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Podcast Transcript: Hi, genuine writers! This is Innovative Editing’s Jeannette DiLouie welcoming you to episode #34 of The Genuine Writer Podcast. We keep things short, sweet and to the point here so that you can learn what you need to learn and get back to writing already.
This episode – which is about how to properly portray dramatic moments – is sponsored by The Politician’s Pawn, a political thriller that’s perfect for the dramatic moments we’re living through these days. Does anybody care about us little guys? Or are the politicians all out for themselves? The answer is fairly obvious to Kayla Jeateski when she’s pulled out of her Baltimore apartment one February night, destined to spend the next five days in a lawmaker’s basement, waiting to know her final fate.
If the system is actively working against her, she’s going to have to find another way to survive.
You can buy the book on Amazon in either print or Kindle copies, and I’ll make sure to include the link in the description section for you to check out further. I highly recommend this first book in the Dirty Politics series.
Okay. So, I’m totally blanking right now on a clever tie in between that last line and the drama we’re dealing with in today’s instructional commentary. So I’ll just go for it. This past Friday was Friday the 13th. And since there was a full moon too, it was a pretty big deal. I don’t know about you, but I wanted to watch something scary to commemorate it. I really, really did. Yet I had too many things on my to-do list, and so I got them done instead. Then I passed out.
At least I tried to pass out. I think that bloody full moon kept me up the whole night.
Then again, maybe that was for the best. The not watching a scary movie part, I mean, not the sleepless night. Honestly, the older I get, the less I’m into watching people get mutilated and mangled in horrific fashion. I’ve never watched Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday, the 13th at all. Nor have I ever really wanted to. But I did watch stuff like Scream, House on Haunted Hill, Valentine, and The Hitcher back in the day – all definite slashers or slasher-like. Moreover, I wanted to watch them. And I enjoyed watching them.
I also remember wanting to watch the first Final Destination movie and never getting around to it until, one day in college, it was on TV when I got home from class. I wasn’t even five minutes into it though when my one roommate came in, saw what was on and declared something along the lines of, “Oh, I don’t watch this kind of stuff,” then turned it off without asking.
To this day, I find that an exceptionally presumptuous and self-focused thing to do. It’s called asking, sweet stuff.
But that little bit of bitterness aside, why do I bring all of this up other than the fact that Western society just experienced a date we consider to be specially made for horror? It’s because of the interview I just read on some entertainment site called “Collider.”
The interview is of Scott Ryan, Nash Edgerton and Michele Bennet, who are all involved in some Australian crime dramedy called Mr. Inbetween. It’s about – and this is Collider’s description – “a man who’s trying to juggle a relationship, parental responsibilities, friendships, a sick brother and court-ordered anger management classes, all while being a criminal for hire. Balancing collecting debts with helping to raise his eight-year-old daughter Brittany… isn’t easy when you’re a hitman with a growing body count, and Ray is realizing that keeping both sides of his life from imploding is going to continue to get more and more challenging.” Ryan, for the record, is both the show’s creator and its star.
I tell you all of that to convey one little snippet of the interview, where Collider asks him, “Scott, when you’re writing this, do you ever think about the fact that you’ll actually have to do what you write for yourself?” To which he replies:
Totally. I wrote a sex scene for Ray, and I thought, “You realize you’re gonna have to get naked and do this stuff?” The writer part of me was going, “But don’t worry about that now,” while the actor part was going, “Wait, hold on.” You’ve gotta put yourself in those situations sometimes. For the good of the show, you’ve gotta get your gear off. It’s all for the good of the show.
So here’s my question… Is it really for the good of the plot or the characters or the audience? Does all of that explicit sex and violence actually make the show better? Does it make a book better?
For the record, this isn’t coming from a moral standpoint. Perhaps we’ll touch on the ethical side of the equation at some later date, but for now, let’s work within the parameters that Mr. Ryan set: that “It’s all for the good of the show.” As in, it makes the fiction in question more interesting, more engaging, more realistic, or otherwise better in some way, shape or form.
In that light, if you’re writing a horror story, then yeah, you probably need some violence in there. Maybe even some flat-out gore. Otherwise, it’s not going to fit into its genre very well, and readers are going to feel let down. Switching over to the sexy stuff, if you’re writing a hard-core romance novel, then there’s going to have to be some hot and heavy in there – once again to satisfy your readers’ desires. Both of those pretty much go without saying.
But what about all the other genres out there? Do you need those same details?
Personally, I would argue no for the most part. I would argue that they’re fillers. That we writers have bought into the idea that they “add to the story” when in fact they’re really kind of stale elements.
In real life, both sex and violence are supposed to get your heart rate up. They’re supposed to capture and keep your attention, one in the “Give me more of that!” sense and the other in an “I don’t want to die!” kind of way. But in writing and film, it can get old fairly fast. Even boring. I remember reading one fantasy book a year or two ago that turned out to be a romance novel instead, whether the author would have admitted it or not. Because I’d gone into it expecting action and adventure, not multiple mentions of skin on skin, I ended up being bored out of my mind.
Those scenes didn’t add anything to the story. They didn’t make the quest more complicated or worthwhile. They were just sex scenes. One. After another. After another, making my eyes glaze over, wondering when “the good stuff” was going to get back on track.
I’ll never read that author again as a result. Even with one of my semi-favorite authors (I’m a big fan of his one series, but not so much with the others), I was yawning by the time he got to the fifth torture scene of his non-horror-genre novel. It was ho-hum. Old hat.
There’s also the issue that fiction readers and watchers like tension. They like being teased. Believe it or not, they even like having to use their imagination. There’s something very compelling about having to work out the details for oneself. So if you do have a violent scene you want or need to show, you don’t have to give a blow by blow description of how horrible it was for the hero to endure. You can fade out as the villain steps forward toward his tied captive, lovingly running his fingers down the scalpel. Then you cut back in after he’s gone, leaving the poor protagonist catching his breath and trying to tell himself that this isn’t the end. This isn’t the end. He’s going to get out of this still. Somehow.
What you didn’t write there can impact the reader even more than what you could have written. And the same thing applies to sexual encounters between your characters. In some ways, it’s hotter when you don’t show everything. If you don’t graphically describe their technique, shall we say, it’s a lot easier to imagine that something mind-blowingly amazing happened: something special between just that man and just that woman.
Nobody these days seems to understand the art of the tease anymore. It’s sad. And boring.
I could go on and on about this, but I don’t want to join that boring club. So that’s why I’m going to call it quits, wish you a wonderful Monday (or whatever day you’re listening to this), and let you get back to whatever story or nonfiction piece you’re working on. Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll catch you next week. Until then, very happy writing!