Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Reverse Brain Crack

I suppose I should start by explaining what ‘Brain Crack’ is.

Brain crack (Invented by Ze Frank) is when you have an idea, but convince yourself you don’t have the time, money or resources to actually implement it. You’re convinced you have an amazing idea, but never actually implement it. Maybe it’s that great idea for a novel you never get around to writing, or that painting you’ve always wanted to create, or that song you’ve always wanted to write.

In other words, you protect the idea, because you’re afraid if you actually go ahead with it, it’ll suck. Basically, you’d rather sit there and ‘know’ you could write that best-seller if you only had the time, rather than actually write it and face the possibility of failure.

So, are we clear on what brain-crack is?

Well, today I want to talk about the opposite of brain crack, or at least another facet of it.

I’m talking about when you have a good idea, and rather than protect it, convince yourself that your good idea is actually a bad one.

This is when you come up with an idea for an invention, or maybe a story, and then go through all the reasons why it would never work, and why you shouldn’t bother going ahead with it.

This is something I do all the time. Rather than convince myself that my idea is awesome and I don’t have the time or resources to do it justice, I rip it apart in my head until I’m convinced my idea is terrible.

For example, I often decide not to implement an idea because it’s too close to something that’s already been done. I’ve sat and written the first few chapters of hundreds of novels, before I’ve decided it was “Too ‘Star Wars’” or “Too ‘Lord of the Rings’”.

Keeping up with the current trend of riffing off things Kato writes, I realized this idea after a comment he made on my new Podcast:

“It reminded me of a cross between a Monty Python sketch ("How Not to Be Seen" came to mind) and an entry in the Hitchhiker's Guide.”

Here’s the thing, the Monty Python comparison I just take as a compliment. Monty Python was one of my favorite things growing up and it definitely shaped my sense of humor, and you can find elements of it in pretty much every comedy ever made… but the Hitchhiker’s Guide comparison made me stop and think. In fact it made me think these exact words:

“Holy shit, it’s pretty much exactly fucking like Hitchhiker’s Guide! How the holy hell did I not see that?”

Well, this is where reverse brain-crack comes in.

I was trying to come up with an idea for a Podcast, and had decided on pretty much the same format as this blog, with a focus on the “stupid people” angle. I’d just seen the news report on the woman who wanted Harry Potter banned from schools despite the fact she’d never read them.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), the idea of me sitting here on my own, poking fun and bitching about how stupid people are didn’t work as an idea for me. I’d tried it before in a one-off podcast I did…and I just didn’t like it. It might have worked if it was a ‘discussion’ kinda show where I had someone else to talk to…but just sitting on my own, being a smart-ass isn’t exactly what I’d consider ‘entertainment’. Basically if you have a following, you can be a smart ass, and people will likely laugh and agree with you. If you’re just some random guy, most people are just like “Who gives a fuck? Who the hell are you?”

Then the idea hit me, what if I had to explain that concept to someone who was a complete outsider and had never run into that concept before, what would I say?

“Ok, she doesn’t like that book because she says it promotes witchcraft to kids. What’s Witchcraft? Oh, it’s…uhh, doing magic. Magic? Well, it gives you special powers, but it doesn’t actually exist…just superstition and stories So why is she bothered about it? How does she know it’s bad if she hasn’t read it? Uh, I dunno.”

It gave me a format. It wasn’t just me being a smartass, I could do the Podcast as a sort of ‘educational primer’ for aliens. It took it away from being ‘random dude being a smartass’ to a sort of radio sketch that could be repeated and had a ton of material to use. Everything’s a little absurd when viewed from the viewpoint of a complete outsider, and I like to idea of looking at things we take for granted from a new angle. It also has to option of ‘getting things wrong’, giving the point of view of what that outsider might assume was the truth, to comic effect.

A construction worker shouts at women because he’s afraid and wants to keep women as far away as possible. A mobile phone is a device that gives you an excuse to shout at the top of your voice in public places…geddit?

So what’s this got to do with Reverse Brain Crack?

Well, I actually like my Podcast idea and think it has a lot of potential. However, if I’d spotted the Hitchhiker’s Guide similarity starting out, I never would have done it.

Why do something that’s already been done?

It’s only after making a couple of episodes that I see that at the very least, I’m writing a comprehensive Hitchhiker’s entry, as opposed to the “Mostly Harmless” entry that already exists. Also, even though the format is superficially similar, I don’t recall a Hitchhiker’s Guide entry that stated the point of a game of Counterstrike is to see how many times you can type “Lol UR A FAG!!!” in a single round.

Basically the ‘aliens’ angle is just a device that lets me be satirical in a fun way. I could just as easily have done an “America for Immigrants” podcast, but that would have limited me a lot more than “Earth for Aliens” would.

I think that’s one of the most prevalent forms of Reverse Brain Crack, dismissing an idea because something already exists that’s similar. If everyone did that, there wouldn’t have been a single Fantasy genre book written since Lord of the Rings.

Something to think about.

PS “Simpsons did it! Simpsons did it!”


OzzyC said...

I suffer from this too, but with a twist. I'll use my Word Verification Words series as an example...

When I wrote it, I knew that it was an original idea, and I knew that it would be nonsense. As time went on, I saw a little Douglas Adams in the story. Was I discouraged? Absolutely not. In fact, I thought it was pretty cool that I was able to make that connection.

Point is, it was original in and of itself, but I saw where the inspiration came from.

Kato said...

I'm glad my comment didn't discourage you--it wasn't meant to. I think it is important to realize that no matter what you want to do creatively, someone, somewhere, has done something like it before. And that's okay. It's your job to put a new spin on it.

I remember watching a show about Red Dwarf in which Patrick Stewart was interviewed. He said when he first saw it he got on the phone with his lawyers and said "Hey, someone's ripping off Star Trek" (incidentally, I'm impressed he'd admit to pulling that kind of asshole move). But then he actually watched it and realized it was something much different, a creative and comedic look at science fiction (also incidentally, he must have only seen about 2 seconds, because other than being in space there are practically no similarities between Star Trek and Red Dwarf).

Paulius said...

Actually, Kato, I took your comment as a huge compliment. Like I said in the post, I grew up with things like Monty Python, Hitchhiker's guide and Terry Pratchett. It's pretty much certain that they've shaped my sense of humor a bit.

I just think a lot of people let good ideas go by because it's superficially similar to an existing idea.

Technically, all superhero comics and movies are about 'the same thing'. A guy or gal with special powers that fights crime...but that didn't stop Stan Lee from creating Spiderman because Superman already existed.