If you need to explain, clarify, backpedal, or otherwise say something that should be in the published material then you have fucked up and told an objectively flawed story.
There is a web image that tells an interesting “joke.” It is Analysis in one column and Author’s Meaning on the other. The Analysis is a drawn-out dissection of the description of a blue door. The other column says, “The fucking door is blue.”
Problem is that it’s never really mattered what the author’s intent is. The way culture (There’s no difference between web culture and other things, it’s all the same thing now) reacts and interprets things is really what matters anymore. It’s not fair to the writer/artist, but there is a sense of entitlement among consumers of others’ creativity that has pretty thoroughly entrenched itself into the culture.
In my specific situation, I am writing material that serves only one purpose: As a springboard for other people to take it and make it their own by incorporating that material into their personal gaming experiences. There is only one goal I have, and that is to make the material as useful and awesome for as many consumers as possible. I like to think of myself as an artist, but I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t a commercial endeavor and to that end there is some compromise involved.
I read this tumblr recap of comments by Scott Lobdell, who has apparently been picked to be the person at DC who has to eat shit with regard to the Starfire controversy. I appreciate that on a practical level. In a corporate situation like that, everyone has to eat shit sometimes. However, the problem that damage control is trying to add another level of interpretation into a situation where it really doesn’t matter. People aren’t often going to change their mind when the author explains themselves, and ultimately it’s because if they have to explain themselves after the fact then there is already a severe lacking as to the work itself.
I’m saying that as good as a piece is, every writer wants to tinker with it forever. But there is the desired work, and the work that the editor approves, and the work that the artist does in interpreting the work (after having gone through their editors). Everyone does the best that they can and tells the story that they want, and then it’s out there for the world. And that goes back to the issue of interpretation. Creativity demands a certain amount of artistic flair, and the problem becomes one where things are no longer prone to be clear to the reader. And it’s in the cracks and between the panels and between the paragraphs where people make their own judgements and read into the material as they are prone to do, and as they come to expect to do. The fact is that as much as I hate to admit it, you may own the material as a matter of law and accountability, but the story is out there for the world and as I’ve said consumers have developed a pretty righteous belief that it’s theirs, too.
I’m in a position where it really is the consumers’ material for the most part. It’s a dual system, but as far as I’m concerned it’s one where I’m writing with significant room for interpretation and obfuscation because that’s where the game at the table is, and that’s where the material for character and story background are. Drama happens where the source material is silent. However, at the same time as masters of this fictional universe we have the opportunity and the duty to create the canon, and to establish a measure of continuity among characters and plotlines that affects how existing and future material will be presented for those consumers now and in the future. Decisions made about the canon of Shadowrun in 1989 still resonate 22 years later, and will continue to do so for the life of the game. Anyone at any table can kill a “canon” character, but they aren’t dead in continuity until the game publisher says they are.
Interpretation is a great thing. It is a good thing for consumers to share their ideas and opinions because it fosters a sense of creativity and thoughtfulness of products that I think is good for the original material. However, the fact that interpretation relies on the unspoken, but more than that, and more than anything, interpretation is entirely dependent on what is presented in the final published form.
It doesn’t matter what you mean, or what you want, or what you wish. What matters is what people see. It doesn’t matter if a character is lying to other characters, but if you want to infer that it is a lie there has to be something in the story that says it is a lie. In the case of Starfire, you can’t say she’s lying about not recognizing people when she doesn’t recognize them in her own internal monologue. That is where the conflict is, and where the drama is, in the fact that she is being deceptive. However, it doesn’t work if the readers don’t know about the deception and are in fact being deceived themselves in what should the character’s absolutely most private moments— IF, in fact, that is what is actually happening.
But the problem is that Lobdell, or any other author or creator, can say whatever the Hell they want after the fact. That is not what is in the material that people have bought and read and discussed. The story MUST stand on its own.
LIke I said at the beginning, if you feel the need or are forced to explain, clarify, enhance, “fill out,” or otherwise tell the story that you meant to tell then chances are that you fucked up. More to the point, if you feel compelled to do that then you’ve poked people in the eye who bought your product as-is expecting that the story that was published was the final word. It was published. It went through you, your editor, your other collaborators, and everyone else before it reached the consumer.
"Proper" interpretation and consumer reactions are not expectations that any creative person with a shred of sense has. They are entirely within the realm of the consumer. Yeah, it sucks. Tough shit. As writers or other creative producers working within a corporate system you accept compromises and accept that material is going to get changed by everyone, even if sometimes that feels like "everyone but me," before it gets published. So in that instance, everyone in the creative process has a duty to make the material as clear as possible because once it’s out there, it’s no longer yours. That’s the way the world works, and fans are going to take from it what they are given and then tempered by their own personal and collective biases, experiences, and discussions.
"I mean" are useless words. If what you mean is not out there for the world to see then you were either overridden, in which case your internal conflict should stay internal, or you didn’t convey your intent well enough for the majority of consumers to appreciate, and that is a technical failure.
This goes back to the whole issue of eating shit. In a corporate, collaborative process you are going to eat a lot of shit. Anyone who says they don’t is either blessed or a liar. You can’t claim professionalism and take public conflicts into the public.
So the ultimate lesson is: Venture forth and create your own gods and tell your own stories. Eat less shit. Of course, then the issue falls straight onto your shoulders and if you can’t tell the story you want then you either improve or you do not. People can only interpret what they are given. Give them a well-produced product and may you never have to say, “I mean.”