Dave Rapp wrote:
Since this is the Fiction, Poetry, and Essays forum, I figure I should probably post an essay-like substance at some point.
Let's say you're reading a comic book or watching a movie or what have you. The writer(s) pull off some brilliant bit of tactics or ideas on the behalf of the character, and what is your initial reaction? I can't speak for the world, but I usually think "My god! How did they think of that?"
But let's take a step back and put us into the minds of the creators. As a person who not only reads a whole slew of webcomic on a regular basis, but also produces one of my own, I am privy to some pseudo-inside knowledge, which, despite its obviousness, a lot of people don't seem to realize.
The writer knows things that you don't. You, as a reader, see things at the beginning and gain new knowledge regarding what is and isn't possible as the writer reveals them to you. Unless you've read the book before, that's the way it always works. But the writer has no such limitations. For every "inescapable" situation the characters find themselves in, the writer knows nothing more or less than EVERYTHING that came beforehand, and everything that's going to happen in the future. Unless they're the writers of Lost, of course.
The fact of the matter is, except for the rare occasion where the writer intends from the get-go to kill off a character, they don't put anyone into a situation unless they already know its resolution. You think the writers of MacGuyver didn't know exactly what Mac was going to build before they stuck him into that week's sticky situation? You think the writers of House don't already know what's wrong with the patient before the doc even comes onscreen?
You don't get anywhere by intentionally giving yourself situations that you have to struggle to solve. If there are any authors out there who actually do make every single little thing up as they go along, I have to applaud them, both for being clever and being an idiot. I myself try to make things up as I go along, but I don't, for example, put my characters into a Mexican standoff unless I already know its resolution. Long before they wrote the final three-way showdown at the end of The Good the Bad and the Ugly, I'm sure the writers knew which characters were going to survive it. If they didn't, they're careless idiots. Definitely gutsy, but still careless.
You might try and imagine how the author possibly managed to come up with such a brilliant solution to the puzzle, but that's backwards. To them, it's not a puzzle and it never was. You see a no-win situation, and are shocked when the character wins out. But it's not even a real situation. The author had the finished picture first, and only shows you pieces of it, just enough for you to see that there is a puzzle, but not nearly enough to solve it. What would be the fun in that? If your audience figures it out before you meant them to, any timing you may have had goes right out the window.
I recall reading a book back in eighth grade, which was a collection of those "whodunit" short stories. I couldn't figure any of them out myself, with one exception. The detective was called in to find out if some caveman cave paintings were real or not. It depicted some cavemen fighting back a large T-rex-like lizard with little spears. But I've known since age six that men and dinosaurs never lived together. (thanks, Bill Nye!) My B.S. alarm went off, and the story was ruined because I had figured it out sooner then I was supposed to. It felt like I had solved a puzzle, and we all know that the real fun of any puzzle is more in the process of trying to figure them out, than in actually finishing them.
Don't ever praise a writer for coming up with a solution to an unbeatable puzzle. That's giving them credit where it isn't due and not giving it where it is. If you want to give praise to an author, praise them for tricking you into thinking a puzzle exists in the first place. It's slight of hand, not puzzle solving. You don't praise a magician for figuring out how to make a ball disappear, you praise them for making it seem as if they had done so.
What you admire in any work of art is the artist's ability to create. Because that's all art really is, just something the artist created. I know that it may seem like an odd statement, especially when you refer to, say, the Mona Lisa. But that's just an old picture of some woman. So what? I can walk down the street with a camera and take a dozen pictures, and they'll be higher resolution too. No, what you admire is the creative process, not so much the end result. If you just want results, go into R&D for the military. Seriously, you'll enjoy it and make a lot of money.
If I were to compare the Mona Lisa to, say, Page #134 of Erfworld: The Battle for Gobwin Knob, you'd think I'm an idiot. And you might be right but at least hear me out. When Leonardo Da Vinci set out to paint the big ML, he had an idea. His method of applying the idea was to put some colored oil onto a poplar panel. And when the creators of Erfworld set out to make #134, they too had an idea. Their method of applying the idea was to make a webcomic strip. Both are art, and both were created from ideas. Who's to say that one idea is better than the other? You can't. Seriously, you just can't. You'd look like an idiot. Ideas are like opinions; there's never a right and wrong, a good and bad, et cetera. All ideas are created equally. Except for that guy who invented the deep-fried Twinkie. He was a brilliant lunatic.
Don't admire the product, be it a clever puzzle or a picture of some Italian woman. What is truly deserving of admiration is the thought that went into it. Those lunatics who spend years working on some white canvas with, say, some crayon scribbling on it, and then hang it in a museum and call it art, aren't as crazy as them seem. Well, they're usually crazy but that's for different reasons. If you think for one second that the author didn't start with a great idea, you're the crazy one.
Seriously, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it turns out that Erfworld came to be, simply because one day Rob or Jamie said something like this:
"Dude. What if some kind of earth mage and a necromancer got together and used their magic to wake up a dormant volcano?"
And what a cool idea it was.
I personally make it up as I go long. I know who will win, but I do't know HOW they win, the how is the important part. even then, sometimes I'll just say screw it and make the lead protgonists be captured by hobbit gypsies and be taken to a secret underground nuclear-war bunker which is under the control of both badgers and Russians, and then he'll have to cast fireball on the sexy russian commander whilst kissing her and then I'll throw in a sex scene and make fun of Australians... and then I'll remember that I'm writing historical fiction, and try and find a way to work it into the story...
Now THAT'S! improvisation.