Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest is off to the editor, and while that doesn’t mean the book is done (far from it), it does clear up my schedule a little. It’s funny how little the average person knows about the publishing business. Just to give a quick summary:
-I write the book
-I revise and edit the book.
-I send the book to the publisher, who then takes a look at it.
-More revisions. More rewrites. Even if there aren’t many, there is still work to be done.
-A year or so after the publisher gets the book, it finally comes out.
This timeline excludes the work of the marketing department, the printers, and everyone else involved in this process. Basically, I just want to make it clear that if you’re reading a book I wrote, even if you bought it the day it came out, I probably wrote it a year ago. Maybe longer. So whenever I’m tweeting or talking about something I’m currently writing, while I appreciate any excitement, it’s going to be a while before you read it.
But this is not what I’m here to talk about.
I saw Snow White and the Huntsman this weekend, and it was a decent flick. It didn’t blow me away, but I have a hard time faulting the film for that because it wasn’t designed for me. Perhaps it’s because I’m a novelologist myself, but I’ve long ago accepted that there is no story that can appeal to everyone, and while talent and execution are vital elements to telling a good story, you still can’t get around emotional hot buttons (both good and bad) that your audience carries with them.
For Snow White, the entire film is so insistently serious that I have a hard time enjoying it. There are some striking visuals, some cool ideas. There’s nothing wrong with the acting, but nobody smiles. There is no sense of fun in the film. This isn’t an accident. It’s a very deliberate choice. I like it when people smile. I like it when a film is serious but can still laugh on occasion. This is why I prefer the more recent Mirror, Mirror. I wouldn’t call it a better film, but it is certainly a more fun film.
I think these two films show how unimportant an idea is and how fundamentally vital execution is. Both are based on the same fairy tale, but they couldn’t be more different. In that way, they are a litmus test for what you’re looking for in a story. It’s easy to mistake our own desires and emotional triggers as being innately more worthy than the needs of others. It is, for the most part, an illusion. Each of us views the world through a prism of our own experience, our own desires, and it’s a bit obnoxious to declare someone wrong for not feeling the same way we do.
When we understand this, it can change the way we see everything. Instead of judging the world as absolutes, we can start to see the superficial differences that divide us. Especially in our fiction. After all, both Mirror, Mirror and Snow White are updates of classic fairy tales. Both story aims to recast Snow White in a more proactive manner. Both stories involve an evil queen wrestling with her own ego and insecurities. Both films have elements of adventure and fantasy. If you were to write an outline of either, they wouldn’t look all that different.
Yet the two films can be summarized by the way they end. Mirror, Mirror ends with a musical dance number as the kingdom rejoices. Snow White and the Huntsman ends with an extended, silent image of everyone, including Snow White, looking very intense and somber. This moment tells you everything that separates these two films. One is joyful and exuberant. One is serious business. How you respond to either probably says more about you than it does about the quality of either film.
Some people like somber. Some people LOVE it. I’ll admit I don’t get it myself. I enjoy serious moments, and I think most stories benefit from exploring serious themes. (Those are the Not Funny parts of my stories that some people dislike.) But I like fun. I especially like it in my fantasy / science fiction. But for many folks, this works against their immersion in the story.
Many stories have these defining moments, and I tend to think of these as reflections of the audience, not the story. In Green Lantern, your reaction to the helicopter / Hot Wheel rescue can tell you how you’ll feel about the movie. In John Carter, if you don’t get a thrill watching John Carter slaughtering a horde of Warhoon, then there’s really nothing there for you. And if watching a battleship blasting an alien spaceship doesn’t get you excited, then there’s probably nothing Battleship can do to win you over.
On the flip side, if a slow, lingering shot of Bella and Edward staring into each other’s eyes bores you, then you aren’t Twilight’s target audience. If you found the final voiceover in The Dark Knight to be pretentious and labored (as I did) then the film wasn’t made for you. And if you expected more from Tron Legacy than some pretty neon and well-packaged nostalgia, then you probably went for the wrong reasons.
I’m not suggesting that every story is good or that there aren’t poorly executed stories that fail. Nor do I think that “It’s not meant for you” is always a valid rebuttal to criticism. I could write a story about robots fighting dinosaurs (and I’m sure I probably will one day), but if everyone hates it, I can’t reflexively hide behind a claim of emotional incompatibility. I stand by, for example, that Tron Legacy is actually a poorly crafted film and that, taking away the nostalgia factor, most everyone would realize just how clumsy and inept the Star Wars prequels are. At the same time, I have to admit that I could be wrong.
I guess this is just a roundabout way of saying just because we don’t like something, it doesn’t make it bad.
And just because we do like something, that doesn’t make it necessarily good.
Though robots fighting dinosaurs is ALWAYS awesome, I think we can all agree.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,