March 23rd, 2008
Of course, South Park is wonderful, at least based on the episodes I've seen, and the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is hilarious. But the reason I'm bringing this up here here is because of two particular things they talk about in the interview.
The first is their preference for working on the television show, as opposed to making movies. They talk about the difference between thinking of an idea and then having it appear on television nine days later, compared to working on a movie where it can be two years between those events.
I can understand that. I think it sharpens the mind, to know that what you're creating now will be public within a few days. That makes it hard to do something carelessly, figuring you'll fix it later on in the editing (or "we'll fix it in the mix" for musicians, or "we'll fix it in post" in the movies).
In fact, Trey Parker talks about trying to do some work one summer, when the show was in hiatus, with no pressure, and doing some of the worst work they'd ever done. He then goes on to compare it to writing a song:
...I like to fancy myself more of a musician than anything else, but it really is – for me, writing an episode of South Park, it's like sitting down and writing a song. When you sit down and write a song, you kind of have the idea for the song, and you sit there at the piano and you kinda just write it. And then of course later there's some dinking around with it and changing some stuff. But there's this thing that happens when the song first comes out, that sort of magic when it first comes out of the ether, and you can't even really explain where it comes from. That happens so much with music, and people understand that with music. But I really think that a lot of movie and TV should be the same way.
So much of what you see now in Hollywood is written and directed by committee, and you can see it. Things are so workshopped and so run around the room, and so overthought. And finally, once you have a draft and then a draft of the draft, then they go in there and they work on every single little joke, and "Is there a gag here? Is there something here?" You would never do that with a song. You would never sit around for a month and talk about what a song should sound like, and what the chorus is going to be. To me, every episode is like a song, and every season is like an album. There's that part of the day when you first get the idea and you say, "This could be really funny." And you sit down and you write it. There's just something that happens there that doesn't happen when you really give it a lot of time beforehand. And that's basically my long-winded answer of saying I'm a procrastinator. [Laughs.]
Having written quite a few songs, I can see the parallel, and I wonder if my songwriting experience affected my preferences for writing fiction. And, as I think of it, it's how Rex Stout wrote all the Nero Wolfe books, from beginning to end, with no editing. This took about three weeks for each book, then he had the rest of that year off.
Now, with mysteries, I do have to plan a little in advance, but usually I'm mostly winging it. For example, the standard thing here would have been to say how many students were in the room, before going on to introduce them one by one, but I didn't. The reason was that, as I was writing it, I had no idea how many students were there. And I knew what the crime was going to be, and how it was going to be carried out, but I had no idea who the perpetrator would be.
And, in that spirit, here's the beginning of a new mystery story, The Hospital Murder Case.