Don't Give the Audience What It Wants

In Plinkett's latest Star Wars' review (which is amusing though not as complete as the others), Plinkett, like always, makes a very cogent point.

Here is the cogent point in my own words:
Just because Darth Vadar became an iconic image of Star Wars doesn't mean the prequels needed to be about him. Just because Darth Vadar is important to us doesn't mean he was important to that universe.
For those of us who admire popular motifs/iconic images, I think this is a noteworthy conundrum. Yes, it helps when you are writing a novel/short story/movie/show to use motifs and plot-lines and characters that people actually enjoy and recognize.

However, if all you do is stick together the most common motifs/plot-lines/characters, 9 times out of 10, the product will be a dud--or, at least, remarkably lacking in staying power.

Plinkett does a fantastic, and thorough, job proving that, unfortunately, this sticking-togethering is how Lucas approached the prequels. He took iconic images from IV, V, and VI (the movies that I, person-who-saw-IV-when-she-was-5, insist on calling I, II, and III) and simply expanded and rehashed those images in the prequels even when the rehash made no sense.

So, for example, instead of the robe Obi-Wan was wearing in IV simply being the kind of robe people wear on desert planets, suddenly it became the robe ALL Jedi wear.

And instead of the training tools on Han Solo's ship simply being what was at hand, suddenly those tools became the way ALL Jedi are trained.

The result is unimaginative. And irrational.

It also highlights a very important principle. Classic motifs are good. Classic motifs backed by an actual vision are BETTER.

In a large, but not unmerited, segue, C.S. Lewis' Narnia series has been criticized for basically being a collection of every single fairytale/folktale/mythological image/motif C.S. Lewis encountered in the course of his extremely well-read life.

But as many critics, including Lisa Miller of The Magician's Book, have pointed out, it isn't the images and motifs that delight us, it is what Lewis did with them. He wasn't pretending to create new stuff; he was taking what he knew and rearranging it into a new pattern. He had a vision.

Frankly, I don't much much trust authors who claim to be doing NEW stuff.

But I also didn't trust Disney when it tried to sell the Pirates 2 as a "cultural phenomenon" before it even came out.

Simply sticking a bunch of a used iconic images into a movie does not a cultural phenomenon make.

Every writer has to have a vision. Without the vision, the writing sags. And should the writer give up that vision to satisfy the audience's supposed desire for an iconic image, the audience will feel the vision dribbling away.

This is one reason why writing to satisfy fans doesn't always work. The fans LOVE a couple of minor characters, so the writer(s) make those characters a bigger part of the drama, and, hmm, what do you know, the show is less satisfying.

On the other hand, refusing to give the audience what the audience wants out of sheer "BUT I HAVE TO BE DIFFERENT" perversity isn't too smart either.

The solution is writers who give the audience what the audience wants without losing their vision. This, of course, isn't easy, but I see two solutions:

1. Writers can give the audience what the audience wants without losing their vision when they like what the audience likes.

If you want to write romance novels, it helps if you like romance novels.

2. Writers can give the audience what the audience wants without losing their vision when the writers and the audience agree on what the writers are trying to do.

To clarify this second point, not all novels/stories/movies/shows have to focus on the latest popular topic: vampires, for example. People vary; interests vary. There's a lot of audiences out there to satisfy. I would argue that people want much of the same thing within their separate genres, but that's still a lot of room for individual creative vision-making.

Hey, there's even room for those people who think that reading stream-of-consciousness profundities about Life in Middle-Class America is NEW and DIFFERENT! (Shhh, don't tell them they are being pandered to.) The point is, the writers and audience agree that that is what is going on.

In other words, the rules are agreed to--even when the rules are Monty-Python randomness.

To illustrate: I recently came across a fairly ridiculous comment on about Dexter, Season 4 in which the commenter--in response to another comment--wrote, "Well, of course, you didn't want to see that character die because you just want mainstream, stupid television." As I, and several people, pointed out, having the character die was a pretty cliche, mainstream, stupid thing to do.(The commenter is the type of viewer who insists, "If you dislike anything about my show, you must be an evil, bad person who is trying to ruin entertainment everywhere.")

The commenter missed the fact that the Dexter writers didn't create a new idea; they simply rehashed a well-worn motif. And the motif broke one of the fundamental rules of the show. The fundamental rule of Dexter isn't "Nobody can die." The fundamental rule is "This show is about an extraordinary and dangerous person living an ordinary and supposedly non-dangerous life."

The writers blurred the lines.

This isn't clever. It's just lazy. It's what writers do when they don't know what to do next. The statement,  "Well, we thought it was time to shake up the audience" is code for "We didn't know how to get the characters out of this situation."

It actually is harder to color inside the lines.

But ultimately more satisfying.

As long as the lines fulfill a vision.

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