So anyway, I was just after saying last week that there is never a time when sex in films or TV works. I mean, when it keeps you in the story, when it is the story, and there’s not even a pixel in your head noticing that the woman has been lit softly and that camera angles on the man make him look taller.
Hayley McKenzie of Script Angel raised a hand. While I think it’s fair to say she agreed with me about when sex scenes are poor, she had a perfect counter argument. As eloquent as she always is, it all boiled down to the word ‘Outlander’. It’s the title of a series dramatised by Ronald D Moore, based on Diana Gabaldon’s novels, and documented in delicious detail by blogger Maureen Younger.
Up to that point I’d been thinking that, well, we just have different opinions and then here was that word. And now it’s nope, she’s right and I’m wrong.
I’ve only seen one episode of that show but it was exquisite and there was sex that, just as Hayley says, was very much everything I insisted it never is. Half a dozen things were going on with characters beyond what was happening with their skin and whatever the opposite of gratuitous is, that’s what it was.
I have no idea either why I forgot that or why I haven’t yet seen a second episode.
Anyway, I love having my mind changed, it is exhilarating to be persuaded of an alternative point of view – and especially these days when we all seem locked into our perspectives on the world.
I’m obviously thinking of politics but this week I was also talking with someone and she made me realise that we’re riddled with perspectives and biases about everything. And that if they’re how we navigate the world, you know that oftentimes they are limiting us.
We just can’t always see how. And this one time, I think I can.
What this friend said was that I’d reminded her that she owns her writing. What I’d actually said was that writing is not a democratic process and that whoever told her she had to leave a particular line in a piece was talking bollocks.
It’s the norm or at least the fashion in writing that you show your work to people you respect and take their criticism. But around seven hundred years ago, I had someone tell me that one of my pieces should be redone as magical realism because she likes magical realism. “I like chocolate,” I replied.
Then I got locked into an exchange once with someone who berated me, destroyed my work and went into gigantic detail about how precisely I should fix it if it were to have any chance of not shaming myself and the entire literary world.
I’ve had harsh criticism before but this one was eye-opening. I didn’t do a single thing she told me but I studied the advice – no, that’s not strong enough a word. Instructions? Demands? I really thought about them and realised that she was telling me to write the story the way she would have done.
That fascinates me. It’s one thing to not like how I do something, but to have total certainty that her way was the only way is arresting. And perhaps as is always the case with someone who is totally certain about anything, she was wrong. I am totally certain about that. For I told you it was an exchange: she’d sent me her first chapters of a novel. She’d had deserved success with a very good non-fiction book but now she was writing fiction.
She visibly did not want any criticism, she clearly wouldn’t take any from a lesser being, but I had no problem with that because her fiction was unreadable.
I’ve just remembered this moment that we fell out really badly and it wasn’t to do with writing. It’ll come to me in a minute what it was about, but what leaps back at me instantly is the utter relief: I remember thinking thank Christ, I don’t have to find something nice to say about her writing any more.
I can think of a hundred times that my writing has been improved and actually improved beyond measure by criticism. So it’s not as if I’m against the principle, I think you just have to be damn careful who you work with – an ultimately you have to know that it’s your writing, not theirs.
The goal is to own your writing, not to write like each one of your critics.