It’s only natural when writing a book or movie that the writer’s subconscious comes out as part of the character. Often times it’s wish-fulfillment, such as relatively unattractive men having sex with young extremely attractive women. Other times the story is almost or completely autobiographical.
With ALGORITHM, every single character has a part of me: Will represents my detached curiosity; Bitchan, my heart and engineering mind; Decimate, my mind and sense of superiority; Sudonym, my love of others and of peace; the Agents were my quest for the truth, sometimes at extremely high cost.
I’d be a crappy writer if I left it only with where my psyche ends. Instead, I took each of those emotions and extrapolated them, building on the core principals until they became people unto themselves.
I have to amend that, because the entire process was subconscious. I mean, I know the difference between good writing and bad writing, between shallow “cardboard” characters and fully fleshed-out characters that feel like they’re real people. But there wasn’t a time where I chose a section of my mind and selected it, thinking,
“Oh. You have sociopathic tendencies. That would make a great DHS agent.”
In the case of the Agents, I thought about how someone might get that kind of job and what doing that kind of job every day, as though it was laying brinks or writing code or bagging groceries, what constantly being exposed to that degree of deliberate human cruelty might do to someone. They may start out as a noble person, wanting to defend their country and family, willing to put their own life on the line to defend what they believe.
All those things are good, to be sure!
And then, slowly being subjected to the horrors of what it means to defend something, to offer ones life, of seeing friends murdered, of walking a line so close to death, knowing that every meter the Humvee drives could be setting off an explosive made by someone who wants to kill you. It’s impossible to be in that kind of environment and not be changed.
I’ve never been in any of those situations. I don’t know what it’s like. In order to write it I can do research, which I have. I can think about it, which I have. I can have someone else write it who has been through the experiences, which I didn’t do. That means I had to draw from what I know and from how I’d react. Again, all of that was subconscious.
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When the story itself is an exploration of subconscious, where do I start?
That’s the case with Intelligent Design. The professor of MIT’s OpenCourseWare Introduction to Psychology class said that to know the mind is to have power over the mind. We can think, but when we think about thinking, then we gain some real strength.
Intelligent Design comes from my mind. Each character is going to come from my mind, going through a similar thought process as I did with the Agents from ALGORITHM.
One of the things that really helps is for me to watch people, to listen to their stories and really hear them, without judgement, without biases. It means, for a time, I get to care about their cares, to hope for their hopes, to be heartbroken by what breaks their heart. That’s empathy and it’s REQUIRED for good writing. I think empathy also makes us better people and will ultimately make the world better, but that’s another entry for another day.
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I start my exploration into Intelligent Design with technology. Where does the story end? What kinds of technologies do I need to tell the story? What kinds of characters would come up with those kinds of technological innovations?
It’s always got to be about character. Character is what people care about and if people don’t care, they’re not going to watch the movie/show or read the book. Everything has to be about character.
Then, the question is, what’s the story? The story has to kind of fit into people’s expectations. We are most entertained when we’re seeing something to which we can related. Again, that’s why character is so important.
If it’s going to get into abstract areas, it has to start with something we know. At the same time, if it’s going to go abstract, it’s got to build there, it’s got to have hints of it early on, the earlier the better.
For instance, if we’re in a universe that has magic, that magic has to be shown early, in the first 20 minutes for sure. If it shows up later, it’ll appear as an afterthought, or worse, a deus ex machina. It’ll look like the writer wrote themselves into a corner and needed a deus to get them out.
This is true even in universes that don’t have “magic” in the traditional sense. Take The Sixth Sense. [spoiler alert] Bruce Willis’s character is dead. The entire ending of the movie is a big reveal. It works.
But, it only works because the entire rest of the movie, from the beginning to the end is about death, about the dead, about how they don’t know they’re dead. Haley Joel Osment’s character is sort of a chaperone for the dead to bring them peace. Osment’s character leads us into the superstructure of the universe. Only after that’s been made clear will we accept the ending as contiguous.
In the case of a series, which is what Intelligent Design is, there’s a little more leeway, but not much. The sooner I set up the nature of the ending, the better. I knew this in ALGORITHM. Will, the main character’s first line is, “A month ago I was a god.” That’s also his last line and the last line of the movie. It sets everything up. That one line is the entire movie. It says what he thought of himself, what he now thinks of himself, and how long it’s going to take for his thinking to change. It tells the entire story.
And it took me A LONG TIME to come up with. In the words of Mark Twain, “I would have written you a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time.”
To make something look easy and intentional, as though it is the way it is and couldn’t have been any other way is incredibly difficult. It takes more work than most people put into anything.
I know I don’t spend my life perfecting every aspect of my life. I will spend the effort and time for stories, for movies. Movies have the power to reach a lot of people and change their lives. Movies live forever. ALGORITHM will be around long after I’m dead. I don’t know if people will be watching then, but they’ll be able to.