Beauty

This is a regularly scheduled reminder.  Today, we’re multitasking, and would thus like to remind you of several things at once.

  1. There are many types of beauty.
  2. Anything in real life can be interpreted vaguely enough to apply to writing.

Thank you.

I was watching The Lego Movie recently, for about the fifth or sixth time, and something struck me about halfway through.  It’s a scene I absolutely adore, the midpoint and one of the biggest emotional impacts in the movie.  The bad guys have just attacked and the main character’s safe haven and most of his friends are destroyed or captured.  I love this scene every time I see it.  I consider it one of the most beautiful moments of all the movies I’ve watched.

But as I watched it this time, I realized it wasn’t all that beautiful.  Yes, there were a couple exquisite shots that really tugged at the emotions, but it wasn’t the cinematography or animation that made it beautiful.  It wasn’t, essentially, the way the writers told the story at that point.  It was the story they were telling.

For about fifteen seconds, they expand a side character from a joke five minutes before into a walking emotional impact.  They really delve into her point of view (just for fifteen seconds— this is no infodump) and show the world at that moment exactly as she sees it.  We’re seeing it through her lens of pain, loneliness, and crushing depression, contrasted with her optimistic attitude that’s always trying to keep her happy.  The storytelling gets more poetic for those fifteen seconds, but only because of what it’s trying to portray: the character’s emotion.

And it struck me.  This is one of the most beautiful scenes ever, and it isn’t the storytelling.  It isn’t the words, or the sequence, or the colors.  It isn’t the symbolism, or the grammatical constructs, or the music.  It’s the macro, not the micro.  That shocked me a bit.

You say beautiful writing, I think Leo Tolstoy.  I think John Milton.  I think Shakespeare.  When I’m not in the mood for classics, I think Maggie Stiefvater and Cornelia Funke and Laini Taylor.  And all of these writers have beautiful words, but that’s not all.  Their beautiful prose accompanies a host of vivid characters with real motivations and twisty plots.  The beauty of the prose enhances the bones of the story, but can’t be beautiful without those bones intact.

Beauty is only skin deep?  Nah.  Beauty in writing goes down to the macro elements, the plot, setting, and character.  Most of all, it goes down to the emotions.

I finished the movie, and eventually came to the conclusion that The Lego Movie is one of the most beautiful movies, in its entirety, that I’ve ever seen.  It’s not just the one scene.  It’s not as if it builds in beauty as it nears the end, with the beginning just a little bit shoddy.  No, it’s beautiful all the way through.  The emotions it builds, the promises it makes and keeps, the characters it explores in just seconds— they all contribute.  And I love it.

You don’t think of The Lego Movie as a beautiful movie.  It makes rude jokes.  It has a robot pirate with cannon hands.  It has Wonder Woman, and Middle Zealand, and Abraham Lincoln on a space chair as an obscure Star Trek reference.  Beautiful movies are supposed to have metaphor, and philosophy, and deeply disguised social criticisms.  The Lego Movie criticizes the growing generation of Lego hoarders who are using their incomes to live a childhood dream.  That doesn’t have much political, socioeconomic value.

And yet, it’s beautiful.  Because five minutes in, you think, This movie was written by a ten-year-old.  And ninety minutes in, the writers throw that back at you.  Just before the midpoint, you’re laughing at a bunch of disconnected jokes, and ten minutes later you are almost in tears with another emotion entirely.  You feel sorry for the 1980s spaceman, then watch him fulfill his promise satisfactorily at the beginning of the third act— then you see him blow his promise completely out of the water in the next five minutes as he becomes, if not your absolute favorite character, your favorite character until Princess Unikitty starts working on her own promises.  This movie is corny and it admits it in the title.  You knew exactly what you were getting into, and once the writers start exceeding your expectations, you’re completely on board.

This movie is beautiful.  Almost none of that beauty comes from sophisticated animation, or beautiful music, or serious metaphors.  It is the ultimate stage magician, distracting you with joke after joke until it blindsides you with emotion, then hits you with another joke.  It is a powerful movie because it only takes itself seriously enough to tell a good story.

Beautiful writing is not serious writing.  It is not funny writing, either.  It is not social commentary, and it doesn’t ignore the real world.  It isn’t defined by good prose or following the rules or even, if you knew the truth, vivid characters and a solid plot.  Beautiful writing is just a level above great writing, which is just a level above good writing, which is above mediocre writing.  You get from one to the next, not by copying the beautiful writers, but by practicing.  Learning how to make things work.  And never considering anything less beautiful just because it doesn’t include thought-provoking metaphors.

Telling a story well is up to you.  Telling it beautifully is no different.

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28 thoughts on “Beauty

  1. Everything (in this post) is awesome.

    I love The LEGO Movie to pieces.

    No, I am not sorry for these puns.
    My previous question about how you liked TLM has been answered. Now I want to fangirl over the movie. I like Princess Unikitty. And Batman.

    You’re right, I didn’t consider it beautiful. But I did consider it awesome.

    That last paragraph of this post was awesome.

    And with nothing more to add besides bad puns, I leave.

      1. (No, I very much guessed. Princess Unikitty is awesome.) Benny is fun. Bad/Good Cop was wonderful. There’s not much to dislike about the movie or it’s characters.

  2. …No, seriously, you’re working on inspiring speeches to the masses. You must be. Admit it.

    I…admittedly have let two chances to watch The Lego Movie in its entirety slip away. I may rethink that the next time my siblings want to watch it. However, I did see the ending, and I thought that was amazing.

    I finished a book yesterday. Resistance by Jaye L. Knight. I came to the conclusion today without knowing it that the book is beautiful not necessarily in style or plot or even the message (although that was indeed beautiful in and of itself). Instead, it’s beautiful in the heart of the story. What is the heart of the story, exactly? I don’t know. All I know is that looking at all of the elements individually, I couldn’t tell what it was that made it so wonderful. Maybe that’s the point–all of your hard work on practicing the different parts finally pulls together and makes something amazing, and no amount of examining this part or that part to see how it happened reveals the secret.

    I’ve been thinking about the story I started during NaNo this past November, Golden Silence. I reread parts of it a few days ago, and was marginally astonished to find I actually really liked them. And then the day after I read those parts, I was kind of half-observing the birds that’ve found their way down to my little Florida neighborhood and were all singing over each other and yet making something that sounded beautiful. And it hit me, then, just what I was attempting in my story. What I was writing toward, you could say. It was a feeling, and the word that came to mind was “soaring.”

    Now, maybe that sounds ridiculous. Maybe it doesn’t make any sense. And this is getting long, but I think the point was, the stories I’ve read that really stick with me, and the scenes I’ve written that really feel right, are the ones where I’m not paying attention to how all the different things are working together. The only thing I’m focusing on is the story, and somehow that simple focus is when I find the beauty. I think you’re right. Telling a story well is the best way to end up with a beautiful story. Doing your practice well means that one day, you won’t have to be thinking about all those elements as you’re writing, and the story itself will shine through. At least, that’s what I’ve seen before, and I’m hoping that continues.

    All right. This comment is long enough and I’m still not sure exactly what I said. Hopefully it makes a little bit of sense.

    1. EXACTLY. Good job saying what I’ve been trying forever to say. After you practice a long time, eventually it becomes natural and just works when you aren’t trying. Or, otherwise, you work really hard at it and it becomes just as perfect. But beauty can’t be arrived at through a single path.

  3. So…if you like the Lego Movie, then would you understand my fangirling over my new Lego double-decker couch?

    Great post. I have nothing really to add, except that, so I’m going to repeat myself here. Great post. Also…no wait, Robyn already made that pun, never mind. Heheh.

  4. Also, Liam, I think the folks at Go Teen Writers are being inspired by yours posts. The most recent one (“Mark Twain on the Right Word”) combines two of your posts. (The Power of Phrasing and, well, The Right Word.)

    Looks like something’s finally taking root and growing. Maybe world domination plots…

  5. That was a Star Trek reference? *gets smacked in the back of the head with a folder* Well, at least I won’t get smacked with a vibranium shield, since Cap and I are sort-of in the same boat… 😛
    I agree. This movie–sheer genius. It poked fun at every sort of genre and was a good story to boot. And even when he’s kind of wimpish, the main character still adds something they desperately need to the team. (Also, shallow movies have Wonder Woman? Since when is that a thing???)

    1. I’m glad you agree.

      (That’s not what I meant about Wonder Woman, so I apologize. I meant to say that it has pop culture references, which generally aren’t included in stories that try to be famous. Wonder Woman is awesome.)

      1. Ah. 😛 I see… 😉 My little sister (4 years old) LOVES Batman. And Wonder Woman. She’s too young to understand that Marvel and DC are rivals, so she also insists about Steve Rogers that “He’s my boyfriend!” I was too adorabled-out to explain to her that he’s a fictional character… Besides, breaking her fantasy would break my heart as well.

      2. Hey, I claim to be Superman and Captain America simultaneously. The differences of comic book industries don’t apply to us.

      3. YES. (I’m converting Rosalie–coruscantbookshelf–slowly to the Cap fandom. She’s not much into Marvel, being a Bat-fan, but she makes an exception now for Cap. Awesome characters for the win!)
        I think I sent you the link to what I’ve been up to… it’s got kind of a corny name and it won’t be applicable for long, because I’m nearly twenty, but all the good names are taken. We might rename it. Eventually. (We stole the Triskelion symbol from SHIELD… they have the name, we get the symbol.)
        Um… I have to go… I think Hawkeye just used the new polymer Bruce was working on to glue Peter Parker to the wall… see you later!

  6. That. Was. Amazing. I have no words to describe how much I loved this post.

    (I have watched the Lego Movie several times, and I have a scene in mind, but I’m not sure if it’s the right one haha.) Anyway… this post is ❤

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