Writer’s Rules: Not Everything Needs Explaining

The Arts

Not everything needs spelling out.

During America’s Great Depression, MGM and Warner Brothers made a fortune from relentlessly upbeat musicals. After Watergate came a slew of films that explored and explained how things became so broken. And now, when the young are facing the kind of crises they really shouldn’t have to worry about until mid-life, everyone’s seeking not just fantasy escapes but explanations.

It’s hardly surprising, given that we’re stuck in the unsolvable paradox of Brexit. Ask someone in the street why they voted Leave and you’ll hear ‘We don’t want to be controlled by Europe’ parroted back without any understanding of what it means. Control is a concept at the root of our fears, both in its absence (‘The Road’) and its ubiquity (‘1984’, ‘Brave New World’).If we can explain why things have happened, we have a chance of regaining control.

In creative fiction, neat explanations provide stability and return a spirit-level sense of normality. If you can understand someone, you can live with their behaviour. It’s the unknown and unknowable that frightens.

You may not even be aware that there was a remake of ‘The Birds’ in which avian behaviour was explained away by blaming big pharma dumping chemicals in the water. But the power of ‘The Birds’ lies in its lack of explanation. Hitchcock understood this to the point of ending the film in mid-action and denying closure to his audience.

Two films in cinemas this week prove the point. In ‘Judy’ we trace the roots of an erratically behaved, damaged woman to a childhood corrupted by big business. We can see how she ended up a wreck so we don’t dismiss her as spoilt and disturbed. Her childhood explains her destiny. In ‘The Joker’, a villain whose traditional motive has been inexplicable madness is transformed from comic book silliness to a documentary-style real events that go out of their way to explain his behaviour.

Just as ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ failed to prove an ending and ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘Kill List’ leave narrative gaps, the author knows that not every last detail needs explanation. I dump books that start with a description of an arrival at a country house, say, if by page 6 we’re still unpacking the suitcases. Not everything needs spelling out.

One of the great writing rules is; ‘You don’t have to know why two people fall in love, you just have to accept that they do.’ Equally, many crimes seem motiveless. We’re all wondering about the recent case of the boy who threw a child from the roof of the Tate Gallery. We want to understand but cannot find any way of doing so. Removing a solid motive raises the stakes for the writer and the reader. Making it believable and even understandable is a trick only a few can pull off.

One cavil; when a story is utterly inexplicable it becomes a dream – case in point, the positively deranged film ‘In Fabric’, a recent arthouse hit involving a cursed dress and a department store full of witches.

11 comments on “Writer’s Rules: Not Everything Needs Explaining”

  1. SteveB says:

    Well I‘m a leaver. I don‘t want to harp on about it but control certainly is a concrete thing. The fundamental thing about Europe is that the UK pays over 10 billion a year net (that’s 280m a week net after rebate and grants, was 220m a week net at the time the bus had 350m on its side but went up since then) to run a trade deficit of 100 billion a year. It‘s insane. The other side of that deficit is that European primarily German asset owners are taking control of UK industry and infrastructure. This means trains, water, property, etc. The money is extracted from them via structured finance which accelerates the process of destruction. Europe is coming to a demographic problem with pensions for which the UK will end up paying, not only via ever increasing contributions but also and much more via these extractive structured finance deals to the pension funds and family offices. „Control“ means for instance control of the car industry which will be largely removed from the UK by the late 20s if it‘s allowed to remain in foreign control. But inside the EU this can‘t be changed. The steel industry is dependent on cheap power, so the Germans and French increased their global warming from 2015-18 to ensure this happened until they forced the UK furnaces to switch off. Just like the UK destroyed the Indian cotton trade 200 years ago so the EU, which has little common interest with the UK, will destroy the UK‘s remaining domestic assets. The future for ordinary people in the UK if nothing changes is working with no security as work-units with the profits extracted over Luxembourg & co and the UK‘s social infrastructure demolished. And this is not so far away, just 15-20 years.

  2. Brooke says:

    @Steve. Appreciate the clarity of your reasoning. Mr. Fowler’s blog is not the place for a detailed conversation; I’ll limit my comment. From this side of pond, I can’t find an articulation of a UK strategy to redress the issues you outlined and compete economically, e.g. auto industry. Am I missing something?

    In US, the parrot phrase is “bring back manufacturing.” But policies enacted contradict this–so auto has withdrawn. And data shows overall mftg employment flat/declining, while dollar value of manufactured goods increases, due to process automation, supply chain management, shift in type of goods manufactured, different skills sets of employed, and oh, yes, tax breaks. What exactly are we “bringing back?” Perhaps this lack of specifics coupled with propaganda tactics (calling parents remoaners when they express concerns about food/drug shortages) create anxiety among us all.

  3. SteveB says:

    Hi Brooke
    I wrote that as a bit of stream-of-consciousness on my phone first thing in the morning, so it‘s probably not the clearest thing. But yes I see Brexit as necessary but not sufficient. I do have some faith / hope in Sajid Javid as chancellor. This is also tapping on my phone so wont be too coherent. Just let me globally add that some tax changes are easier outside the eu but still challenging.

    – eliminate the ability of beneficial owners to be secured creditors, including via convertibles etc etc
    – make interest non tax-deductible and maybe even penalise interest above market rate
    -make ip payments non tax deductible
    – make the NSO onlypublish stats that met a 99% confidence level (instead of to a timetable) and write a letter whenever they dont
    – publistnational accounts to fas standard including all 3 public private corporate
    – make public sector pensions funded insteadof from cash
    – move to electric transport by 2030 and ensure infrastructure manufacture and IP is kept onshore
    – move to plant protein by 2030 and ditto
    – eliminate all defence expenditure on europe other than obligated by treaty
    – eliminate expenditure on trident nuclear weapons

  4. Brooke says:

    Good ideas–if you think tax changes are challenging, try behavioral changes. E.g. just saw article on how great and good of california (ie. tech investors and entrepreneurs) are working to prohibit autonomous vehicles from their neighborhoods. Plant protein?
    Getting priorities and alignment around ideas will take you to 2030.

  5. Peter Tromans says:

    Steve, I started out before the referendum campaign on the side of leave, mainly based on personal experience of the Commission and observation of the poor end of the Euro Zone. Since then my view has progressively moved to convinced remoaner as I’m sure that leaving the free trade area will destroy our manufacturing. I’m not going to discuss it further here as I don’t believe that Chris wants his blog to evolve into a politicial battlefield. I’ll not accept your argument, but will give you credit and my respect in that it is honest and considered.

  6. SteveB says:

    Hi Peter
    Understood, I have also seen quite a bit of the poorer end of Europe and also how the finance works. That‘s one reason why I like to keep a bit anonymous as I need to deal with some of these people and I keep my opinions to myself!!
    I really think I understand where you are coming from but quite honestly I think the UK is screwed whatever it does and the best chance is to at least make a fight of it. Because the current path is a certain route to disaster.
    Hopefully this is or was an interesting discussion and NOT a battlefield.

  7. Peter Tromans says:

    Steve, whichever way we go, in or out, we desperately need a UKgov that genuinely wants to make something good out of this country. I’ve not seen it yet in my adult life and doubt that I ever will. Blue passports, police BMWs, F35s, NHS cancer care, our industries, NHS catering, our schools, soon our universities, big and small examples, the list is endless….

  8. Peter Dixon says:

    To nail my colours to the mast: The Brexit thing is a huge Tory Party shambles. It was started by Edward Heath and then the delightful Mrs Thatcher continued the ‘are we really in or are we out a bit’ scenario going, involving all sorts of financial renegotiations with Brussels and telling them she was a ‘hard woman’. It was Thatcher who began the whole situation of selling off assets because the Tories hate nationalisation – it stops them from getting near the trough, never mind sinking their noses in. ‘New Labour’ decided to ignore it all and pretend that things could only get better. Cameron decided to give his grumbling fogies a referendum that he didn’t think anyone in their right mind would vote for. Then he ran away and hid.

    I don’t see what ‘control’ we can get back – it was sold years ago to big business, which doesn’t give a stuff about national borders and never will.

    A huge chunk of my town was redeveloped and rebuilt using European funds that would never have been available without the EU, but the immense benefits were poorly explained, even to the workers who were having their wages paid from Brussels.

    Lots of anti-European copy was made by Boris Johnson who spread completely unfounded stories in the right-wing press.

    As someone pointed out; Britain leaving the EU is the biggest piece of self-delusion since Gerri Halliwell decided she was bigger than The Spice Girls.

  9. SteveB says:

    @ Peter Tromans – Agreed

  10. SteveB says:

    @Peter Dixon
    I was debating whether to write anything because I don’t want just to ‘argue’. But you do understand there’s no such thing as European money, right? It’s just a small proportion of your own money being given back to you stamped ‘Europe.’ It’s part of the difference between the (then) 350 million a week gross and 220 million a week net.

  11. admin says:

    Did I mention how much I love your comments, all? Peter managed to drag the Spice Girls into a Brexit argument, quite rightly.

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