Thursday, January 10, 2013

Being Malton Milquetoast

Well, as of yesterday, it's official: One Night in Sixes is out on submission.  I would say something here about taking up a position at the punch bowl and waiting to be asked to dance, but that is exactly the wrong kind of metaphor.  Better to say that I've already got my dream date, we are already cutting one hell of a rug, and we have no plans to pause until the the lights come up and the judges are ready with their scorecards.

In the meantime, here is another thought that's been a few months in the making.  (Yes, I suck at topical timeliness.)  Let's talk about these guys:

Just in case you didn't catch them in theaters, they're the Sugar Rush racers from Wreck-It Ralph.  And I bet you can spot their pattern even if you didn't see the movie.  Shoot, you could probably make up your own glucose-fueled NASCAR cherub, if you wanted to.

DAT TIE.

As it happens, that is exactly what Ronald MacKinnon did.  Meet Malton Milquetoast, mild-mannered soda jerk and high-octane milkshake stuntman.

(We may pause here for a moment of virtual cheek-pinching, yes.)

So what?

Well, in the words of LRC, the triple-initial-wielding author of Springhole.net:

I really think writers should create universes that are friendlier to fan characters... Any fiction that has a small and non-negotiable number of Chosen Ones or Special People is hostile to fan characters by nature. Be a good sport and share your toys - write universes that easily accomodate fan characters and make the rules and mechanics clear.

(Incidentally, Wreck-It Ralph does a stellar job on this front.  Halfway through the movie, we have absorbed all the relevant rules: how the video game worlds connect, which characters can cross from one to another, what could happen if they do.  I could write a competent canon-faithful sequel right now, with no more guide than the original movie.)

"Well," you might very-reasonably say, "I don't especially care to do that.  They're my toys, it's my creation, and I believe you'll find that copyright law supports my decision not to willingly open my universe's door to every amateur-hour writer and artist who wants to take a free ride on my hard work."

You would be entirely justified in saying that.

However, it's also true that competition for followers, readers, listeners, and buyers is fiercer than it's ever been.  And no matter how prolific a content-creator you are, it ALWAYS takes longer to create said content than it does to consume it.  The book I spent three years writing can be read in a few hours.  A song that took a month to produce plays out in three and a half minutes.  Shoot, even a meme takes longer to write, assemble, save, and upload than it does to "Like" and "Share". 

So I think a good question for ALL content creators to ask themselves is, "what am I giving my fans to do while they wait for my next work?" 

Because if you look at the biggest, most mega-successful series of recent years, a tremendous number of them - Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Avatar: The Last Airbender, My Little Pony, Adventure Time, Star Wars, and others- are so intricate and explorable in their mythology that they seem almost custom-designed to encourage future fan-created ponies and wizards and Jedi and benders of every imaginable stripe.  (As a matter of fact, you may reliably find Mr. MacKinnon working undercover as Equestria's resident advice columnist and self-appointed field medic, Ask Charlie Foxtrot.)

Lumbering laboriously to the point, then: you CAN craft your world however you want.  You CAN hold it up as a perfect, untouchable work, to be admired and critiqued from behind museum glass.  But if you design it a little differently, build in some few extra features ahead of the curtain rising, and then have the courage to toss the whole thing out into the mosh pit, I think it'd be enormously satisfying to watch your creation go crowd-surfing as you set to work on the next one.

I am looking forward to saying that with authority, though.

I'm gonna wreck it!

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