That’s a quote from the film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The context is that Michelle Monaghan’s character, Harmony, learns that the writer of her favorite detective novel series considers his series to be frivolous garbage. Instead of being depressed, she just writes off his comments with two little sentences. “What does he know? He’s only the writer.”
I identify a great deal with this saying. There becomes a point when a creator cannot let control of their work go. JK Rowling keeps stepping into shape the public consensus of her characters. Because of her we know Dumbledore is gay and Hermione and Ron might not really be meant to be. George Lucas worked with others for Star Wars, but decided to take on all of the work himself for the prequels. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas wrote the finale of How I Met Your Mother to put Ted and Robin together, even though the series and fan base had moved on by then.
A series may not belong to their creator, but if it doesn’t then to whom does it? Does it belong to its fans?
Although sometimes a creator’s vision doesn’t match what their story organically becomes, the fans don’t always know what is right either. If a character becomes a fan favorite, then they also become immortal. Daryl in The Walking Dead. Felicity in Arrow. Tyrion in Game of Thrones. These characters are so popular that the writers of these series are scared to kill them off or write them out lest the fandom riot. The fans then have a stranglehold on what kind of stories can be told. Which can hamper the quality of their own favorite series.
It’s a debate I struggle with as a writer and a fan. When I follow a film or series as a fan, I feel that need to protect the aspects of it I love. If the story little my little removes all my favorite parts then I won’t want to come back anymore. However, when I write I can easily feel beholden to the story I want to tell. If the story wants to change along the way, I may fight to bring it back to my original intentions. What if I can’t be trusted with my own storytelling!?
I’m sitting here trying to think of a solution and my mind just brought me around to George Washington.
Now hear me out.
When George Washington was elected to be the first president of the budding United States of America, he did not think he was the right man for the job. Historically speaking, many experts would agree with him there. But he did do one thing right. He filled his presidential cabinet with men who would challenge him on all points. He picked the smartest people for the job, not the ones who would support him fully. And I think the same must be a rule for a writer.
Whether they are other writers in the room or producers and the director for a feature, it is best when they aren’t all a bunch of yes men. There must be people who will put their foot down when the creator loses sight of what their story has become. There must be people keeping track of what the fans like and want, but also people who can see what those fans need but aren’t aware of.
The beautiful thing about modern visual storytelling is that it is such a team effort, and if that team is put together well they will produce the best story possible.
Here’s to the shows that evolve into something new by the time they finish. The end is so far from the finish and you took us on a grand journey there.
Here’s to the shows that have hurt me. The pain of loss has made the moments I love burn all the brighter.
“What does he know? He’s only the writer.”
I still believe in that quote. As a fan, I must be allowed to interpret a story as I see fit. And as a writer, I need to learn where my influence reaches its end. The truth of the matter is that once the work is released to the public it belongs to everybody. After that all the creator can do is learn when to let go.
PS, if you haven’t seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, you really should.