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View Full Version : "My god! How did they think of that?"



Dave Rapp
2009-03-18, 11:09 PM
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 ourselves 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 simplicity, some other readers might not be aware of.

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. That's a joke, don't hurt me.

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 great doctor 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 fools. 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 it 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 make a dozen pictures of women, 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.

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 an awesome idea it is.

*thumbs up*

mods etc: I hope this isn't considered too far removed from Erfworld discussion; move if necessary I guess.

Stam
2009-03-18, 11:23 PM
+1.

That is all I have to say. :smallsmile:

Kreistor
2009-03-18, 11:46 PM
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.

We don't know that. In fact, very litle is known about the Mona Lisa. There is evidence that she had a different smile that LdV overpainted later (can be seen in Xray)

Normally, I would respond by saying that art is created in many different ways, and there's no certainty that this one piece was intended from before the first word was written to proceed to this point, but...

This, though, isn't a normal comic. It isn't one where proceeding without a plan is possible. You see, the problem here is that Parson is supposed to be really smart. Have you ever tried to pretend to be smarter than you really are? Seriously, do you think it's possible?

Some authors proceed simply by setting pen on page and writing whatever comes. These writers rarely can portray a smart character. The problem is that it takes time for someone to think up to par with someone smarter than themself, and rarely does it work. DO you think that you could beat the world's best Chess player if he had a 5 minute clock and you had all day? No, you'd get slaughtered. So, how do you include a Chess Grand Master in your story?

You study. If you want to include a great chess match, pull one from real history. You fake it. But this isn't something you can pull to order, so it must be done ahead of time. That means you have to figure out what that character needs to do before you get there.

So, Parson is supposed to be brilliant (inside his field of study). That means his actions need to have an air of brilliance. Unique plans that others wouldn't think of. Strokes of genius. To get those, you need to plan the story out, because if you have 2 days to think of something brilliant, you're not guaranteed success, unless you're a genius.

So, yes, I fully expect the basic plans and results were planned out long before the story was written. No plan survives the initial attack, so some things may change as the story was written, but no change would be direction changing.

Arkaim
2009-03-19, 01:35 AM
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 fools. Definitely gutsy, but still careless.

Most of what you said is reasonable, however, I do disagree with this small bit. I know of one famous short story writer that did not plan the story along as she went. And no one would call her an idiot. What she did was create characters and fit them into unique scenarios. Then let them naturally work things out from there. When she wanted to move along the story, she always thought "what would my character do now?" rather than plan before hand what will happen. She lectures about how sometimes what her characters do even surprise her.

Now of course, most people can never write like this and end up with something that both has depth and is entertaining to the casual reader. Another famous short story writer(whose name eludes me. Damn my poor memory.) said that by her standards, he would be just a novice. This is because he always plans out the entirety of his work. But, no one would call him a bad writer.

This is, of course, just one method of doing things that most people are unable to do. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Though, to say that just because very few people have the capacity to move a story along using only characters decisions as its basis, with no planning, does not make them idiots.

User Name
2009-03-19, 04:05 AM
Woah, those are a lot of words.

Quincunx
2009-03-19, 05:38 AM
-1.

The final few paragraphs showed an understanding of the creative process which the majority of the essay had just proven the author does not possess. Break it after the bit about the deep-friend Twinkie, write a new conclusion for the bulk of it (and attach the -1 to that), append the conclusion to an essay which supports it.

Primeone
2009-03-19, 05:57 AM
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.


Encyclopedia Brown FTW!

Baalthazaq
2009-03-19, 06:48 AM
When I DM I tend to just build the world and then let things progress.

I know a part of the story, but not the whole thing. I know what's happening in other parts of the world.

In this case, I'd build the world, and the circumstances, and the personalities in my head, and I'd let them progress. I'd see what would happen and how they'd act. Then if it's a good story I'd keep it. If not, I'd take someone out, or introduce new characters.

So for me, it is kind of like putting a puzzle together.

dr pepper
2009-03-19, 01:30 PM
I also like to let things happen. I know the setting, i know the secrets, i dribble out the info. But i depend on my players to figure out how to proceed. I like it best when they surprise me. In fact, when i have an established group of competent players i sometime come up with situations where i myself can't think of a way out.

Brewdude
2009-03-19, 07:05 PM
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. That's a joke, don't hurt me.

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 great doctor 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 fools. 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.

Err, you just repeated your point for four paragraphs in a row without adding significantly new information. While I applaud your breaking up a wall of text, new paragraphs are supposed to bring in new information. Editing ftw.
:smallcool: