a cadre of artists in Paris in the ’20s who interact with each other, bounce ideas off each other and critique and encourage each other to reach beyond the norm. Too many people were living lives of quiet desperation (like now) while Hemingway or Gertrude Stein asserted themselves and their art as an important value, not a frivolous hobby. I don’t care for Stein’s writing at all and I prefer Hemingway’s short stories, but how noble to be so invested in art for art’s sake! Are we still invested in art or is our attention too fractured? Is there an equivalent to Paris in the ’20s now? Or have we devolved in our expectations of the value of art so much that we melt into the lowest common denominator of art critic: a mewling pack of trolling eunuchs at the harem with nothing to offer but barely literate, troglodytic snipe and snark in one-star book reviews?
Midnight in Paris succeeds only so much as nostalgia for an ex-pat community of artists in the 1920s succeeds, but I do love elevating art. When two hoods in an Elmore Leonard novel or a Quentin Tarantino movie or a Guy Ritchie film have conversations that you don’t expect, that’s a writer taking a risk to bring us more beyond the usual schtick and making it work. That’s “a Royal with Cheese.” That’s “Leave the guns, take the cannolis.”
Smack your reader with something they don’t expect.
Make them love you anyway.
- I’ve Watched: Midnight in Paris (theboywithahat.wordpress.com)
- ‘Midnight in Paris’ (japantimes.co.jp)
- Midnight in Paris Review (pwrcords.com)
- Midnight in Paris (citizenscreenings.wordpress.com)
- Midnight in Paris (thefilmreviewblog.wordpress.com)