Monday, September 14, 2009

Writing Midnight Sun Alone

Yeah, obscure title, I know. But while browsing through some stuff on the internet for background to my last blog I came across an interesting little snippet of information, and it was like "Yes, I get that!"

Apparently there's an unwritten novel in the Twilight Series, called Midnight Sun. It was started and significant parts were leaked to the internet without the author's consent. The author's response apparently included this: "It's really complicated, because everyone now is in the driver's seat, where they can make judgment calls. 'Well, I think this should happen, I think she should do this.' I do not feel alone with the manuscript. And I cannot write when I don't feel alone."

A few things I want to say to this.

First of all, it's very good to hear that someone who is what you might call 'a long way away from me'—in terms of disposition, nature, religion, culture, background, life-experience, age, and not to forget gender—feels about this the way I would. 'Do', actually. I can't 'share' my stories during their genesis and development, or they die. Until they're on the page they are my secret, and I generally don't even want to talk about them in the broadest outline.

I mean, it's OK towrite some generalised teaser like: With the arrival of Gaston Huil, former Controller of the Authority, a new and dangerous game for the future of Tethys has begun. And at the end lies revealed the true secret of Tethys—and why it will change the course of human history.

Paperback edition cover

But that's just the broadest of brushes. It's like a painter telling people that the background of his new painting will be a wash of blue and white; or even more vague, that it's going to have two colors, onto which the details will be painted. That's kind of what the story is about, in plot-thematic terms. Everything else is mine, and in truth not even I know exactly what it's going to be—and I have the freedom not to know and in this way to actually find out for myself. The path between the beginning, which I have written, and the end, which I know, it vague and potentially winding through landscapes and revealing vistas that even I haven't got a clue of.

The moment this kind of tale turns into a committee creature, even to the extent of letting someone else, no matter who and no matter how close they are to you, suggest something like "Why don't you make X confront Y?" or "The relationship between A and B should probably be developed." or things of that nature...the moment I allow that to get into the way of the creative process, the process itself gets...oh, I don't know what word to use to describe it. Maybe 'corruption' is too strong; but not all that much 'too strong'.

The process has a lot in common with dreams. Dreams are your own as well, and considerably more uncontrollable than stories. Dreams have an air of freedom of existence; they are the essence of outrageous nonconformity, of what we like to think of when we say "thoughts are free", which thoughts usually are not, but deliberately-spun stories, fantasies, kind of allow them to become more that way than the narratives that rule our everyday lives. But for the story-creator him- or herself, that effectively get choked off when one allows 'input', as it's called nowadays. The correct word is 'meddling', but 'input' sounds so much better.

There are many reasons why people other than the story-creator like to 'meddle' in the creation. On one hand there's a genuine desire to participate or 'share', in a purely personal way. This is usually the case with people who are close, personally. Family and friends lead the way here. Story-creation is a very anti-social process, if it's done as I've explained above, and for those close to the story-creator, the isolation and thought-process separation involved in the creation and, usually the writing-down, of the story, is an in-your-face reminder that there's something going on in another person's mind that one is excluded from. Such sentiments are very understandable and should be respected. But it doesn't change the fact that things are as they are, and I wonder how many good stories were never told because this conflict could not be resolved—or because it was resolved either by a writer just giving up writing because it was just too hard to deal with all this, or by allowing 'input' to influence the creative process, thus making the story-creation into a social process, which made it into something different than it would otherwise have been. Whether it would have been 'better' is nucupatory. I think that no matter what, it loses what you might call 'authenticity'.

And this is, of course, also what happens when, as is common today, the process becomes 'internetted'. Now it's the fans that want their input to be considered; for all sorts of reasons, which range from a desire to feel that they are a part of the creative process and that they want to experience (read, see, hear) certain things in the continuation of a story or the revelation of the characters and their motivations, and so on—to the much less savory motivation of just the desire to meddle and to acquire some proxy-fame in their own eyes, or maybe in the eyes of people who know them, by said meddling, which they probably see as 'participation'.

'Participation' in stories by people who really shouldn't, is a phenomenon with close ties to a confused notion of the value of 'democracy', which has migrated from politics to all sorts of spheres of human activity. Matters are confused enough in the political realm, but when it comes to the creative sphere, matters go from mere confusion to being actively destructive.

I don't know where this started. Star Trek conventions? I don't know. I could understand why in matters of TV series the fans would eventually and inevitably want a 'voice'. And look at the Firefly series, where the whole thing revealed 'fan power' or major proportions. The internet and universal connectivity—meaning one didn't have to travel to conventions!—provide the ideal breeding ground to make this become a major movement. Nowadays, for authors who sell gazillions even more so, it's becoming almost obligatory to allow the 'audience' to 'participate'. In the case of what might have started out as a mediocre work of fiction—written or TV or cinema—that might actually improve matters. Also, pleasing one's audience by making them feel that they have become a kind of (I hate that word!) 'stakeholder' will contribute to retaining them and thus ensuring continued popularity and therefore sales—at least until they find something else to stimulate their neophilia and promise them more creativity-by-proxy.

It may be that this kind of thing is OK for some authors, and good for them. But I couldn't work that way. Part of the reason why I write stories is because the act of creating them satisfies a personal need. Maybe you can call it a 'passion', but I don't know. In any case, it's something that qualifies as you-do-it-because-you-need-to-do-it. That is not a social thing. And it demands an audience that's not just prepared but actually happy to 'share' your story by allowing themselves to become immersed in it as it is. They may project their own meaning upon it, as one does upon every story one hears, and they may make it their own by projecting those meanings. But those inclined that way will not nitpick it apart or feel that it needs to be improved by their own contributions.

I know this implies a certain 'passivity', if you will, and a certain acceptance; and that's become very un-PC, partially in tandem with that confused 'democracy' thing I mentioned before. But actually there's nothing wrong with it. Speaking purely for myself as a consumer of other people's stories, I have never felt the slightest need to 'input' my own stuff into it. 'Acceptance' actually doesn't imply 'passivity' at all, or submission to someone else's whims or whatever. The 'participation' in the story is through the sheer enjoyment of it, the identification with the characters or the story's message; things like that. And for stories that I like, I'm willing to take whatever there may be that isn't quite along my line of thought and accept it. Not necessarily take it on board, but accept that it is there, because that's the way it was for the story's creator. And that enriches me, because I accept it and because I feel not the slightest need to make it better—mainly because I probably don't know what 'better' actually means. If it's just to tweak the tale so it approaches my own views of 'perfection', then I'm just revealing my own insecurites and inadequacies.

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