Chasing the Magic
It might be surprising (← humour) that (at times) I can be difficult to work with.
I take the creation of story very seriously, so if somebody’s screwing around it can frustrate me. That’s not to say that creation can’t and shouldn’t be fun, but there always times and places. When it’s not one of those times and places, I want to get things done because getting things done moves the process forward. The process being advanced invites new ideas. That generates evolution. Evolution realises the vision.
That vision is something that can be diluted when the focus shifts, or it can be lost when there’s too much disparate discussion. Or it can be corrupted, because discussion can generate an entirely new voice heading in its own direction. All these things scare me. So I try to stay true to the intent, and rope others back into the slipstream if I feel they’re drifting away.
It also frustrates me if things aren’t getting done. I had a talk with a mentee the other week; I commended him for finishing his novel when he was just twenty-one. He qualified that it was probably terrible, though. I corrected him: the content was unimportant as far as this compliment went. He finished a book in excess of 95,000 words. That’s an astonishing accomplishment – one that shouldn’t be undersold.
I know lots of people who call themselves ‘creators’ of one sort or another, and just never do anything. Some do have legitimate reasons – not excuses, but reasons, e.g. busy lifestyles involving partners, kids, work/business, etc. But others are just gonna people.
They’re gonna do it one day.
And they keep making excuses as to why it’s not happening now.
I find nothing more beautiful and pure than the act of creation – starting with a blank page that you fill to build a world, the people who populate it, and the circumstances that drive it. Words are our expression to give shape to that creation. Sentences are our framework. How well we manage those correlates how well we build our creation. Is it a shitty hovel? Or is it a resplendent mansion?
I’m sure there’s not a single creator of any sort who wouldn’t want another pass at a completed work. I have three books out. I know if I looked over them, I’d see things that I’d believe I could do better. But creation isn’t about perfection. Perfection is impossible as a pursuit since tastes are subjective. Creation is about getting things good enough to send out in the world to fend for themselves.
When I’m writing, when I’m working, when I’m washing dishes, when I’m talking to somebody, et al, I always have bits and pieces ticking around in my head. Sometimes, they’re just random, independent thoughts. Other times, they’re part of a bigger story. And other times, some of those random, independent thoughts meet, get on, and breed, producing bigger thoughts. Those bigger thoughts continue to breed, bullying their way to making families. Somewhere along the line – sometimes early, sometimes not – a story idea is born. Sometimes, that idea has a long life and demands that I attempt to tell its story. And, other times, it doesn’t.
That’s where my head functions: ruminating to produce these thoughts. They’re not always great. They’re often not great. There’s plenty of stuff I ditch as random or unimportant, or deem that it needs to tumble around for a decade or more before I can look at it.
In 2009, I wrote and finished a YA fantasy novel. Over the years, I revised it and sent it around. It’s only this year that I came up with a new angle on it that I think finally properly completes that story – eleven years after I finished the first draft. I’m glad it’s never been accepted, because it would’ve been a lesser story than the one I have now. But I also recognise that back in 2009, I wasn’t skilled, experienced, or imaginative enough to realise the story as it stands today.
In 2002 I wrote what I consider my favourite screenplay. I never had any luck with it. I’d pull it out periodically and revise it, and think I’d gotten it where I wanted to. It wasn’t until last year that I extensively revised, and wrote in maybe 60% new material. It was a finalist in the 2019 LA International Screenplay Award – the first competition I entered this draft into. That was gratification that I’d gotten it close to good enough – although even now, I still have ideas how to improve it further.
I’ve loved stories since I was a kid – beginning with Dennis the Menace, and then reading things like Asterix and The Adventures of Tintin. A three/four-panel cartoon perfectly demonstrates story structure: (panel 1) the set-up, (panel 2 – 3) the journey, (panel 3) the denouement. Asterix and Tintin also incorporate sophisticated storytelling that teaches you about plotting, layering, characterisation, journey, and voice. They’re both also extremely clever in their writing, and true to their universes.
When I read The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings as a twelve-year-old, the depth of Middle-earth overwhelmed me. It wasn’t just a story sitting on the page. There were layers of history that spanned millennia. This was more than a story. It was a world and an entire history that one person had created. I know a lot of contemporary readers struggle with the density of the prose, but if you can wade through that you’ll find majesty imbued within every single letter that sustains that universe.
This is maybe why I get exasperated with the contemporary blockbuster. Growing up, watching the The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974), JAWS (1975), the Star Wars Original Trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), Poltergeist (1982), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Back to the Future (1985), etc., and even a film with a lesser profile such as The Last Starfighter (1984), all these movies popularised and legitimised the blockbuster for a simple reason: the magic was there. But now it feels like a lot of these movies rely on sweet visuals, cheap tricks, and instant gratification. It’s not about magic. It’s absolute facsimile.
Anyway, to anybody I might’ve exhibited grumpiness with (editors, co-workers, my production team, friends … this is a big list) just know that I’m always thinking about story, and chasing that magic to get something as perfectly good enough as possible.
This week, we’re screening the premiere of a mockumentary satire half-hour pilot, Little Diva Rising, that I wrote and directed – my continuing pursuit and attempt at capturing a bit of that magic.
If you’re interested in coming to the premiere, here are the details:
2/118 Para Road
And if you’d like to say hello, I’m easy enough to track down.
I’m the grumpy one.