Every day I get a little more evidence as to how different and subjective people’s perceptions of a story can be. I’ve had a number of editors comment on how one of my stories (The Oubliette) was dark, gripping, suspenseful, etc. and I even had two of them relate it to Edgar Allen Poe’s works. Then there were two others that said they basically slept through it.
It really surprises me that the reactions can be so different; as if they read two different stories. I guess that goes to show why one shouldn’t be discouraged by rejections. What one editor or agent despises, another might adore.
I hear a lot of times that artists are at their most creative when they’re starving and struggling to get their big break. Maybe it works that way for some people but for me it’s the exact opposite. I find I’m at my most creative and productive when things are going well in my life, when I don’t have any other worries getting in the way of my storytelling (especially worries about money). The longer I go without a full time job, the harder the writing becomes.
I honestly don’t know how someone can come up with a great story when they’re worried about where their next meal is coming from. I guess for some people creativity comes from challenge and suffering. For me it comes from the security of not having to concern myself with anything except the words on the page.
I think we all know that a lot of networks, publishing houses, movie studios, record labels and anyone else involved in the entertainment industry thrives on the rumor-mill. A well placed piece of speculation on a certain actor, author, musician or creative work can increase word of mouth and drive up sales. It’s not entirely a legitimate form of marketing, as it does in many cases involve lying to people, but on the whole it works. People hear something strange and want to know more about it, their curiosity overcomes them, and they end up parting with a few bucks they might otherwise not have.
There are however times when the executives in charge just don’t know when to leave well enough alone. I think this is most common in the television industry, as television shows are weekly events over the course of many years whereas books, CD’s and movies are generally more one-shots. It might also have something to do with the fact that the latter forms of media are usually released 1-2 years apart as opposed to every week, so maybe there’s just less opportunity to tamper with them.
To make a hit television show requires excellent writers, believable actors, solid directing and (at least nowadays) a whole lot of technical expertise. Everything from lighting, to sound technicians to computer graphics designers. They’re all gifted people who are in the top 5% of their field. The two things that none of these people have however is a medium over which to broadcast the show and, in most cases, the money to fund it. Often times these creative geniuses have to turn to outside investors to fund their production and must cater to a network to air their finished product.
Now I’m all for the mass market and I understand the need for funding, and I also understand that the money people want a return on their investment. That’s why they’re in business. The problem is when investors artificially tamper with the market through the use of panic ridden rumors in order to create an even bigger profit. Here’s the two biggest examples I’ve seen:
- The first concerns shows that are wildly popular but only within a specific cross section of the market. It caters to men, or to women, or to liberals, or to conservatives, or to the religious, or to a specific ethnicity, etc. Then along comes a network executive or investor who wants to branch out and insists that the creators of the show rewrite future episodes to cater to a wider audience. The intention is to draw in more viewers from demographics that don’t normally watch the show but what often ends up happening is the original idea of the show gets watered down and diminished. Sure you may pick up some new viewers but a good chunk of the original audience trickles away. A year later instead of a fiercely loyal following of people who will watch every episode and buy the DVD’s or itunes downloads, you instead have a group of people that kind of like the show but not enough to pencil it into their calendar to watch every week or pick up the box set at the store. The ratings might get higher, but they’re a lower quality of fan who is likely to spend less money.
- The other is the worry of cancellation. The network had booked and budgeted for a five season run but somewhere during the forth season they start dropping hints that they’re unsure of the direction of the show and that they might cancel it early. This creates a bit of a panic amongst the fan base driving them to support the show to save it from cancellation but if the creative team involved isn’t in on the joke, then it can be devastating to a show’s quality. The writers get together and say: “Well, this is our last season. We’d better wrap up all our plotlines.” So they tie up all the loose ends and finish off what they think is their last season with a bang. Then at the end of the forth season the network comes along and says they’ve changed their mind, that they’re extending the show for another year. Now the writers are caught with their pants down because they’ve told all the stories they’ve had planned and are now in a mad rush to scramble something together. End result: The next season is usually as crap as the previous one was amazing.
The point is that while I get money people have to be involved (it’s their dollar funding it after all) I wish that sometimes they’d just get out of the way of the creative geniuses and let them do their job. Take the shackles off and turn them loose then let the show sink or swim on it’s own merits.