Wednesday, July 03, 2013

#594. I'm No Superman

In conjunction with the title of this post (borrowed from the Scrubs theme), here are links to my Man of Steel thoughts posted at Examiner (y'know, in case you were burning to know):
I thought the movie was pretty brilliant.  The reason I wrote two pieces on it was because of the big giant controversy surrounding Superman's execution of General Zod at the end.  As far as the reviews I've read go, whether or not you're overly bothered by this affects your whole opinion of the movie.  And since I don't have near the problem (explained in different ways if you read both pieces) most people seem to have had with it, I guess I had that much easier a time enjoying (and still enjoying, because comic book writer Mark Waid has confessed that while watching he kept thinking "Awesome!" right up to that moment, at which point he actually vocally expressed his displeasure in the theater) the whole product.

I have some confessions to make.  I generally like DC products (comics and movies and TV shows) while find those linked to Marvel flawed (there are always exceptions).  This didn't change last summer, when The Avengers became a massive hit that made history all over the place.  I liked that movie, but I certainly wasn't impressed.  I will also briefly note that it wasn't Christopher Nolan alone whose presence swayed my interest in Man of Steel.  In fact, I've debated for years how much I enjoyed Batman Begins dating back to its 2005 release.  I was already a big fan of Nolan thanks to Memento, big enough to add his first film, Following, into my treasured movie experiences.  I loved most of Begins, but the ending left me cold in the same way Steel's has for 2013 audiences (though not really a confusion, I will nonetheless clarify that I have not just referenced the 1997 Shaq movie, though I enjoyed that, too).  The big action finale just felt out of place with the rest of it.  To that point I was enamored of Nolan's skills on a more intimate scale.  The Dark Knight more than ably demonstrated his mastery over other techniques.

Anyway, I didn't originally set out to write about Man of Steel.  My last post was the book club entry, and I enjoyed the lively exchange that went on in the comments that followed, including Cephalopod Coffeehouse founder Armchair Squid.  Owing to my new computer limitations, I wasn't able to respond to his last note, which reads like this:

"But does all of the material serve the story meaningfully? If so, great. If not, I think there's potential for problems."
I say yes.  I say this as someone who made it through Melville's Moby-Dick with great enthusiasm.  Melville famously wrote about things not specifically relating to the plot in the book, including facts about whales and whaling.  I just completed Fanon, the Wideman literary study that didn't focus on the subject so much as the observer's thoughts, which often didn't feature so much as reflect on the subject.  Fanon is no Moby-Dick, but these are two books that easily contradict what Squid is suggesting, that there is some necessary guideline to fiction.

Last Monday I attended a writing group meeting in downtown Colorado Springs.  At some point conversation boiled down to a version of the classic guideposts of storytelling, what every writer must consider as they prepare to put their words into form.  I just don't abide such nonsense.  If you're writing a story at all, anyone can without much effort extrapolate the beats you will have heard in class or workshop.  The question isn't really if they exist so much as how the author used them and if they were successful.  Wideman, for instance, was not as successful as Melville, as I've said, while Dr. Seuss did a much more interesting version of the classic reading primer in The Cat in the Hat (with only 50 words!), but that's exactly what he did, as simple a story as can be.

For the generations that grew up in the wake of the 20th century movie boom, I think a lot of our thoughts and ambitions have been warped.  For instance, I don't believe a story should be written if it can be done better as a film, but if a story is later made into a film, the unique benefits of both mediums can be appreciated better (and with greater critical nuance) than we normally admit.  I despise with the appropriate passive aggression stories and writers who view their task as so much empty air.  If you have a story to tell you'd better well have the voice to tell it, and for the majority of writers that's simply not the case.  Storytelling is an art.  It's not just stringing words along to fit a mold.  A thousand monkeys writing a thousand words every day can easily come up with the right combination to create Shakespeare.  Except that's never happened except in the case of Shakespeare himself.  Know what I mean?

The art of writing a story is to write what inspires you, both in the material you want to read and the material that you've experienced.  Only naive individuals believe that there are new stories to tell.  Civilization has been here for a long time folks.  There are only new ways to tell them.  I'm not talking about experimentation.  In the case of Wideman that can easily turn into a crapshoot, and it's not about limited appeal.  The only appeal any fiction should have is that it has words and that it uses them extraordinarily.  I cannot abide the idea of reading for the sake of reading.  If you can tell me the benefit of that, please amuse me.  If the story does not expand your mind, if it only confirms what you have always believed, if it does not make you think, then it's worthless.

I see every story as the potential to change the world.  Maybe that's where I'm naive.  A thousand strips of Dilbert never caused corporate culture to blink.  A thousand episodes of Law & Order never caused crime to go away.  If storytelling is alone a thought exercise, then even that's okay with me.  A population that thinks is better than one that doesn't.  But we must never forget that it's our responsibility whether civilization succeeds or not.  You think it's just about words.  But words are, after all, mightier than the sword.

If a story leads you to dead ends, if it leads nowhere at all, then the author has led you astray.  If it leads you on labyrinthine journeys of discovery, then surely it will have already proven its worth?  Profit is not in the realm of money.  That's a fool's game.  You benefit by improving your mind.  We're all better off when we identity our limitations, and seek to overcome them.

Getting back to Scrubs, and that theme, it plays over the opening credits.  My sister's an x-ray tech, and the only thing she's ever told me about any of that is that the x-ray Dr. Dorian holds is all wrong.  She says the medical community is never impressed with these medical shows.  Accuracy is fantastic.  I'm all for accuracy.  But my primary concern is the authenticity of the human experience on display.  Scrubs always had that, even though it was one of the goofiest TV series ever.  It always played like an updated M*A*S*H to me, with everyone transformed into the cantankerous "Hawkeye" Pierce.  Maybe no one, even Perry Cox, was perfect in that show, but I never stopped believing that they were making every effort to try.  Yes, even The Todd.

That's a little of what I'd love to see.  Complaints are fine.  You can disagree.  You can call Man of Steel an abomination, or think Moby-Dick was as much a failure as I consider Fanon to be (no matter how fascinating).  We can talk about that.  But me, as much fun as talking is, I've always had better luck with thinking.  That's the form my writing takes.  That's what I think writing is all about.  You can't make a digression in thought, because that's the only way it works.  In stories, you're always headed in the same direction no matter what route you take.


The Armchair Squid said...

There is more than one way to write a story. That I will concede. I also did not mean to imply that detail is bad. I'll admit upfront that I've never made it very far into Moby Dick but even I would NOT say that Melville provides detail merely for detail's sake. It all serves story. That's the key for me.

Supplying detail simply because that's what our creative writing gurus have decreed can lead very quickly to unreadable prose. Stripping it all away can just as easily leave it uninteresting. Most of us aren't Melville. We must tread that spectrum more carefully.

I would certainly agree that the writer's voice and inspiration are the most important guides. But editors have important work to do, too. There are successful books out there which could have done well with better editing.

Tony Laplume said...

I don't know how important editing really is. Editing to me is to fix mistakes, or point a story in a better direction. Editing is almost a collaboration before the fact. If it's already been written, then it's just someone trying to be the ultimate beta reader, and no one reader is ever going to be the ultimate reader.

(Editing's another job that films have made infinitely more complicated for people to understand, by the way.)

I'm really certain that editors didn't exist for the vast majority of the human experience telling stories. This function was accomplished by the storyteller refining their own story as they told it over and over again. That's the way a writer should treat their work, even the famous example of completing a story and then setting it in a drawer for a year. Get some new perspective.

Because I'm of the mind that if a story is being released solely by one person, then that story really ought to be the product of that one person. It's vastly differently in collaborative media. Just because books have editors now doesn't mean editors know any better than anyone else what a story needs. A good writer shouldn't need someone peering over their shoulder.

The success or failure will always be the same given the same set of skills. If something's just not working because of the writing, no matter of editing is going to save it. But good writing will always triumph over patches of questionable writing. You can't and should never expect to love every sentence of a story. That's well beyond the point.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...