Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Filling the Void

A couple of nights ago my husband and I were trying to decide on a movie to watch and ended up putting on an old tape recording of a movie that came out in the 80's that he really wanted me to see. It was based on a comic book series and the main character had supernatural powers. The sets were well made, the costumes glamorous, and there were a handful of A-list actors playing out the parts. The special effects were pretty good for a movie made back then. Even the brief premise my husband had told me had potential.

But the movie felt flat to me. The screenplay jumped around too fast for proper story development. The characters were stereotypical and I couldn't get into any of them. I was never even sure who to root for, since the main character was a bad guy to begin with and who channeled his bad side to fight other bad guys. (His motivation to do this had been completely omitted from the screenplay.) I had to give my husband a ho-hum response afterwards and as I explained why, he admitted I was right.

It got me thinking about how often we encounter a creative work or endeavor and while we can pick out one or two good things about it (sometimes really good things) the rest leaves much to be desired. I've gone browsing for movies to rent and end up frowning most of the way through the store, because while a certain genre or premise or even actor piques my interest, when I look at the rest of the product I'm disappointed. We live in a day of remakes, rehashing, too many special effects, and worn out plot lines. Even TV shows string you along through all kinds of sludge, holding back that one vital piece of backstory just to keep you hooked to the whole series.

Many of us take to our own creative endeavors to try to fill in those voids. Say we like the idea of certain setting or type of character and we want to make the kind of story we can champion all the way. We write it. Why do you think fan fiction came about or the deluge of similar novels after one story has reached bestsellerdom? Individually, we want to add to that story, fix it, or make it go the way we hoped it would to begin with. Sometimes we want to revel in that kind of a world for a bit longer. We reflect borrowed light. And creative people have been doing this forever.

Have you ever been in the mood for a particular type of story, or story atmosphere? Have you ever shaken your head during a book or movie and thought about alternative outcomes? Do you lay awake at night thinking, "Wow, that was amazing. How can I do something that?" or "That story could have been better, they were so close, but they ruined it by adding in ..."? It's like an itch that won't go away. And having that itch can lead to productive writing.

However, I've always felt that once you've identified what you love or what needs changing, that you then find your own story path to play with, not someone else's. Spin-offs and alternate versions of something are okay, but people know that these versions are merely playing in the shadow of something else. Do you really want to relegate your time and effort to a shadow?

There's a market out there for shadow novels, I won't deny it. And some people are happy to be there.

But how much better it is to come up with something shiny and bright of your own. It's more work, and more to be proud of. To create something that fills in the voids of your desires and then send it out to hopefully fill in the voids of readers is a wonderful accomplishment.

Write to fill in the voids. Revise and polish until your story needs are satisfied. Find joy in your work. I challenge you to come up with something not in the shadow of someone else. Be a light. Create your own borders, be bold in your imagination, think carefully about how you tell the story, and have fun.

People who do are the trend-setters.

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