Mostly, I blog to teach myself things that I need to learn. This is my brain’s workspace, and comments are like having an editor inside my brain forcing me to make my thoughts make more sense. Two days ago, master-commenter “J.S.” added his thoughts to the “Write the Emotions You Know” rule. In responding to his comments, I stumbled into a new, better version of that rule: Realistic emotions in outlandish situations work better than outlandish emotions in realistic situations.
As with all of my favorite rules, this had never occurred to me before, but then I suddenly started to see it everywhere. Usually, in this column, I cheat by cherry-picking examples, but this time, I’ll use a pre-determined test group. Let’s try this out on my favorite Hollywood movies of last year:
1. The Fighter:
- Realistic Emotion: I could be great if only I could break free of my crappy family…
- Outlandish Situation: …and become a world champion boxer.
2. The Black Swan:
- Realistic Emotion: I fear that the only way to succeed in my cruel business is to sacrifice my humanity…
- Outlandish Situation: …then slowly turn into a swan while dancing Swan Lake.
- Realistic Emotion: Expert older workers like myself are being laid off in favor of underpaid newbies…
- Outlandish Situation: …but now we have to work together to stop a runaway train.
4. Date Night:
- Realistic Emotion: Our marriage has gotten stale and we need to shake things up…
- Outlandish Situation: …with the help of a lot of guns, corrupt cops, and car chases.
The only exception was number five:
5. True Grit:
- Outlandish Emotion: I must avenge my dad’s death…
- Outlandish Situation: ...by hiring a federal marshal and chasing his killer into Indian land.
Four of out five well-made movies agree: Try realistic emotions in outlandish situations!