How does television shape the way we tell stories?
by Josh Flynn Views: 3039
Writers are often asked “where do you get your ideas?” Richardson’s work is filled with exciting and odd concepts that grow out of his love for sci-fi television. In fact, sci-fi had a large influence in his learning to tell stories and understand the world.
Josh Flynn: Trevor, you call yourself a rabid sci-fi TV watcher. Has television shaped the way you tell stories or create in any way? If so, how?
Trevor Richardson: I grew up watching Star Trek with my folks and Star Wars with my cousins, brother, and sister. There is a whole lexicon of ideas and information that you absorb when you grow up like that. My dad used to have this poster in his office that said, “Everything I Needed to Know in Life I Learned from Star Trek”.
It gave me a fondness for Shakespeare, believe it or not, and not just Shakespeare but all of literature. The themes of Moby Dick are prevalent in two different Star Trek movies, so prevalent, in fact, that both my brother and I were able to write book reports on Moby Dick in high school without ever reading the book. We both got A’s, by the way. And don’t worry, I’ve since read it – I’m not making a case for using Trek as your Cliff’s Notes to great writing. The point is, it gave me a foundation and taught me how to see the value and importance of viewing the world through the scope of past cultures. This is something that has since translated to my writing.
Star Wars, on the other hand, gave me something maybe even more valuable: an understanding that the greatest stories ever told are, in no small way, the same story. In my younger years, as I geeked out over the world George Lucas created, I learned about Joseph Campell’s “The Hero’s Journey”, and how Lucas himself pulled inspiration from old dimestore novels and television shows like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. I learned how he did much the same thing for Indiana Jones and it started to click. My love of past cultures, adopted from Star Trek, had long since given me Picasso’s quote:
Fiction, just like writings on science, philosophy, medicine, or apologetics, is one long conversation, referring to prior remarks and theories, and evolving seamlessly from one installment to the next.
“Einstein didn’t just come up with his stuff from scratch; he took the work of others, drew his own conclusions, and published. Writing fiction is no different.”
I suppose what I get from loving sci-fi television is a kind of research into my field. In everything I write, most of all Dystopia Boy, there is a germ of science fiction that cannot be left out. These shows and movies spark ideas, but they also show me what not to do sometimes. Moreover, they help me understand the genre, and they gave me a love for other genres that I never would have expected. They also help me understand what my readers want to see.
The bridge crew of the Enterprise is as familiar to me by now as my own family. It’s like entertainment comfort food and, in this way, I’m not so different from anyone else out there.
Josh: In many creative writing classes, students encounter an anti-genre mentality and are taught writing science fiction, fantasy, or horror makes them lesser than those who strive for the “great American novel.” Growing up on science fiction have you faced this pressure to conform to a specific idea of what writing can and can’t be? What would you say to writers who struggle with this?
Trevor: You know what they told Ozzy Osbourne when he wanted to go to music school? Don’t do it. Right now you’re making awesome melodies, they said, but if you go you might lose that. You might just wind up creating referential music that sounds like what’s already been done.
I think about that all the time. I’m not saying don’t go to school. Do whatever you want. I’m just saying that, for me personally, I have benefited from getting my education from myself and my own interests.
As to what I think is wrong with that advice. Some of the greatest works of literature in history would be labeled as genre fiction today. Frankenstein and Dracula are technically horror. Actually, technically, Frankenstein is one of the earliest examples of science fiction. Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan… these are fantasy stories. Moreover, they are children’s fiction. I sincerely believe that these stories are not seen as genre fiction because they predate some of the bias that exists in the literary world today. In short, forget all that stuff. Write what you like, put your own personality and interest on the page, and let the chips fall where they may.
Finally, as an editor and as a writer, I have both seen and created some of the most pretentious and forgettable fiction in the attempt to write the “great American novel.” The goal in all writing should be to simply tell an incredible story. No other motivation, no labels, no agenda, no considerations outside the needs of the story itself should be considered.
As a sci-fi guy, I sort of light my candle at the altar of Phillip K. Dick, a man who struggled daily with the dichotomy of being a truly original literary novelist and being a sci-fi “genre” writer. He never really got to see his work get recognized and respected, but he still didn’t change. Because of his sacrifice and commitment, he is one of the most referenced writers of the 20th Century who has had his stuff adapted into more movies than many of us even realize.
Josh: What advice would you give your younger self, and others who are maybe growing up or did grow up watching Star Trek and Star Wars, that you wish you would have known back then?
Trevor: People don’t just buy your book, they buy you. If your book and you aren’t the same person then they won’t believe in it. If I could have learned how to show myself to the world, to put my own mind on the page, and to simply trust that this would resonate with the right people, then I would not have wasted as much time as I have. I tried to be Kerouac, Salinger, Burroughs, even Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. In the end, when things started to come together and feel right, it was when I embraced that kid watching Star Trek with his dad or Psycho with his mom.
So here’s the bottom line:
Stand by your true loves. Be willing to grow, be able to take criticism, of course, but never let anyone lead you away from what you really care about. I don’t care if it’s popular or not. I don’t care if it’s Star Trek or X-Men or Dungeons & Dragons. It could be “bad” music, heavily panned film, Nicholas Cage! I don’t care what. If you love it, keep it close to you, because you never know what is going to change in the future. There was a time where people that liked superheroes were called dorks. Now superheroes are the biggest franchises in film. Star Trek used to be ridiculed by the public, then it got rebooted and now all sorts of people like it. My point is, a lot of writing lessons, and writer’s urges, can be distilled down to the age-old popularity contest. But popularity changes, something that is in will be out tomorrow, and what was out might come back around. Don’t worry about what people like right now, think about showing them why you like what you like.
It is not the job of the writer to find the cool circles and join it. It’s the writer’s job to lead the charge, to inspire others to follow him or her into new places. I’ll leave it with two quotes from famous people that have said it better than I will. They weren’t talking about writing, but I find that advice about living and advice about writing go hand-in-hand.
In the immortal words of Dolly Parton:
In taking the advice of others, writers often let themselves get bullied. You get bullied into doing things someone else’s way. You get bullied into doubting yourself or your own ideas. Perhaps that is where my initial concept of writing as a muscle came from. Flex that muscle. Stand up for yourself. Be awesome and do it on purpose.
This brings our three-part interview with Trevor Richardson to a close. Thanks for reading and thank you to Trevor for taking the time to talk with us.
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