Water Not Sand

“They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”

So says Lewis in Aaron Sorkin’s wonderful film The American President. In the movie they’re talking about leadership, but I realized that this quote can apply equally well to creators. Thinking about this quote made me realize that writers are leaders, taking their readers/viewers/players on a journey where that audience is dependent upon the leadership skills of that writer.

The consumers of entertainment rely on us to lead them safely, not to take them down blind alleys on pointless side quests that don’t further the plot or reveal character in some fundamental and meaningful way. To create deep characters that illuminate the human condition and speak to shared experiences. And perhaps most importantly to bring the story to a conclusion that leaves a reader/viewer/player satisfied, emotionally involved, maybe cheering even while they weep.

Sadly, I think we are failing, certainly on the film side. The three Transformer films were less then junk food. They were insulting to people’s intelligence, and emotionally sterile and meaningless. Thus far this summer’s crop has been equally empty.

There was the unfortunate failure of the Mass Effect trilogy and Dragon Age II on the gaming side.

And how many fat fantasies have left readers frustrated and unsatisfied? Tolkien took us on a journey that ended in sorrow and joy, and has kept generations of readers contemplating the truths he dramatized.

I believe that George will take his legions of fans to the ending that people have been promised — Dani, Tyrion Jon Snow and the Stark kids will save the world from Winter. And who knows, maybe old Jamie will lay to rest the stigma of Kingslayer and redeem himself.

I think about that a lot in conjunction with my Edge books. For anyone who has struggled to satisfy a demanding father, who has doubted their abilities I hope that my hero’s struggles speak to that and will give people some hope. And I’m determined to deliver the ending I promised.

I think it’s too easy in this world of self-publishing, and always trying for the blockbuster whether it be film, book or game to give people sand, empty calories. That doesn’t mean we should be preaching. I think that’s death to a writer and when a writer takes that path they fail in their primary job — to entertain. But we ought to be treating our subjects and our audience with respect and sincerity.

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