You Knew I was Going to Say That

Cullen Waters is trying to work up a framework for how fiction uses psychic abilities, specifically the effect of these abilities on the characters and the situation. (The ability in question is the power to foretell the future). I think he's done excellent work, and has clearly put a lot of thought into this, but I'm afraid the way my mind works, I tend to see where the system breaks down. (Not intentionally, honest.) So, in the comments, helpful little me had to mention Philip K. Dick, who wrote rather a lot of stories with protagonists (and antagonists) who were psychic in varying degrees; these stories tend to fall outside Mr. Water’s categories. (I’m just no fun at all, aren’t I.)

Which I guess brings me to my greater problem: I’m not really crazy about categories. Everyone uses them all the time (human beings are sorting creatures, after all) but the only real use I get from them is when I go into a book, record or movie store. Hey, where’s the science fiction section? Where’s Variations on a Theme by Haydn? Got any new Bunuel movies in here? Unfortunately, as categories come into play, one finds more and more exceptions to those categories, thus creating more categories, as Mr. Waters is discovering. In a record store not far from where I live, they don’t have an “Alternative” section, but they do have a “Cajun” one and just started an “Alt. Country” one. Why one and not the other?

Category systems can be useful in a general way, and I do like the ingenious methods people use when concocting them; but I generally find they're either too rigid to encompass most variations (thus spawning more and more subcategories, see above), or too loose to be useful. (“There are two types of music—good music, and bad music.”) Rackmounting creative work into a grid can be a useful guide for the uninitiated, or a way to look over a wide body of works, but I honestly don't think they're all that useful as systems. (See above, how I’m no fun and everything.)

The problem with most artistic endeavors, whether storytelling or painting or composing, is that there is usually a great deal in them that is instinctive rather than systematic. I doubt very much that someone starts with a concept and constructs a story around it...or at least, I doubt that the resultant story is any good. (Note: I’m not talking about thinking up a great ending line, and working toward that. I’m talking about someone who says, “I’ll write a story illustrating some great injustice! Now all I need are characters and a plot.”)

Most of my own creative endeavors (the only ones I'm familiar with) don't start with much in the way of calculation; they tend to be images or ideas that create a resonance in my mind, a resonance that really can't be put into words. They tend to appeal more to the senses or emotional states rather than to reason, though all can work hand in hand to bring the concept to fruition. As the concept matures into a project, I never look toward existing schools or frameworks to see where I'm fitting in, or, so that I can steer the work so it will fit in somewhere.

As I say, I enjoy reading about such systems, and I admire the thought and work put into them. I doubt anyone proposing one would seriously say that creative works have to flow along their guidelines. They’re more critical tools than creative guides. I imagine.

In fact, I can see a distinct danger if you use these guidelines for creating. I’ve got a friend (no, I really do) who would write down movie-making wisdom on 3x5 cards. I used to jokingly call them his Understanding Movies Bubble Gum Cards. Based on what I see coming out of Hollywood, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an official set you can buy, and that most film-makers use them religiously when crafting their products. We gotta have a tragic scene from the guy’s childhood, only shot all MTV style. The girl has to say, “I know…I think I’ve always known.” The bad guy has to have a henchman he can rant to, and he has to be defeated from his own hubris. The songs over the closing credits should start with a rockin’ tune, followed by a soft ballad, then another rocker.

It would sure explain a lot, eh? Well, that’s a rant for another time, another place. The point is, I don’t think you can create art by planning along a line. You have to use a curve, perhaps even several curves. The mind and heart aren’t segmented. They’re not even separate entities.

None of what I say here will prevent me from presenting my own systems and expounding upon them, of course; I’m as human as any of you are, despite my chitinous exoskeleton and the fact that I breath ammonia. But I use these systems like bookshelves, really; they're there to organize thoughts, and lots of things can be stored on them, and they’re a way of looking over the completeness of a collection. But the objects on the shelves are not the shelves themselves. The shelves just make them easier to find. And easier to replace.

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