Why Collaborate?

Every day that I keep at this – the writing, the editing, the story-telling – I’m hopefully getting a little better. But much like an athlete who trains by themselves, eventually they must turn to others in order to truly gauge how good they are, where their deficiencies might lie, and what things they can do to simply improve overall. They say you can never improve unless you are playing with people who are better than you are.

It’s not that much different on the writing side. Except that writing lends itself more to the solo aspect. You could go days or weeks or months without any feedback on the next project you’re writing. The only comfort you gain is knowing the story is progressing. That, too, can be just as maddening.

I think it is why I not only like to collaborate, but I seem to seek out such opportunities whenever I can.

During the earliest days of Terminus Media, when it was just a group of 5-6 guys trying to figure the whole “writing” thing out. Times where we might not even know what we did not know. Every week was a new potential project, every week was a new idea presented by someone at the table, and we did our best to foster that sharing. You could see where other people were having problems, and hopefully, not make the same mistakes on your own work (you inevitably did, of course).

I started to learn how to accept (constructive) criticism by sharing my words with others. I learned that the best way to learn was to DO the work. If there was a project that needed something written, the following week was spent figuring out how to actually write a short film script, or a TV script, or a comic script.

One week I had no idea and the next, knowledge replaced the nothingness.

Years later, Mr. Neill and I were talking about a serialized possibility. Here we both were trying to finish novels or start new ones, but there was something about getting our heads together and seeing what could happen.

Hollow Empire happened.

The biggest benefit, unseen by me (and probably cursed by Jeremy later) was editing. You effectively add a partner in this realm as well. Hopefully their strengths can fix your weaknesses and vice versa. Perhaps you are a little too sparse in your descriptions and your partner too sparse on the dialogue – now’s the perfect opportunity to learn from each other.

In those first drafts, which Jeremy edited to the bone, my prose got a little tighter. When I got new chapters in from him, it forced me to push to get better. I wanted him to be excited when my emails came rolling in. We all need to be pushed. Having a partner, someone you are accountable to, means that when you aren’t hitting your deadlines then you’re letting someone else down. Building the world through these characters in a way that makes the whole work really about those characters more than about the “Big Events” which may be going on around them.

Getting better with every keystroke.

In the last couple of years, I’ve worked with Robert Jeffrey on a pair of projects. Each of us bringing some ideas to the table and we settled on one idea from each list: The Crossing & Entropy.

The thing is that with another head there, you obviously have double the potential ideas. However, you are really forced to push your own ego aside… for the betterment of the story. When it is only you, it means a singular vision, but it also means you’re pretty much confined to whatever the old brain comes up with. With another person contributing ideas, you have more opportunities to find the best idea. You’re no longer insular… BUT you have to be willing to allow the other person to have that idea. If you are the type of writer who can’t deal with writing “someone else’s story” then you might as well stay a solo act.

To live in someone else’s world where much of the original idea was someone else’s, but you could still be a cog in the machine and help it get further than it could have done on their own. The ability to make something better than one person simply through the ideas being shared and passed back.

But the best part is being able to lean on someone else to help carry a bit of the workload. And when Writer’s Block threatens to show up, you simply give your co-writer a call or email. That way they can talk you off the ledge, getting you back to work all the sooner.

The dirty secret about all of this, whether it is short stories, novels, comics, film, or whatever… it doesn’t have to be such a lonely pursuit. You DON’T HAVE to go it alone. You can help your fellow creators, and they can help you as well.

Hopefully each learning a little bit more through the experience.

 

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Back To The Future II: A Fan Reminisces

For me personally, this week was a GLORIOUS WEEK to be a sci-fi fan.

We got a new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer.

I picked up my copy of The City: A Cyberfunk Anthology, a book that I’m loving.

I’ll have the first draft of my short story set in the world of The Crossing ready to be sent off for edits soon, which will be submitted for this awesome anthology.

And then there was 10-21-15.

Before we jump into why I feel this day held so much significance for fans of one particular movie franchise known across the world, lets hop back into the ‘ole Delorean.

It was 1989 and I was living in Chicago. My mother had taken my brother, myself, and a few cousins to the theater to see Back To The Future II. I was a huge fan of the first movie, having killed our VHS copy of Back To The Future upon subsequent viewings (an act that would also occur with our copies of Hook and New Jack City. Weird combination, I know).

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To say the first movie blew my mind was a huge understatement. You’ve got time travel. You’ve got great comedy. You’ve got the weirdest, awesomest (not a word, I know) buddy adventure pairing of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and past/present Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) that I don’t think has been matched since. There was a homicidal bully/ antagonist. Wrongs being righted. Timelines being changed. Crispin Glover in all of his manic weirdness. A skateboard chase sequence. Great acting. A solid story that just damn worked.

And one of the greatest ending’s to a movie ever.

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

And to think that there weren’t any immediate plans for a sequel, that the movie was just going to end on this huge cliffhanger, is mind boggling. As a kid, your brain just starts racing with the possibilities.

“No roads?” younger Robert said to himself as the credits rolled in the darkened living room.

“Means some serious ‘ish is about to go down.”

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The moment young Robert’s mind melted.

Ok, I wasn’t cursing at the age of 7, but you get the point.

So fast forward to 1989. Back To The Future II hits, and my 7 year old mind is just ready to be blown to bits.

And it was. 🙂

Once again you’ve got McFly and Doc Brown (who just work so darn well with each other). Cripsin Glover is gone, replaced by some dude in bad old person make up. The homicidal Tannen family are still around. Time travel. Doubles. Action. Adventure. More time travel.

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And here’s where it gets crazy.

You’ve got a wacked out version of the future. 10-21-15. There was a time when anytime maybe, 30 years plus ahead in the future was seen as possibly being this crazy foreign period where things would be extremely outlandish.

Back To The Future II wasn’t an exception. You had flying cars. Interactive 3D movie ads. Crazy fashion styles. Video phone calls (yeah, not too crazy now with things like Face Time and Skype). And hoverboards.

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As a kid seeing all of this, and with later viewings, it was a fun peek into what could be. Seeing Marty rolling around on his Mattel  branded hoverboard was awesome, and had all of us debating if some shadowy government program had created this technology in the real world.

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We were kids. Don’t be too harsh.

The flying cars were great. I wanted Marty’s self-lacing Nike’s and blow dry jacket then and there. Griff Tannen and his height growing abilities was crazy. Duck Hunt being seen as a golden oldie of the video game era was a fun nod to the Nintendo games we were then playing. And the Cubs had won the World Series.

As a kid, this is what I appreciated the most. The more visceral, fun nods to what the future could possibly bring.

The movie also ends with a teaser for the third installment that was being filmed shortly after the second movie was completed. As a kid, to have a guaranteed movie coming down the line was a fun surprise, as it confirmed we’d be seeing more of Marty and Doc’s cinematic escapades.

In this day and age where such end credit teasers are common place with big budget movies, Back To The Future II was the first time I’d experienced this. Marty and Doc in the Wild West?

Take my mother’s money, because she was going to be the one paying for that shindig.

Upon subsequent viewings, as I got older, other things started to stand out.

First and foremost, I think this would have been the first time I’d been introduced to the idea of alternate timelines. Sure there were things like Days of Future Past before, and any host of other sci-fi TV shows, and films that dealt with this idea, but this was the first time I’d experienced the concept firsthand.

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When Doc Brown broke down how old Biff stealing the Grays Sports Almanac created Hell Valley (please see the movie for further explanation if you haven’t seen it) was just mind blowing as a kid, but appreciated for a cool storytelling tool as I got older. The idea that one man’s selfish pursuit of wealth destroyed the idyllic town of Hill Valley creates a dark tone for the flick , providing a counter balance to the whimsical adventure that we’d been experiencing before. And this alternate timeline confirmed for me that the Tannen’s are a group of murdering psychopaths.

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That face just screams psycho. Actually that face just screams all the time.

Another idea that continues to resonate with me is that as much as you might think you’re laying the foundations for a successful future, that’s not always going to be the case.

Case in point: where future Marty’s life winds up. He’s working a crappy job, his dreams of being a professional guitarist are out the window. His family life is kind of blah, and rather than try to rebuild what’s fallen around him, he continues to make bad decisions based on some crappy sense of bravado.

Now that I think about it, where did dude’s obessession with being called a chicken come from? That was totally out of left field.

Sorry, I digress.

Not saying that all of our lives have a tendency to turn bad or horrible, it was just interesting to see that the screenwriters sought to show that everything wasn’t so peachy keen in the McFly household. Remember, Doc’s whole reasoning to come back was to save Marty’s son from going to jail, which led to a downward spiral in regards to the McFly family. For a sci-fi adventure you could say such a concept being introduced was as Marty would say “Heavy”.

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The same could be said for the horrible direction that Biff takes with his greed filled run of murder and gambling. Biff chooses to be an opportunistic ass, who leaves nothing but pain and misery in his wake. And he accepts this, and revels in it, creating the hellish alternate timeline Marty and Doc head towards.

I know it’s a stretch to think that B2FII (as it’s known to all the cool kids) might have something to say on life decisions. But often we find that science-fiction can be used to speak to our personal experiences. Heck, I know as I get older, that as much as I may want to move things in a certain direction, that’s not always going to be the case, try as I might. But if I don’t at least try, then nothing will happen.

The thing to realize is even though the chips may not fall where you want them to, you still have opportunities to make those decisions. As long as you at least try. Roads less traveled and all that jazz.

I know I’m jumping movies a bit, but I feel the final scene from Back To The Future III sum’s this up perfectly:

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Jennifer Parker: Dr. Brown, I brought this note back from the future and – now it’s erased.

Doc: Of course it’s erased!

Jennifer Parker: But what does that mean?

Doc: It means your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one, both of you.

Marty McFly: [Marty wraps his arm around Jennifer] We will, Doc.

That scene always gets me on that ‘ole sappy emotion level.

So to round things out, I’ll go on the record and say this is my favorite movie trilogy of all time.

Watch this movie. Heck, watch the trilogy in a binge session and just enjoy some good cinema. Happy post October 21, 2015/ Back To The Future II day.

I almost ran off with this hoverboard. But that probably would've screwed up my future timeline.

I almost ran off with this hoverboard.
But that probably would’ve screwed up my future timeline.