What Do I want to be Special about My Work?

“They” say that there are really only seven stories. Anyone can tell a story, but if you want to make a difference, you need to add something special that only you can give.

I have been working on several projects over the last year or so and I have started to think about what is special about my work. My big fear is that there isn’t anything special. My main objective now is to focus on gaining better mastery of the creative skills, but I know that eventually I do need to have something special.

Just the other day I saw a program about the writer Richard Matheson. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Matheson He said he didn’t realize what some of the key themes of his own work was until a long time after he began writing. I got the impression that it was only after others started to talk about what they found in his work that he began to see it too. I hope that is the case with me. I know that the things you care about show up in your work, even when you don’t consciously put it there.

I have noticed some things about my own work that I think may reflect something that distinguishes me from other film makers.

  • I see in some of my work a conflict between respecting authority and rebelling against it. This is a conflict in much of my thinking. I believe that it is important to accept that we are all part of a greater whole, but I also want to be free from the constraints of being a part of a greater whole.
  • In some of my work, I am consciously trying to send the message that things are not the way we expect them to be. The world is a complex of interacting systems, and systems often behave in ways that are not intuitive. What seems obvious is often misleading. This sounds somewhat “new-agey”, but it comes from my work as an engineer studying complex systems. There is a paradox recognized by transportation planners that sometimes adding a road can make traffic worse.
  • Many of my ideas come from my feeling that sometimes merely surviving is victory. There is a cliché in “race” stories where the runner falls, then gets up and comes back to win. My inclination is to have him try to win and fail, but in his trying he becomes a survivor and ultimately more of a winner than if he had “won” the race.
  • I often use the image of someone walking down a corridor, either toward or away from the camera. This kind of image is often given as an example of bad film making, because it doesn’t tell you anything important. In my case though, I feel that it is a symbol for something being inevitable. In a corridor, you can only go forward or retreat. I am attracted to the image of a train running along the tracks for the same reason.
  • In many of my story ideas the protagonist is very passive, which runs contrary to what a protagonist should be. Maybe this reflects my own reluctance to admit it when the time has come to act when faced with a challenge. Often I delay until it is too late and the opportunity has passed. I will need to learn much more about story telling before I can make this work.
  • My experience is that success comes from a long series of small victories, while failure comes from taking one big gamble. I want to make this a message in my work, but I am not sure how to do this and still have an interesting story to tell.

Many of the things I want to do “break the rules” of good story telling. Before you can break the rules, you need to know what they are and why they are rules. That is going to be the challenge for me.

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