Saturday, December 26, 2009

Post-Christmas meditation on writing

“But it is well written.” These five words follow a critical comment such as, “The characters were thin and the plot was a cliché.” Then comes the line, perhaps after a frown, “But it was well written.” An unwatchable two hours of wretched film-making – but so well written!

People think of “the writing” itself as a distinct element of a work of art – as if writing were a separate line-item like set design or catering. This tendency is the product of our age of specialization. There is one team responsible for programming, another team for historical accuracy, a nutritionist, of course – oh, and writers.

The writing, however, cannot be separated from the rest of the production.
There can be no excellent writing if the people come off as cardboard and the plot makes no sense. How can dialogue be praiseworthy if spoken by characters who are not believable – or if not representative of an idea or force that is relevant to the production’s purpose? Writing serves the artist's concept and shapes it. Writing cannot be extracted from it and examined separately any more than milk can be taken out of a hot latte.

The same holds in business – and in life. Words are actions and actions speak as if with words. There is no “We shall never surrender” without Churchill the wartime leader embodying a policy of national defiance. There is no “Just do it” without the flashy shoes and the mystique of champions. The words “You are under arrest” come inextricably linked to the act of cuffing a suspect.

In the day-to-day life of business we come across examples of polished, picked-over prose… found in a piece of communication that has no definable purpose. Can a press release that has no strategic reason for being and no defined audience be well written? Only if you could deem a sauce spectacular if served on a plate with nothing to go with it.

Writing is the expression of a project and the project itself, the idea as well as the means for conveying the idea. Writing is not a removable part of something. It is the something.



Larry Ackerman said...

Hmmm...Can a sauce be spectacular if served on a plate with nothing to go with it? How about a wine offered absent a meal? Can a painting be extraordinary if it just sits in someone's basement? I vote, yes, on all counts.

And I also think that writing can be beautiful, even without having great actors to make it really sing. (BTW, the plot is the writing!)

Cooking is art. Wine is art. Writing is - or at least can be - art. All are distinct in their own right. They owe their value to nothing more.

brandsinger said...

Thanks,Larry - yes to all your fine examples above, but they are not analogous to my thinking about writing. I'm sure I can express my point more clearly.

Cooking is art, of course, but you wouldn't say that a dish was badly cooked but the temperature was well regulated. You wouldn't say that the wine was lousy but boy, the color of it was perfect.

The fact that "the plot is the writing" is exactly my point. If the plot stinks then the writing can't be good.

yer pal, brandsinger

Anonymous said...

The point of distinction here relates to collaboration. In films, good writing rarely makes it to the screen. Novels are either made better or worse by editors. So, good writing is what survives after the gauntlet of collaboration...that is, assuming that what survives is authentic and alive. Perhaps such writing can exist today only in blogs, where there is no editor, committee, client or other approver.

brandsinger said...

Thanks for your comment , Anonymous.
Interesting point. If one is putting thoughts down in a diary, I suppose, there are only the written thoughts -- no other elements or dimensions to the communication. That's purely and exclusively "writing."

But I still haven't made my point, apparently. Just can't seem to write it out persuasively!