Sneaking up on your readers: on trust, and surprise

A good surprise is a good thing, when it comes to film and literature. People like to be surprised, but not in a way that violates their trust. I can jump out at you from behind a bush and make you drop your groceries, but you’ll hate me for it, and I’ll be a jerk. It depends on whether or not you’re ready for it: did you come to a haunted house, wanting to be spooked? Or to a musical?

I wrote a post this weekend that originally had a scene describing someone I knew who committed suicide. It’s okay to write about that of course, but you can’t just spring it on someone, and I had…then I took it out, before posting it.

Pat was best friends with my girlfriend’s brother. They were both in the military, young guys in their early 20s. It so happened that the one time I met Pat was the weekend before he died, and in retrospect, he was planning it when we met. He tried to communicate this to us in ways we didn’t understand, and then it was too late.

Life pulls up behind you with moments like this, and you don’t know what to do. It doesn’t give you a chance to prepare, it’s yours to respond to. That’s the beauty and mystery of life.

With art, you’ve asked permission to be inside my home, and I’ve opened the door. It doesn’t need to be delicate, but there are unspoken rules about what’s acceptable which are important, because they hinge on trust.

Life doesn’t work the same way: it doesn’t need your trust, it gives and takes with loose rules many of us rationalize through faith or science.

The thing about trust is, you may get hurt if you agree to let someone in. In the case of literature, film, theatre…the artist should only hurt you if you’ve already decided you want to be. And even then, it needs to be done with care. The hurt can’t be for hurt’s sake.

Categories: writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. There are artists who provoke, even hurt, with clear intent, and sometimes it’s to get us to explore that very notion of being hurt and shocked. So is that hurting for hurt’s sake or is there always an underlying motive because it’s art? You can get away with pretty much anything when you call it “art.”


  2. yes, always tread lightly and with care when dealing with the pain of life.


  3. I often write about hard issues I’ve faced, but the reader can usually tell that it didn’t kill me. When writing about someone’s completed suicide, that person can’t be resurrected or redeemed. It scares us.

    I actually have a big problem with the way our society deals with death. As if it doesn’t happen to us all.


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