Jul 22, 2010

What we can learn about writing from...Inception

I sure did like Inception. Yessiree, I did. The projector or something broke during the screening we saw, which added a bizarre extra dimension - blurring those damn lines between fiction and reality, you know. The cinema had to give us all free passes, which was pretty sweet...and it was an opening-Friday showing, too, so the room was completely packed.

So, aside from the fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a total babe, what can we learn from Inception?
  • People really like weirdness. But especially weirdness they can connect to - all of that weird stuff is actually completely normal dream behavior that everyone can relate to. And that's what made it so delicious - the properties of dreams feel so unique and private, something that taps our subconscious and we never really talk about, but there it all was, being played with beautifully on screen.
  • Further to that, this is a great example of doing something creative with an idea that seems, in its most basic form, to be supremely cliché. You can't get much more cliché than "what if bad guys invaded our dreams and manipulated us while we slept?" In fact, I coincidentally started this book The Manual of Detection at the same time, and it's pretty much the same basic idea, just executed in a completely different way. So it's not the idea, it's how you run with it, and how you execute it.
  • If what happens is cool enough, why it happens is secondary to irrelevant.
  • Tantalizing gradual reveals are wonderful. What's actually being revealed...well, it helps if it's something scandalous, but it doesn't really have to be that deep. This is why editors are always saying "don't give all your backstory at once right at the beginning before anyone cares about your characters!" If Leo had just explained the whole deal with what had happened with his wife right away, it wouldn't have been marginally as interesting, because we wouldn't have had any emotional investment in the story or its outcome. The slow reveal, just in little hinting bits throughout the movie, is what makes it work.
  • If you can bottle Joseph Gordon-Levitt and somehow make that bottle be your book...you win.

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