Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Modern television classics: Which should be watched first?

I think I've mentioned here before that there was a point some time in the last two years that I kind of stopped caring about the TV shows that I was DVRing. It had nothing to do with the quality of the shows. Nothing changed there, these were still smart and clever programs. Like I said, the change was on my end. I just stopped caring. Episodes backed up on the DVR -- 5, 6, 7 episodes of some shows. I'd go to start watching an episode and I'd make it about 10 minutes before shutting it off. One day, after repeating this pattern, I went through and deleted all but a few episodes of a couple of shows I still watched with some kind of regularity.

Before this big purge, though, my TV dance card was pretty full, and I was pretty happy with the names on my list. It took a lot for a show to make its way onto my schedule, that's why I've never seen an episode of many of the shows that are being considered modern TV classics. No episodes of The Wire. None of The Sopranos or True Detective. No Game of Thrones. None of Breaking Bad, and none of Mad Men. But I feel like I should. These are supposedly great stories well told. It seems like someone who considers himself a storyteller should be familiar with and study what people consider the great stories of the time no matter what medium they're told in. Or am I completely wrong to think that?

So, where do I start? If you had to tell someone who hasn't seen any of these shows where to begin what would you tell them?

P.S. This post isn't out of the blue. It comes from a couple of podcasts I listened to on my way to and from work recently. Chris Hardwick interviewed Vince Gilligan and Matthew Weiner, creators of Breaking Bad and Mad Men respectively, for his Nerdist podcast. The interviews were excellent, but they usually are. Hardwick has a knack for putting subjects at ease and getting them to open up. Not Barbara Walters open up where we get the waterworks, but just get them to talk. I've seen people paid a pretty penny by other organizations to interview people who can't do it as well as he does. If you aren't listening to The Nerdist podcast, you should be.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Editing: The importance of choosing the right word

I'm in the middle of edits to the followup to Chasing Filthy Lucre. I've had a couple of people look at the story. They both like it, but also both have suggested fixes, so that's what I'm doing now. I'm working in the stuff I agree with. Turning my nose up at the stuff I don't. I'm kidding. There's very little I disagree with.

But in this process I'm also looking hard at each sentence. Can that one be tighter? Is that one too tight? I'm also considering word choice. Dropping cliches. Tweaking certain phrases to add the right amount of power, to convey the exact message I want them to.

A lot of people have a similar philosophy about first drafts that I do. Get it out quick. Recognize it will be dirty. You can clean it later. Well, for me, now is later. All those spots where I just left some filler sentence, phrase, or word have to be cleaned up now.

This has me thinking a lot about the power of the right word, and how it's easy to find a word that's really close but still not be just the word you need. I've got an example of this. It comes from church. We sing Chris Tomlin's Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) on a somewhat regular basis, at least we did. But when we sing it we change one word. For reference, here's the song.

The line we change goes like this:
 "My chains are gone. I've been set free. My God, my savior, has ransomed me."

We change it to this:
"My chains are gone. I've been set free. My God, my savior, has rescued me."

Seems like a minor change. The basic meaning of the line is there. God did something for you that you couldn't do for yourself. Except the original line is saying so much more than that. It's not talking about being rescued. It's talking about being ransomed. It's talking about someone, God in this case, paying a price that you couldn't pay to pull you out of spot that you couldn't get out of on your own, in this case an eternity spent separated from Him. Ransomed is rescued on steroids. Ransomed is sacrifice. Ransomed, if you're a Christian, is what the faith is all about. It's so much more than rescued.

That's what I'm keeping in mind as I'm hip deep in edits. Every word is powerful. Using one instead of the other can change a meaning dramatically. I know that as a reader it can be easy to just pass over words when you're sucked into a good story. But if you can remember to do it next time you've got a book in your hand, look at the words the author chose. They aren't all going to be ransomed vs. rescued. Sometimes they are just words. But if you find a passage that you really like, one that feels powerful to you, consider the words the author is using. There's a better than zero chance that there was some serious consideration into what made it to the final page. And if you're a writer searching for the right words, happy hunting.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hello Kitty and control of the creator

So there was a bit of a modest Internet hub bub last week when the people at Sanrio announced that Hello Kitty, that cute little cat that seems like it's been everywhere for the last 40 years or so, is not actually a cat at all. She's a little girl names Kitty White. She lives in London. She has parents. She even has a cat of her own. This is all from the people at Sanrio.

People were jumping at the chance to write the punniest headlines for this story. Others were claiming childhoods were ruined. Minds were blown. They didn't know what to do now that this creature that they'd known as a cat was actually not a cat at all.

My second favorite thing I read about everything Hello Kitty was this article in The New Yorker. It's a send up of my very favorite thing I read about Hello Kitty. It's this explanation of what she is from a university professor.

Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.

Christine R. Yano, an anthropologist at the University of Hawaii and Harvard, quoted in the Los Angeles Times on August 26th

 I love that statement for it's matter-of-factness. "Hello Kitty is not a cat. She's a cartoon character." Yeah, Christine. No kidding.

No, she's not a cat in the strictest sense. But she is an anthropomorphic cat. She has some human features, like walking upright. I don't think there's anyone out there who was confused by this. She's like Goofy or Mickey or Donald.

So, say what you want, Sanrio. Hello Kitty is a cat, and there's not much you can do to make it otherwise.

This did bring up a question I have, and the seven paragraphs up to this point have all just been lead up to this. But when does a creator lose absolute control of his or her creation?

When does a creator lose control of a creation?
All of this Kitty stink reminded me of Star Wars. We all know that it went supernova when it was
released in the 1970s. There was the merchandising -- the toys, the bed sheets, the Underoos. Then there were the novels. They took the original stories and created an expanded universe. New characters. New adventures. New history for future movies to be based on.

Except when the new movies were announced, starting with the seventh, creators had to go back to the expanded universe and determine what was and wasn't going to be canon. There were whole parts that were left out. It's like they were saying that those elements didn't actually happen for the purposes of continuity. Those events were girls, not kittens.

So, here's my question again. And I want to clarify that I know, in the end, a creator has the ultimate control of his or her creation. What that person wants to do with it or say about it, they can. I just wonder is there a point of no return with something that becomes popular. Does the creator lose some bit of control because there are so many people who love what they've created? Does that crowd of fans have some sway? Do their expectations/should their expectations of what will/should happen have any influence on the creator and the next steps forward?

I'd love to hear what you think.