Good copy has two important functions.
1) It brings up “the world” alive. And once our attention is engaged,
2) It also delivers the unvarnished truth.
Delivering the truth without aesthetics, without illumination, would be like that proverbial tree falling down in the forest and nobody noticing it. Does a tree really fall if there are no witnesses? We don’t know.
Sheer aesthetic fireworks, on the other hand, without any truth, is disservice to the world. It is betrayal of our short existence here on this earth. It’s the lowliest of the black-arts.
There should have been an Eleventh Commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Mesmerize For the Sake of Self-Aggrandizement.” Eventually all good writers come to learn appreciate the “Eleventh Commandment.”
Here is an author that I discovered today; a writer who has a full grasp of both of these important prose rules and boy, can she write!
She is Manohla Dargis of the New York Times and she is writing “only” movie reviews. But they are complete. Perfect. Because what she writes is both beautiful and true.
Here is the beauty part:
“Played by a tamped-down, amused and amusing Al Pacino, Willy Bank is a pint-size Trump in oversize eyeglasses and a burnt-orange tan that makes him look like an Hermès handbag…”
With a description that visual and strong, you can immediately see this character right before your very own eyes. That’s power copy.
But that’s not all. Dargis continues:
“But that’s how everything rolls in Mr. Soderbergh’s Vegas: smoothly and sleekly and low to the ground, without obvious effort and, most important, without ugliness… When Danny Ocean and his Boy Friday, Rusty Ryan (Mr. Pitt), stroll across a casino floor, you never see the cigarette burns on the carpeting or the middle-aged men quietly weeping after the night and their savings are long gone.”
Wow! That’s Sociology of Vegas 101 in a few sentences.
Writing well does not need to sacrifice from the truth. Or, inversely, writing the truth need not be an exercise in eating broken glass. Manohla Dargis is one of the many excellent writers out there today proving the point.