Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Well

I wanted to, I intended to, write a post about how discipline is important for a serious writer. I don't really feel like it now, though.

(pause for laughter)

So anyway, I'm confused about what "going back to the well" means. I've heard it in different contexts: it's said by some writers referring to their means of seeking inspiration, or something of that nature; and it's said about writers, referring to using tried-and-true formulas and existing series/characters that we'd thought were retired and better off for it.

Both uses make sense. It's possible that I misheard one of the uses (the first seems more likely, but I'm pretty sure I've heard it used that way), but it seems to me that both can be, and therefore are, correct.

A writer can go back to the well to refill their psychic water bucket, which they use to help replenish their psychic blood supply after they've been bleeding (psychically speaking) all over the pages they've written on. Writing can be a draining experience, so it makes sense to figure out what it is you can do that helps you feel replenished - and then to go do it once in a while to help keep your creativity regular. Some people work out, or do other physical work like cleaning horse stalls. Some folks take long hot or cold showers or baths, or get a massage or acupuncture. Personally, I tend to just zone out listening to music. It's different for everyone.

The other use is also valid, in a different way, but I suspect that it might be a misinterpretation of the first use. It's usually directed at writers in an accusing fashion.

"George Lucas is going back to the old Star Wars / Indiana Jones well again," they say.

That makes a lot of sense (for figurative language, that is). These properties, characters, etc., what have you, are all proven and reliable. They're like a deep, clean well you know will always have some water for you. You don't need to be super creative; James Bond will sell a few movie tickets, he always has and he always will. You just need to make a few adjustments every decade or so to present him in a way the current audience will like. Daniel Craig happens to be Flavor 007 for the year '006, and it worked out great (best Bond ever, without a doubt).

This is why we get so many sequels, spin-offs, and above all, adaptations of existing properties. The American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is still set in Sweden, with all the Sweedish names intact, but it's in english with english-speaking actors (Daniel Craig among them - the man can adapt a role, give him due credit there). And it looks great. How much did the writers have to work on the screenplay? A lot less than the late Steig Larsson did writing the book, I'm sure of that.

Is it wrong to tap a well like that? I don't think so; it can be done for the wrong reasons, sure, and you can easily ruin a perfectly wonderful product by continuing to mess with it George Lucas, but adapting, developing, and re-imagining existing characters and stories allows us to explore the concepts in new and interesting ways. If we're familiar with a character, we don't need to develop him or her as much and we can focus on other things, like plot, other characters, interesting themes, or world-bending twists that throw a viral wrench into the familiar setting.

How exactly did the Thing get bit?

Nothing inherently wrong with revisiting an old well. After all, digging a new well is a lot of work, and you can't be sure what the water will be like until all the silt has settled. Still, if you never dig new wells, where will you get water when all the old ones dry up?