I pay a good deal of attention to the things I admire about the books I read and the movies I watch. Last night I finally had the opportunity to watch No Country for Old Men. I’ve always liked the Coen Brothers’ movies, back to Raising Arizona and, later, Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Not only is the style of their humor absurdist and subtle, but there’s a kind of straightforwardly oddball quality to the very stories themselves, and yet the viewer is hopelessly drawn in to a cast of weird, illogical characters doing weird, illogical things, and about halfway through any of their movies, I’m so sucked in that I’d believe anything they put in front of me, regardless of how insane the circumstances had become.
One of the things that allows them to pull this off, and one of my favorite things about their films, is the combination of very ordinary folks with extraordinary circumstances and/or other characters who are somehow extraordinary. And the way they present these “ordinary” people is beautiful – they aren’t boring, they’re not stereotypes, they’re not perfect…they’re quirky, they make jokes, they have hopes and fears and passions. There is a beauty and a miraculousness to the ordinary people and their interactions with one another in the Coen Brothers’ movies, a sort of revelry in the simple and the everyday of decent, mostly-honest folks. Which, of course, makes it all the more tense when these decent folks are up against psychotic killers.
So I actually have two writing exercises in mind in relation to these observations. Do either, or do both. It’s Friday, so you’ve got all weekend to do your homework assignments, children. Haha!
1. Write about two “normal” people in “normal” circumstances, but break away from stereotypes, and don’t let “normal” be boring. Make some wisecracks in the dialogue, put some banter in, make one character uncomfortable and the other perfectly at ease. Do they know each other, are they family, did they grow up in the same small town so they know all about each other even if they never talked much…? It’s amazing how well people can know each other, and not know each other, at the same time when they’ve both lived in the same town for most (or all) of their lives.
2. Throw some ordinary people in with some extraordinary people. Your extraordinaries don’t necessarily have to be murderous lunatics (*cough* Fargo *cough* No Country for Old Men *cough*). Make your ordinaries realistically full of enough personality to stand up as good characters even in the presence of flashier, more intense characters.