I wrote Note on How Far You Should Go in telling a story mainly to reiterate my belief that the reader should be given all the info necessary to put everything together to get the full impact of the story. The writer should include every useful specific detail so the reader can understand and digest exactly what they are reading.
I feel the same way about conversation, particularly with the people we’re closest to. Would you rather have the pertinent background to a story, if told concisely, or be left wondering how you might feel about details left out or glossed over?
Information, it seems to me, is the key to grappling with anything tricky. Can you fully trust an information source that is guarded in deciding what information you will need for your understanding of the complex thing on the table between you?
That is the essence of my beef with writing that provides a simple happy ending to an emotionally complicated situation. I think of one I read, by an otherwise excellent writer, where he reports being deeply, desperately depressed for the first time in his life, after the end of his long marriage. I’m interested immediately.
Then, instead of describing his particular depression, which might have been fascinating to have his unique take on, he sketched out a generic depression in a few lines to stand in for how unbearably painful it was. Then he quickly and sure-footedly moved on to the abrupt end of his depression, thankfully a merciful 48 hours later (though if felt like a year), when he met the new love of his life and the world was bright and fresh again.
My thought was “give me a fucking break” when it could have as easily been “beautifully rendered”, because this writer was capable of rendering it beautifully, if he hadn’t been writing a light piece to be sold for a Reader’s Digest-type publication.
I have the same beef with parents who keep essential truths from their children, perhaps thinking they’re sparing them the worst while leaving them with no clue into the seething rage around them at the dinner table. Daddy won’t admit it, but he was caught fucking the former baby sitter, mommy saw it on the nanny cam; dad sticks to his imbecilic story that it was simply malicious trick photography by a hacker intent on sowing discord.
Mom is enraged, the kids have no clue that she has good reason to be mad– as much about the childishly implausible denial as the infidelity with young woman a few years older than their daughter. Everyone keeps awkwardly mum as mom smolders and seethes, pounding the pots on the stove, slamming the oven door shut.
To me, the teenaged kids don’t deserve to be kept in the dark as to why mom is not unreasonable to be hurt and angry. Mom doesn’t deserve to be seen as irrationally enraged, neither does dad deserve to shrug at the kids and smile ironically whenever mom turns away like he’s the victim too, but it’s a sadly typical case.
Barack Obama leaves a bad taste for a similar reason. He is a smooth obfuscater who speaks eloquently of the necessity, in a democracy, of free and open information for citizens, while he withholds information the People have a right to know, denies more Freedom of Information requests than even Cheney, threatens journalists and other citizens who report things he doesn’t want public. For maximum chilling effect, he brandishes the rarely-used 1917 Espionage Act which was designed, in a mania of patriotic wartime fervor, to imprison and even execute wartime traitors during the War to End All Wars.
I watch the president do a great comedic turn at his final National Press Club’s White House Correspondents’ dinner and then turn serious to thank his partners in transparency, the millionaire stars of the mass media, the ones who help him keep all Americans exquisitely informed with all the details we citizens of a democracy need to make intelligent choices.
I get that candidate Obama had a great selling point in his election fight against the non-transparent heirs to Cheney’s unprecedented reign of secrecy. I get that politics is complicated and that all candidates lie. I don’t get why he keeps counter-factually insisting that he’s run a transparent administration. The facts say he has not.
As he goes on congratulating his partners in the corporate media and speaking of this era of unprecedented government transparency they are partners in, I immediately picture the New-Speak talking Martians in Mars Attacks, saying “we come in peace” and reducing the person they’ve greeted to a charred skeleton. My smile turns to a sneer and I say to the screen “OK, man, you need to just shut the fuck up now.”
I believe that a writer in a free society should be as true to his or her thoughts and feelings, and what she/he knows, as possible. It may not be the best way to sell a book, necessarily, but, for me, it makes for the most interesting and rewarding reading.
I suppose that conviction comes from a childhood where the whole story was never told, where you had almost no chance to put together the larger puzzle from the few perplexing pieces given.
That childhood, and my experience as an adult in our simplified blue hat/red hat advertising-driven democracy, have given me a lifelong distaste for half-truth, untruth, self-justifying rationale, saying what you think you should say, or what you think needs to be said, lies of omission, withholding of needed facts, the disconnect between feeling and expression, between knowledge and responsibility.
That was my main point in that piece on what a writer should write and how far they should go to properly tell a story, though I don’t know that I expressed it very clearly or succinctly in that previous post.