On the importance of writers, and a thank you

Fandom fascinates me. The very idea of it, that people can so love a story, can so need to talk/squee/whine about it that they gravitate toward others who have the same passion, intrigues me.

It interests me enough that I pay attention to fandoms that I’m not even part of, curious about how their members interact with one another, how they view themselves, the story, and those who are telling the story. And despite the differences in the format, type, or genre, (TV, film, book; romance, scifi, procedural), fandoms are pretty similar, by and large, presumably because people react predictably, no matter the setting.

But there’s one thing common to most of them that I find particularly baffling, and that’s the antagonism that often exists toward the writers. Not by every member of the community, not by a long shot, but among some, there’s just this underlying idea that it’s cool to bash the writers.

(Don’t believe me? Last year, some of us who weren’t taking part in the snarkfest-of-the-week against the Bones writers were called sycophants for not doing so. We’re still laughing over it. Then again, I was called worse during season six, so it’s a step up, I guess.)

Anyway, with the Bones fandom in particular, one of the things I’m often most perplexed by is that if there’s a scene or episode that people particularly love, then it’s solely due to the actors, to what they brought to it. But if fans don’t like something, it’s wholly the fault of the writers.

I don’t get that.

To be clear, I’m not talking about what we’ll call legitimate criticism, where someone says, “that episode just didn’t work for me” or “I don’t like what they did there.”  We all bring all of who we are as a member of an audience to every story we see played out in front of us, every book we read. So what deeply moves me may well leave someone else completely cold; what I find contradictory may make perfect sense to them.

That’s the way it should be, I think (can you imagine how dull the world would be if we all agreed on every point?) And I don’t believe anyone associated with the show would be surprised by that, nor would expect people not to say, ‘that didn’t work for me.’

No, I’m talking about an undercurrent of distrust and hostility toward the writers that seems to be part of every fandom I’ve observed (whether as a member or not.)

Case in point: A while back, I made an off-the-cuff comment about the story not existing without writers, something which seemed obvious to me, and someone (not from the Bones fandom, btw) immediately disagreed with me. Okay, then. Apparently the actors would do a better job of telling these stories if they just ad-libbed everything. Or something.

It’s not that the actors aren’t important. They are. They bring the story to life, and with different people in the roles, or with less-skilled men and women portraying these characters, the stories would be different and possibly much less effective in how they impact us.

I can’t overstate this: to me, the story that I love is the result of a combined effort by a lot of people: the writers who write, the actors who interpret those words and infuse them with meaning, and finally, what I think of as the technical crew (producers, directors, editors, camera operators, make-up artists, SFX, etc.) who bring it all together.

On some level, though, it does seem as if the actors and the writers must generally be on the same page, doesn’t it? If the Bones actors were regularly interpreting the characters in a wildly different way than the writers do, wouldn’t we see that disconnect on-screen somewhere?

Instead, we’ve got what I consider to be some of the most interesting, believable, likable characters on television, and for me, that’s due to what both the writers and the actors contribute.  Booth and Brennan are as much a product of Hart Hanson as they are David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel.

(The fact that Temperance Brennan was originally created by Kathy Reichs illustrates my overall point of the importance of writers: Book!Tempe and Show!Brennan are very different, and it’s Hart’s version that Emily so skillfully brings to life.)

As fans who feel passionately enough about characters to hunt down other people to discuss them with, I get that we care deeply about what happens on the show, that we can fear for them, be happy for them, be angry for them. Making us feel is what stories are all about.

But I still don’t understand turning those feelings into being angry at, let alone actively hating, a writer – often the same writer who, at a different point, made us cheer for the characters or even leak a few tears of happiness.

For me, it’s a matter of trust. The same people who gave me the parts of the Pelant story line I didn’t care for also gave me The Sense in the Sacrifice and The Woman in White – both of which I still regularly re-watch. The fact that that’s always been the case allows me to approach the story with confidence that I’ll like something in every episode. (Note: there’s only been one episode that I couldn’t find a single thing to like, out of 190 or so. I think my trust is well-placed.)

I’ve been thinking about all this for a while now, wanting to say, ‘hey, the writers are important, and love the characters, and are doing their best to entertain us, so let’s not attack them because we don’t like how they’re telling their story.’ I chose to do so now due to the announcement a few days ago that Dean Lopata has left the show to move in different directions with his career.

Looking at a (hopefully complete) list of Dean’s episodes, I see a lot of personal favorites, and all of them have things about them that I enjoy:

Mayhem on a Cross
The Tough Man in the Tender Chicken
The Gamer in the Grease
The Maggots in the Meathead
The Daredevil in the Mold
The Prince in the Plastic
The Warrior in the Wuss
The Tiger in the Tale
The Friend in Need
El Carnicero en el Coche
The Heiress in the Hill
The Nail in the Coffin

The Daredevil in the Mold, by the way, illustrates perfectly that disconnect where people attribute what they hate to the writers, and what they love to the actors: the same people will rage on one hand about the proposal and then turn around and wax eloquently over the power of the last scene, due solely to David’s acting. While I agree completely about that scene and what he brings to it – it’s still a moment that makes me cranky in the ‘David Boreanaz should have gotten an Emmy nod for that’ sense – I’m pretty sure he didn’t ad-lib the lines.

I have to do a shout-out for The Prince in the Plastic, too…I’m always a little baffled by why more people don’t love it, as it’s got many of the things people say factor into their favorites, including a sympathetic victim. Whatever. I love it.

And Mayhem on a Cross, and Heiress in the Hill, which gave me some moments I’d waited years for, and…and…

So…thank you, Dean, for providing some of my favorite actors with the material to tell stories that make me feel things. Best wishes in whatever you do from here on out, and may all your writing endeavors satisfy both you and your audience.

P.S. Speaking of Mayhem on a Cross… If you are reading this, I don’t suppose as a parting favor to the Bones fandom, you’d answer the question that still pops up in fan discussions on a regular basis… Did Gordon Gordon mean Booth or Brennan when he said one of them struggled every day? And what did Sweets see at the end that made him rethink that? 😉 (Seriously…thanks.)

 

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11 thoughts on “On the importance of writers, and a thank you

  1. LOL, I’ve resigned myself to that being one of those questions we’ll never get an answer to. I think out of self preservation. Too many people hold too strong of an opinion on both sides of that. Someone who tells them they’re wrong is likely to be eviscerated.

    Something just now occurred to me while reading your post. I wonder if some of the people who want to credit all the good in the show to the actors or maybe include directing in there; but, blame the writers for everything they don’t like…I wonder if maybe they’re not readers. (and now I’ll probably be blasted by them for suggesting that). Or at least not readers of fiction. Yes the actors bring a lot to the story. They way they portray the characters, the way the present the words, are extremely important in how the story is perceived and received; but, without the written word they’d have no story to tell. Bones is not improv and would never work as such.

    I think Bones has had some excellent writers on the show, past and present. And yes Dean Lopata has written some excellent episodes of Bones. Best of luck to him in his future endeavors.

    And I look forward to season 10 with the writers who will be returning (have returned) and those who’ll be new to the show. Without the writers we would not have a show regardless of what some people might think.

    • I think you might have a point about readers. I think readers approach a story differently than watchers, and there is generally less hostility toward book writers, though based on the JD Robb blog, still plenty of people who feel they should have input into the story.

      Generally, I just think people are confused about what a story is, i.e., someone sits down and says, ‘let me tell you a story’ – not the same thing as a group of people free-writing something to amuse themselves.

  2. There is, to me, a big difference between hating something a writer does and hating a writer. Up front, I 100% HATE the non proposal proposal. I thought it lacked payoff from (what I perceived to be) build up. That said, I couldn’t even tell you who wrote the damn episode, because I DON’T CARE. I really don’t. And that’s because, as a collaborative effort, it doesn’t really matter to me. I will like some things, I will not like other things. I will like the way some scenes are written, others not so much, the way some scenes are acted, others might fall flat. Within every episode is the potential for greatness as well as the potential for something to fall flat for me. I think that understanding, that there are many cooks in the kitchen, is important to the overall enjoyment. If I decide I’m angry at the writers, that all they churn out is crap, it wouldn’t really matter what else goes on, would it? If the acting was crap, but the writing stellar, I wouldn’t want to watch that either. A show is a puzzle of talent, everyone bringing a piece of it to the big picture we get. Do I love everything? Of course not. Do I truly dislike some things? Yes. Do I like the show as a whole? Yep. I even LOVE some of it. But the day I don’t like it more than I like it? I will be grateful for the eps I have enjoyed, the entertainment it brought and yes, some of the people I have met. Because I am a grown up, who prefers to hate ACTUAL evil people in the world, as opposed to TV writers.

    • Agreed on the difference between hating something they do vs. hating them. It’s that continual snarking and the assumption that they won’t like anything the writers do that I was talking about, really. I mean, if you’re so sure you’re not going to like it, why the heck aren’t you watching something else?

      • I’ve just seen people literally say things like “I hate that guy. His writing is shit.” Well, um, okay. It’s so weird and off-putting to me. I will admit there is one writer whose stuff I don’t love quite often, but he has give me some things I’ve liked well enough. I guess I prefer the “wait and see” and “glass half full” approaches and even when I wait, see and then dislike, I prefer not to dwell on it.

  3. FTR, I go back and forth on that answer, but I think he meant Booth. Though Brennan would be the obvious choice, because feelings were difficult for her, I think Booth being steeped in those feelings and recognizing what they were may have been more of a “struggle.” That said, I could argue the other way as well. I think that was maybe one of those things purposely left open to individual interpretation, maybe EVEN by Gordon Gordon to Sweets, not just writers to viewers.

    • I also think GG meant Booth. I can talk my way into it being Brennan, but to my mind the obvious person is Booth.

      I do think it’s one of those things they have never intended to answer, wanting to leave it to each viewer to decide for themselves who he meant. But hey I also never thought we’d hear Brennan’s letter from Aliens (or even find out if she actually wrote one), so who knows what they might decide to reveal next.

      • I can see it both ways, as well, which fascinates me. I’d love to know if they were thinking of one of them in particular, though, even if they never tell us which one it was. (And doesn’t the fact that you can make an argument for it being both of them suggest that both were?)

  4. Having done some writing in my time, I have boundless admiration for television writers…even the shitty ones. It ain’t easy, people…and no, you couldn’t do a better job.

    Great essay! I will DEFINITELY miss Dean on Bones.

    😉

  5. How do you think the Fox series previews for the new season we have opportunities for 11 seasons Bones ?Now strong new series ( sleepy, Folling,gotham gracepoint, red band )a new day of emissions from a large competition theory and GA You think that Emily and David want to sign a contract for the next season??

    • For some reason, I didn’t get an email about this comment, and only just saw it. Sorry!

      I don’t know what will happen, and think there are lot of variables at play (how much Fox wants the show for S11, and is willing to pay, may come down to how their new shows do.)

      But I’m very optimistic at the moment, because I’m not hearing any of them say they’re ready to end it. And if Fox is saying it depends on David and Emily, and they’re both saying they’d like it to continue, I don’t see why it couldn’t.

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