Applied Mental Telepathy for Fun and Profit
by James T. Wood (jamestwood.com)
Writing is an odd form of art. It’s done in private and only experienced in private. I’m not the first one to notice that writing is, in a way, a form of telepathy where the writer attempts to communicate images from her head into the mind of the reader through the medium of text. While there’s something of this mystical, mental relationship with the composer or painter, the other art forms have something external to the mind that they can point to at the end of the day. Not writers. Our words only exist and have meaning when they are read by another.
That is to say, without people my writing is meaningless. I could imagine a sculptor laboring to remove all the stone that doesn’t look like a wolverine eating a bunny and, through comparison with reality, judge the quality of the sculpture to be either accurate or not. The accuracy of my words, however, can only be determined by how well they build a mental image. For that I must have an audience.
When I started writing Like Mind I had nothing but an opening scene in my head. I study quite a lot of things for fun (what, I’m not the only one, am I?) and recently I’ve been on a brain-science kick (depending on who you talk to the brain scientists will prefer that term instead of neuroscientist since they deal with much more than neurons, but I digress). So I took a concept from brain science – the mirror neuron – and expanded it to see what would happen.
But in addition to that I wanted to look at the action genre in a different way. I wanted to use humor to critique the whole thing. I liked the TV show “Chuck” for the way that it started off by showing what happens when a normal guy gets put into an extraordinary situation (and “The Greatest American Hero” before that – now you’ve got the theme song stuck in your head). But the tendency is to move away from that place where the every-person character is still new to having extraordinary abilities. Think of the second and third Matrix movies – it was far less cool when Neo was the Messiah and far cooler in the first movie when he was trying to figure it all out. We resonate with the figuring it out part and less so with the having it all put together part.
I’ve injected so many references, quotes and side comments into the story that it feels like a comedy at times (at least I laugh a lot when I re-read it). But I don’t want it to be comedy for the sake of comedy. I feel like that’s missing something. The really good humor happens when comedy gives us a new way to look at the world. People like Louis C.K. are amazing at propping our eyes open with toothpicks and forcing us to see our true selves while laughing the whole time.
Since Like Mind has gotten out into the world I’ve discovered that some of the jokes that I thought were the funniest fell flat, while other things that I didn’t notice as much really resonated with people. I discovered some stuff that was accidentally offensive since not everyone got the references I was throwing out (sorry about that) and in listening to my readers I came to a new and deeper understanding of my characters.
We readers and writers must work together. It’s our art form, not just the writers’ alone. Together you and I make something that neither of us could make on our own. Together we tell stories.