During my group’s New Years’ Eve party, one of my friends since before High School and I got to discussing what we’d been watching lately.
“I’ve been enjoying Shakugan no Shana,” I said. I am, as usual, late to the scene, but to my surprise my friend, with much more free time on his hands, had just finished watching the second season, so I was only one behind.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s fine, and all, it’s just…” He paused and then continued exactly as I expected, “They could have done so much more with it.”
He says this a lot, this friend of mine, and I’d always just nodded. It had always gone without saying that we could have done it better ourselves. But this time, when I heard it, it tugged on a recent memory, a memory brought up watching the first season of Dexter with my girlfriend.
It had only been two weeks before this conversation (Yes, again, late to the show). She’d been a long-time watcher, but I have a lot of trouble getting into shows that are set in the “real” world. (More on that later, maybe.)
“Come on, just watch the first season, it’s fully encapsulated,” she had said.
“Fine, just the first season.”
We sat down, we watched, I paused at any slight jarring inconsistency. I complained loudly at them. Never mind that it was actually a pretty good show, never mind that I actually saw a kernel of something I might enjoy in it, I’m a creator, damn it, and as a result, I must for the sake of my craft find flaws in the craft of others!
Flash forward back to the New Years’ party. My friend’s incredibly vague comment about how a show ‘could have been better’. I’d gotten more skilled since High School at articulating a show’s flaws. If I’d wanted to.
James Joyce’s epiphanies are a convenient work of fiction. Any decent epiphany is brewing in a person’s gut long before the incident that tips the scale. Over the previous month, I’d read a work of pulpy high fantasy and genuinely enjoyed it (despite its editorial flaws), I’d read a suspense thriller set in a horse racing circuit, I’d watched a show about a serial killer, and I’d watched an anime about a tiny girl who fights to protect the balance of this world. What do they all have in common? Two things stick out to me.
1) Someone wrote them.
2) They are all flawed, in one way or another.
Why does that matter? Because my friend hasn’t written in half a decade, and I haven’t in three months. After the finish of my first novel, I briefly entertained finding an agent and getting it published. After one form rejection letter, I dug back into my hole to nurse my wounds. My friend never even tried to get that far.
These works are out there because someone believed in them. Because they resonated with many people. And because someone finished writing, and then finished the submission process. Compared to that, being a critic is easy:
1) Watch someone else’s show/Read someone else’s book.
2) Find a reason why it sucks.
3) Repeat until ego is sufficiently stoked.
As a writer, it’s undignified for me to tear apart a good show, or a good book, and say why it fell short. If I watch a show, or read a book, I should enjoy it like a reader or a watcher, and then get back to work finishing my story. If I thought there were flaws: Great. That’s fuel for me to do a better job on mine. Nothing more.
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