“I think I’ve been making the same film over and over again, asking who are we. . .”
~ Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker
The other night I watched the movie Dark Places, created from the novel by Gillian Flynn. My only thought when it was over is she has one wickedly good mind. I’ve read her work, know what a good writer she is: Tight narrative drive; twists and turns that readers love; a tad on the dark side, something I think all humans love. But what struck me was an element I saw that I’d seen in another one of her books.
In both “Dark Places” and “Gone Girl,” someone who’s innocent consciously makes an ultimate choice that condemns them and shapes the entire story. And quite frankly, both choices creeped me out. Not only because of the consequences for the characters, but because they’re wrapped in so many layers of contradiction that they left me supremely uncomfortable.
Narrative and all the ways it’s in the details of life, cultures, and our own heads has been up for me lately. Narrative being the telling of a story, the point of view, the consistent themes and patterns. That includes the perspectives spoken and unspoken, known and unknown of the storyteller. And often, for writers, contain a recurring theme or element such as Flynn’s central choice made by an ‘innocent.’
Consider John Irving, how he always has a writer in his novels. Elizabeth Berg writes intimately about women’s inner and outer lives. Frank Herbert created worlds with new languages. Societal moral dilemmas show up consistently in Philip K. Dick’s work. Personal moral dilemmas in Jodi Picoult’s work. One writer I read regularly describes the sky.
We can’t know what these specifically mean for these authors, or what exactly it reveals about them, but we can be aware for ourselves.
For now, look at the books you read and the movies you watch. What do you notice consistent amongst them beyond genre? Now, look at your own work.
- Find the recurring elements in your work, and you find out a bit about yourself. Sorta like looking in a mirror and noticing something for the first time. And if not the first time, seeing another layer. You’ll become braver in your work. And your work will go deeper.
I’ll be writing more about this.
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