Tuesday, August 9, 2011
How Movies Changed the Way We Write
So yesterday I finished Middlemarch. First of all, OH MY GOSH. Seriously, the word novel doesn't seem to do it justice. It's like a novel plus an in-depth study of human nature. I think if it was required reading for anyone who wanted to get married the divorce rate would be much lower.
Anyway, I was thinking about how different today's writing style is from Victorian England. I adore Victorian novels, obviously, but they can be very authorial, long-winded and expository, and no one can really get away with writing like that anymore. Today's writing is much faster paced, visual, and anti-explanatory. In a word, cinematic.
We don't want long internal character descriptions anymore. We don't want political or authorial intrusion. We want to watch an interesting character go through interesting struggles, perhaps a bit of back-story mixed in as we go, and we never want to be told what something means. We want to just be given the facts and figure out the meaning for ourselves, or find our own meaning. Because that's how movies work, and now it's what we're used to.
Think of Pirates of the Carribean. We don't get an in-depth psychological analysis of Jack Sparrow, or even any back story. Instead we just see a very interesting (and sexy) looking man making an unusual entrance on a sinking ship, and we wonder why he's here and what he'll do next. Later on we figure out his history; that he's a pirate whose ship was mutineered away from him--meaning that pirates and non-pirates don't like him much--and he wants his ship back. Very interesting premise. We don't begin with a character sketch, like we do in Middlemarch.
I think these changes are in general good ones. Presenting raw life and letting readers make their own interpretations is healthy. But there are two things I miss. The first is the one-liner pearls of wisdom. The character sketches may be slow and occasionally complex, but they make me feel like I understand myself better, as well as other people. They're the kind of thing I want to hang on a plaque on the wall. As visceral and gripping as today's writing is, you don't get as much of that anymore.
I also miss the fact that Victorian writers were not afraid to write from a specific view point or specific set of values. Perhaps in our modern quest for ambiguity and fear of alienating or offending anyone who doesn't agree with us, we become overly neutral and afraid to stand for anything. It is not bad to have values or ideals, and I think Victorian writers would be surprised at how taboo those things have become. Of course we don't want to be at all close-minded or didactic, but we don't want to be vague or wimpy either. The desire to discover meaning for ourselves rather than be preached at doesn't equal a desire for no meaning at all.
What do you think? Do you agree? And how else do you think movies have changed the way we write in general? Which movies have changed the way you write?