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Workshop: B5 Vs. Voyager 2 Conduits and the Fiction Delivery System


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Dear Folks:

This below is an exchange from the AOL boards that some of you can't reach. It regards "conduits" and uses TV shows as an example. Understanding what WWeisberg is saying here is the primary KEY NOTION that a person must wrap their brain around in order to live through the unending trauma of writing professional fiction. Anne Pinzow answered with a three-part post that she might be willing to post to this workshop as well. . JL

Subj: Overanalysis? Date: 96-12-04 10:40:24 EST From: WWeisberg

I just discovered this folder ( I just assumed the title of "Welcome" referred to generic topics, and thus had not visited this folder) and spent a fair amount of time yesterday reading the give and take (thank God for the new pricing plan). I think it is wonderful when an author, particularly one of JL's stature and talent, takes the time to enter into an almost real time conversation with fans. Regarding the content of this folder, however, I wonder if the participants are not overanalyzing B5 and ST. I have some professional contact with content developers for electronic media (I am a software licensing attorney) and, in my experience, much of the content is driven by the desire to sell the product, within the parameters established by the market and the format of the media itself. Grand themes (or even small themes) seem to take a backseat to writing or drawing or coding for a specific market. The themes and conflicts and devices identified in B5 and ST are, in my opinion, more accidental byproducts of the needs inherent in writing and filming and selling those shows. Now, an interesting question: are those themes et. al, any the less worthy of study and commentary if, as I posit, they are accidental? (There was a minor tempest in England--several years ago, I think--when a famous poetry contest was won by someone who intended to write a horrible parody of modern poetry. The winning entry was the toast of academe, which maintained that the poem was still a masterpiece even after the hoax was revealed. The same thing happened here recently when a physicist wrote a parody for, I believe, the Journal of Semiotics, which swallowed it hook, line, and sinker , and maintained that it was still worthy of publication even after the physicist revealed that it was, in fact, nonsense.) This is a long way of asking: are grand questions really explored in works written to air long enough to recover the overhead associated with production and sell the body in syndication? Can they be explored when the authors don't intend to explore them? I don't know, but would be interested in your reactions. (N.B. I admire your works.)

Subj: Re:Kathy 1 of 2 Date: 96-12-09 19:21:14 EST From: AmbrovZeor

Rickshay wrote: The plot elements of this episode were miniscule yet they still goofed. The wave from the supernova explosion is going to be a sphere out from the star therefore the only wave to get away from it is to run in the opposite direction, yet Chakotay says to try to avoid it since they can't outrun it. A small nit I'll agree but it still is something that they could have not done. JMS simply doesn't make these type of errors in B5, and when something doesn't work out the way he planned it to he admits to it at conventions and online unlike the Trek people who expect us to like everything.

JL here: I have to agree that you can't avoid a wavefront that you can't outrun! However, from a technical writer's point of view, I need to say that this is NOT A PLOT ELEMENT. It's BACKGROUND, not PLOT. (caps for the tech jargon of this craft.)

And BACKGROUND is what B-5 has done so well that you can read the philosophy out of it.

It's called "reading between the lines" - drawing inferences from what is NOT there as well as from what is.

When the backgrounding is riddled with holes, the reader/viewer is left with complete uncertainty about the THEME - i.e. the philosophical statement the piece makes. Trek used to have a coherent background except for the TECH parts. But they made TECH errors on purpose not by accident. They shake the ship and use sound effects because the viewers wouldn't understand anything really realistic - not because GR didn't know that sound doesn't propagate very well in a vacuum and that ships that can exceed lightspeed MUST have gravity control inside to keep the people from becoming a thin film.

So, knowing the viewership he was playing to, we can compensate for the nonsense and the rest of what's there is a coherent message that's easy to read.

Since GR relinquished his grip on the story development - all that coherence is GONE. They try, but they don't really understand what GR was SAYING with this show.

So what they're doing instead is talking to the current audience and telling them what they want to hear. Except every once in a while on VOYAGER when something more profound comes through - there are people still there who are carving out a new frontier of fiction.

Now, I have always HATED Q - (not the actor or even the character - but the CONCEPT). For dramatic reasons, when a writer creates a HERO with SUPERPOWERS, that hero's concept-design has to have a FLAW - an Achilles' heel.

The essence of drama is conflict - the all-powerful all-knowing have no conflicts because nothing can successfully oppose them so they never worry they might lose the battle.

This episode of VOYAGER finally showed us the Q Continuum with a Q Continuum sized PROBLEM. Unfortunately, an hour of tv time in which the formula requires NO CHANGE BE PERMANENT isn't enough to solve a Q Continuum sized problem. Without story-arc potential, there's no way to address a Q Continuum sized problem. So we got that wimpish ending.

Q is not a character that belongs in any episodic anthology-format tv show. It's a conceptual mismatch - an error of the writers craft. An artistic disaster. Giving Q a personality problem doesn't help much.

Now I'll read Part Two - part One hit a button or two didn't it? LL&P Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Subj: Re:Overanalysis? Date: 96-12-09 19:54:02 EST From: AmbrovZeor


I believe I have pointed out on many occasions - not sure if in this thread on B5 vs VOYAGER - that TV as the medium shapes these products more than the author's desire to make a statement.

I would very much appreciate it if you would either send me your post as an email or allow me to cut and paste it - and repost it to the Sime~Gen Listserve where I have a writing workshop running by email.

If you check my 9 part post in one of the other folders here - I think DEATH OF SF ON TV - you'll see a post from that workshop in which was trying to explain the process from another point of view.

It is an abstract point that MUST be grasped before a writer can make the leap from fan fiction to professional fiction.

Now, as to how deeply one is justified in analyzing something as inherently trivial and unartistic as a TV show (or series) -- weelllll I wrote a whole book on that point. STAR TREK LIVES!

I don't think there's such a thing as "too deep" or taking a piece of fiction "too seriously".

Marion Zimmer Bradley taught me - from a quote from an older writer - "the book the reader reads is not the book the writer wrote." In other words, it really doesn't matter what the writer INTENDED - when you analyze a piece of fiction, you analyze WHAT YOU READ not WHAT THE WRITER WROTE.

In other words, your analysis says more about you than about the writer of the piece.

And basically, that's what we've been doing in this board which accidentally got this discussion planted in it when it was empty. We've been telling each other who we are. I've decided I really respect Rickshay - and I hope you'll stick around and play the game with us.

And I have plenty more to say about the problem of what I call the Fiction Delivery System and the commercial dynamics which drive it - and how they infringe on the Artistic Integrity of the fiction the system delivers - and how that infringement impacts the ultimate consumer who pays the bill.

You might want to spend some of that unlimited access time reading my column in The Monthly Aspectarian - it's the sf review column RECOMMENDED BOOKS (because I never give a bad review - I only recommend GOOD books.) In the early columns I talked a lot about Intimate Adventure (the new genre I see emerging) and The Fiction Delivery System and how it's broken. (SEE: Columns)

You gave a very succinct reprise of that system's mechanism - and I can in no way disagree with it. I'd really like to have you do a guest-lecture to my workshoppers by email.

Live Long and Prosper, Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Subj: Re:Overanalysis? Date: 96-12-10 10:10:31 EST From: WWeisberg

JL: Feel free to cut and paste as you wish; from my perspective that is probably easier than sending the post to you by EMail. I would be happy to participate in your seminar. We can "speak" by EMail or, if you prefer, send me a phone number (or I can do the same to you) to prepare. (N.B.: I will respond substantively to your post a bit later; my 8 month old had a long night and I currently lack the coherence to think that analytically). Am enjoying this folder--WW




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