Monday, January 19, 2009

Writing for Real

I was thinking of something to write about but this week and weekend I found myself in a strange creative desert. Not necessarily a bad thing. Lots of reading and movies and TV are a good re-charge. At one point this weekend I found myself re-watching the first season of Friday Night Lights. I think I've extolled the virtues of this underwatched but superb show before. Doesn't mean I'm not going to do it again. Seriously The football is just a device on the show. The real show is about the characters.

Okay, anyway. I realized why I am so drawn to the stories in FNL. It's because they never, ever make the easy choices. Not easy in terms of story telling and not easy emotionally. They make choices that might make us unhappy, but the choices are always real.

I think too often that books, movies, and television inundate us with stories of the hard luck case that tries and tries and gets everything he wants. Inevitably, after a struggle, someone makes a heartfelt speech, and against all odds, wins. But that's not real life. People try…and they fail. Good people. People who deserve to get everything they want, bust their asses, and still end up working dead-end jobs with lives they don't want. That's just reality. It's cold. It's cruel. It's beautiful.

Rarely do miraculous events align to give a person everything they ever dreamed of. It's a terrible truth that people with money have more opportunity and that people without it rarely get the things they deserve. Even more rarely is this reality represented in our media. Maybe that's because people don't want real. They go to media to escape. However, I feel like a generation brought up on these ideals are now unable to separate the reality from the fiction. Life feels like a Pixar movie. All you have to do is want something bad enough and the stars will align in your favor.

That's not to say that we shouldn't have stories where people do win. Because that happens too. Not as often as the other, but it does happen. What I'm saying is that we should be writing stories that are balanced. Actions have consequences. Terrible consequences. For example. On FNL, one of the characters is an extraordinary player, destined for the very best things. And he's cocky, but he deserves it. He's already secured a scholarship to a prestigious school when he gets into a fight because a white kid from another school makes racial remarks about him and the girls he's with. Was he justified? Yes. The remarks were horrible. But the repercussion is that he loses his scholarship. This is real. Normally we would have expected him to show up at the school and give a big speech about race and how bad he wants the scholarship, followed by the school caving. That's not what happens though. And I applaud those writers for it. And just for the record, that character goes on and forges a new path…and it's amazing in its own right.

I'd like to see more stories do this. I would like to be one of these writers. Someone who doesn't take the easy way out. Who takes a story where it needs to go instead of where we hope it will go. Because what is literature but a reflection of our own society? Literature, and all media, are what future generations are going to look at to find out who we really were. It's not history that judges us, but the stories we tell. And not all those stories deserve a happy ending, but they do deserve an honest one.

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