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 Message
    From: jmsatb5@aol.com (Jms at B5)
 Subject: ATTN JMS: What is behind your writing?
      To: rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated  
    Date: 9/1/2000 2:43:00 PM  

Message 1 in thread 

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>Do you write to teach or to explore?

Both. Sometimes you don't really know what you may think of something until
you have to verbalize it...to *explain* what you feel about somethilng. I've
taught writing on several occasions, and each time I end up learning as much as
the students because of the necessity of verbalizing what is often a
subconscious, even a subliminal process.

I'm very careful not to teach per se in my writing, because on a wider scale,
I'm not sure what I have to say that would be of any use, validity or purpose
to anyone else. I believe in what Mark Twain said: "If you want your stories
to last forever -- and by forever I mean a hundred years -- you must neither
overtly teach nor overtly preach. But you must covertly teach and covertly
preach."

> I believe that some things you
>have said are provocative statements, such as "There are many things
>worth dying for. Do you have anything worth _living_ for?" Clearly
>that is an example of teaching, but some issues are more complex than
>that. When Delenn questioned breaking the Grey council since it had led
>to civil war, when Londo's heart gave out and he worked through his need
>to ask forgiveness, when Delenn dealt with her own guilt at starting the
>Earth-Minbari war you are covering difficult territory and themes. The
>characters are working through extremely complex issues.

I again quote, this time from William Faulkner: "The only thing worth dealing
with as a writer, the only thing worth the blood and the pain and the effort,
is the human heart in conflict with itself."

For me, the complex issues ARE the only really valid issues, and the ones most
worth writing about. On a day to day basis, how often do we have to deal with
rewiring a bomb so it won't go off and kill a busload of kids, as happens every
other night on TeeVee?

But every day, sometimes every hour of our life, we have to wrestle with the
profound issues: who do we trust, who can we tell our secrets to, what do we
regret, what do we want, how do we love and how do we forgive and do we survive
doing either one of those?

Those aren't great philosophical issues fit for academic dissection...those are
bread and butter considerations that affect us every day.

> For yourself,
>have you satisfied yourself with the answers you have arrived at, or are
>you still exploring possibilities through your writing?
>

I'm not satisfied, and I hope I never become satisfied, because that leads to
complacency. I'm constantly questioning myself, my assumptions, what I wrote
yesterday and what I hope to write tomorrow. I know there are some damn good
answers out there, but until I find the questions that match the answers, I've
got nothing.

>And, more to the point, when you are writing, are you exploring at the
>same time, or are you writing about your conclusions?
>

I think that, more than anything, I'm trying to write about the things that
interest me, the things that bug me, the things that don't make sense to me. I
don't *have* many conclusions to write about, and am deeply suspicious of the
few that I do have.

At its heartmeat core, writing is about exploring the questions of your heart
on the assumption that what intrigues you, what inflames or amuses or ennobles
you, will have the same effect on someone else. It's about taking chances, and
taking risks, and pushing yourself to be honest in the issues that present
themselves.

I saw an interview recently with the (relatively) new commandant of the Marine
Corps, who said, of the Corps' experiments with organization, techniques and so
on, "Experimentation -- TRUE experimentation -- means that you push yourself
*until you fail*." Failure is not only a possibility, it's a requirement, so
that you learn where your limits are, so you can address them and try again and
next time push yourself beyond the point where you failed the last time.

That, to me, is about a good a description of the job of the writer as I've
ever heard.

jms

(jmsatb5@aol.com)
B5 Official Fan Club at:
http://www.thestation.com
(all message content (c) 2000 by
synthetic worlds, ltd., permission
to reprint specifically denied to
SFX Magazine)
    From: jmsatb5@aol.com (Jms at B5)
 Subject: ATTN JMS: What is behind your writing?
      To: rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated  
    Date: 9/8/2000 7:56:00 AM  

Message 2 in thread 

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>Looking back at B5 what do you question about what you wrote?
>What would you do differently now that you have the luxry of hindsight.
>What "failures" (for lack of a better word) do you believe you made (even if
>they were ones that the viewers never noticed).

In general, there isn't a frame I wouldn't go back and tweak in editing, a
single line I wouldn't want to revise one more time to get it tighter or more
to the point.

In more specific terms...the problem I had going in was that no one had ever
done anything quite like this before, and as a consequence there were no road
maps, no guidelines. I was kind of inventing the form as I went along, and
I've always been somewhat insecure about my work, as many writers are, and
there were times I'd think, "Christ, there isn't enough going on, I need more
stuff happening here or else it's going to be just the writing and I'm dancing
on the edge as it is"...and the threads would get so dense and manyfold that
there were times when I was afraid I might actually lose control of the thing
and the whole thing would tip over and end up in a ditch.

It took me a while to realize that I could relax and trust the writing to take
me where it wanted to go. It was only this slowly dawning revelation that let
me write things like Comes the Inquisitor or Intersections in Real Time, which
is really just two characters in a room. I didn't need a lot of
intrigue-ridden threads all over the place to keep things moving, it was okay
just to write the scene and the characters and let the drama play itself out.

And there were times I ddn't adjust to stuff as fast as I would've liked. When
we got unionized in season 3 -- the most painless such activity I've ever seen,
by the way, but still a distraction -- I was in the middle of writing
Exogenesis. Then my world got kicked over by the negotiations, and when I came
back to the script finally, 7-10 days later...it had gone cold, and I'd lost
the fingerprints of the story. I couldn't drop it because we needed it in the
pipeline to shoot, but in my view the first half of that episode sets up a cool
premise that is not quite lived up to by the second half.

Same thing when Claudia chose to leave the show. That was a hard one on all of
us, but in my case, I had a whole arc worked out for her that had to be
dropped. I suddenly had to bring in a new character, weave her threads out of
the tapestry, and adjust everything else in the first third of that season
totally on the fly. (And on top of all that, my detailed notes on the first
half of the season were tossed out by the hotel staff that moved my stuff from
one room to another in Blackpool without checking with me. I had to recreate
stuff on the one hand and angle it all off in a different direction on the
other, both at the same time.)

While I think I did okay, it ain't pretty in a lot of places. If it had
happened in the second or third seasons, I could probably have handled it with
a bit more finesse, but at that point we were all on the edge of exhaustion.
(Indicative of that: each season of a show, actors are brought in to a doctor,
checked out, and insured for the season, so if something happens to them, the
company is insured against delays. For the first time I know of, the writer
producer (viz: me) was given that treatment -- this was a mandate to me,
because others had noticed what the show was taking out of me -- so if I upped
and died of a cardiac infarction in the middle of things, or collapsed of
exhaustion, the company would be covered.

>Also on the otherside of the coin, where did you feel you exceeded yourself,
>went beyond what you *thought* was your limits at the time. Where did you set
>a
>new benchmark for yourself thinking "Wow! That works! I never thought I could
>pull *that* off"

When it played even better than I'd expected it would. On a script, you see
the scene and you think, "Well, I think it'll work," but you never really
*know*, and like everybody else in the business, I've been fooled...something
that looks like gold on the page turns into a dog when it hits the stage or the
editing room, and something you thought wouldn't work ends up being massively
cool.

Severed Dreams, the scenes where Sheridan makes his decision on hearing that
troops are coming in...and Delenn's timely arrivel...I knew they'd be good, but
I had no idea the real effect they'd have until I saw 'em in the editing room.
Same with the Sheridan takedown in Face of the Enemy.

Probaby the biggest example, though, is Sleeping in Light. I knew that the
last scene(s) would be effective from the script and the edit...but when we
laid in Chris Franke's score, even before we had the EFX done, I began to
realize that this was going to be a *crusher*. We didn't have the final EFX in
until late 5th season -- I didn't want to finish it and give anybody a chance
to accidentally run it early -- and when they were dropped in...it ruined me
when I watched it straight through for the first time.


jms

(jmsatb5@aol.com)
B5 Official Fan Club at:
http://www.thestation.com
(all message content (c) 2000 by
synthetic worlds, ltd., permission
to reprint specifically denied to
SFX Magazine)

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