Monday, May 24, 2010
LOST: A Reflection
Last night I attended a LOST series finale party at a friend's house. From the beginning I loved the show, but then I stopped watching the show around season.... five.... or six.... because it became too many plot threads for me to keep track of. There was this giant stone foot, and a smoke monster, and a polar bear, and a cult, and and and.... I threw my hands in the air and decided I'd catch up with it on DVD one day. But with everyone in the world (read: my friends on Facebook) buzzing about the finale, no way would I miss that party.
As they ran the recap of the previous seasons, I began to feel very nostalgic. It was not long into the first season when I started writing "Desperado City," having fallen in love with this concept of a large cast of disparate characters thrown together by circumstances that force them to become interdependent. While theirs were adults on an island, mine were teenagers in a failing mom-and-pop theme park. From this LOST-inspired experience, I learned several lessons, one being that elements which work visually (i.e., a cast of two dozen mostly-attractive individuals) don't necessarily work as well textually. The most common gripe with "DC" is that readers have a hard time keeping the characters straight-- a factor I'm sure wouldn't be an issue if they were actors on a screen, so live and learn.
When I read query letters that newer writers post for critique, they very often say their story has "screen potential." I think this speaks to how most writers' process works, in the mental sense: we see the story playing out in our minds, and translate it into words on a page. Sometimes-- often, even-- this process can be very intense. When I was in high school we read a story called The Veldt, in which the walls of a home's nursery become a virtual-reality setting for the children's imaginations and, at the end, manifest a pride of lions that devour the parents. While I haven't yet killed anyone with my imagination, the act of imagining a story-- bringing the characters to life in one's mind-- has the power to evoke intense emotion from the writer, great sympathy for people who don't even truly exist, great longing that is often the source of the inspiration. We're in the veldt, and we act as translators to turn all that into simple English.
But the reader's process is to translate in reverse. The words must turn into pictures in their minds, and so, much like putting a foreign phrase through translation software and then back again, the end product is often different from what you entered in the first place. If one writes well, it's an innocuous issue-- the debate, for example, on whether actor Robert Pattinson really looks like the Edward of "Twilight," or nothing like him. The relevant aspects of the story remain intact. But as we excitedly envision our wonderful stories making their way to the big (or small) screen, it's important to remember that what is being produced right now is a novel, and a novel is a script for the story for which reader's mind ultimately acts as "producer." It must be written with that in mind, and the words we choose must pay homage to that process, which is not visual but imaginative and subjective.
As far as the series finale is concerned, I wasn't delighted with how its writers chose to end it. Was it what its fans wanted? Well, I'll have to catch up with the series on DVD to decide that for myself. After all-- much like the characters in "Desperado City"-- I couldn't keep everything straight. Maybe some elements are just too confusing, no matter what your medium.