I must admit to being something of a nerd. I'm not the painfully nerdy type you see on The Big Bang Theory or anything like that, but I do geek out on occasion. I can't wait for the next Star Trek novel to come out. I'm drooling over Firefly on Blu-Ray. I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are two television series that were fine examples of drama, action and comedy.
That list could go on for a long time so let's just end it there.
The point is that among the things that I "geek out" about is good writing. I watch television shows and wonder what goes into making them. I read books and wonder how the author knew to take his characters in that direction. I want to know how it's done. I want to know the gritty, messy details that are covered up by the scenes. So I often watch the writer/director commentary on DVDs. (Yes, go on. Add that to the list of nerdiness in the first paragraph. It's OK.)
I've spent the week trying to get caught up on processing photos before the October rush. When I'm processing I usually flip on a disc or two of a television series that I have on DVD and just let it roll as I get into the groove of processing. Today I started out with Two and a Half Men and quickly realized I was bored with it. I didn't make it through the first 22 minute episode before pulling the plug. Instead I put in my Blu-Ray copy of Serenity, scrolled through the extras and put on the writer/director commentary.
I have a knack for being able to do one thing and listen to another. It's how I made it through school without ever studying. So as I processed I listened to what Joss Whedon talked about on the show. Some of it was interesting without being useful. I found the commentary on lenses he used during the shooting fascinating, though I doubt it will translate into photography usefulness. What I really focused on instead was the commentary on the characters themselves and I learned a few surprising things.
The first thing I didn't realize, though in hindsight I should have, is that the movie is Mal's story as told by River. The entire movie is wrapped around getting Mal from the dark place he starts at to the better place he ends at because of River's plight. Fascinating.
The second thing I keyed on was how the story itself was told, what little tricks of the trade were used to pull the viewer in and give him all the back story he needed without beating him over the head with it. Again, some of that I noticed, some of it I didn't.
What really struck me the hardest, however, was listening to Joss Whedon speak about the vision he had for the movie and the characters he'd created. Everything he did, every scene, every bit of dialog was aimed at bringing that vision to life. There wasn't a single bit of extraneous material.
But more importantly, Whedon had a vision. He knew what he was sitting down to create. He may not have known all the stops the story would take along the way, but he knew what he was creating. It was analyzed and thought through before the pen hit the page.
It made me realize that I rarely, if ever, have asked myself an important question when starting a project, namely this one: What is it I'm trying to do? What is it I'm trying to create? Why am I doing this?
Looking back I can see where that's hurt my creative efforts. I think I've only satisfactorily answered that question once, with The Crownless King. The Sixth Sword may very well come in a close second at that. Yet for the most part weak answers to those questions have made the quality of my work less than in could be, I believe, and have caused me to lack focus lately.
I'm not saying the past six months have been wasted, but I see now how answering those questions could have made me put the time to a better creative use. I can see now that I must readjust my perspective if I'm going to have a shot at a successful writing career at all.