When it comes to consuming entertainment I’m a black hole, a swirling vortex of want and need that sucks up anything and everything in its path without warning. No film, video game, novel, album, comic book or anything else that fits under those banners are safe when I get going. If I can read it, listen to it, watch it, or play it, I do, and the reasoning behind it all is less so that I’m a total nerd who is in love with all of this stuff, and more so because I can use my inhuman skills at devouring all these different types of content and utilize it in a better, much more beneficial way. To put it simply, I can learn.
Let me explain.
What happens when I see a film or new episode of my favorite show and something about it doesn’t quite click? When I read a book or comic and realize what I’m reading isn’t coming across as the creators originally intended it? Listen to a song that comes so close to having that perfect hook but ends up going nowhere fast? I learn, and what I mean by that is quite literal: I take what I liked, what I didn’t, what made sense, or what ended up turning into a train wreck, and I put it into the creative section of my brain for safe keeping, nestled safe and sound in between all of the seemingly useless pop culture references and vast knowledge of internet memes I’ve got stuck up there.
With this new, creative information tucked away for safekeeping, questions begin to swirl in my head about what I would have done differently if character A had done something else to character B, or if song number one would have been a better fit for a particular scene than song number 2. To me, practicing this easy way of studying the creative world around me is a fun and entirely helpful way at getting better at my craft as a writer, a way to truly study the best these industries have to offer without sitting in a classroom paying someone to help me understand why Saving Private Ryan is a masterpiece and the new Transformers movie is a giant pile of steaming scrap metal. It’s all there for us to see, right out in the open. No novel is hiding how good or bad it is, no song can trick you into believing it’s something that it isn’t; the point here being that if you pay attention, realize why certain aspects of entertainment culture work and why they don’t, and apply those thoughts and observations to your work, there’s no reason why you can’t produce something better than if you had just gone in swinging.
And the best part of it all is that every book I read, every video game I beat and every episode I binge is never a waste of time. Each minute spent living in these worlds, observing a new piece of art or listening to the deepest cut from my iTunes library gives me more information that I can bank creatively, so that when it comes time for me as a writer to envision an original world or bring to life a new, compelling character, I can use what I’ve seen or read or experienced beforehand to not only avoid making the same mistakes all these other artists have made, but to subsequently improve upon what they’ve already done by taking the best of all worlds and stitching them together into something completely new and unique that (hopefully) no one has seen before. Many directors and creative forces have said on more than one occasion that the best teacher any creative person can have is the content that they hold so dear, and I couldn’t agree more. One movie scene can give way to imagining an entire storyline, a simple song can inspire an entire character, a painting can spark the imagination towards something never before seen or thought of, and all because we simply studied the why of it all, examined the ups and downs of what worked and what didn’t and most importantly, added our own twist to the concoction that no one else could have come up with.
So the next time I head to the theater, toss on a playlist, or settle down to read what kind of shenanigans the crew from The Walking Dead are up to (it was a comic way before it was a show, people!), you better bet that I’ll be paying close attention to everything I’m consuming, finding ways that I might have made this particular piece of entertainment better, or what could have been done to avoid making it worse. Being creative isn’t just about making something you think will work, it’s about studying what came before, making the connections between the best of the best and the worst of the worst so that when your time comes to compose that next iconic theme song or write the next great American novel, you have a trail of what came before to dictate what comes after. Like charting stars on a clear night sky, it’ll be up to you to use the groundwork laid in front of you to make something truly unique and new, blazing your own path all the while remembering that just because something is meant to entertain, doesn’t mean it can’t teach as well. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to “study” some more, this stack of comics won’t read themselves.