Category Archives: Creativity

Creative Lessons From He-Man (2021)

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

The original He-Man of the 80’s was meant to sell toys, with occasional social messages shoved in to mollify parents. The latest reboot in 2021, the CGI He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, has its own lesson – how to do a reboot and create a good show.

Episode one opens with underclass magic-user Teela stealing a sword for failed coup-potters, the witch Evelyn and the engineer Kronis. When the sword talks to her, Teela flees to a village of refugees allied with a race of talking tigers. When her employers decide to murder everyone to take the sword, Teela and Kronis’ apprentice Duncan turn on them. Fortunately, the sword turns an amnesiac young man named Adam into a powerful hero. With this new “He-Man” and Adam’s headbutt-inclined friend Krass, they take on the attackers.

That’s episode one. Within twenty-two packed minutes, it establishes two forms of magic, previous and current political problems, economic strife, and more. The rest of the series follows suit – while still having time for anime-style transformations and hijinks.

The show’s first lesson is one of precision. There’s not a wasted scene nor a wasted opportunity to tell a story or have a bit of characterization. The show isn’t mechanical but is more akin to a musical composition that uses each instrument or beat to its fullest.

This precise composition allows for density. When the show moves at a good clip and dialogue is well chosen, a lot happens. Revelations and worldbuilding details come thick and fast. Characters have ups and downs, grand quests mix with tiny moments. The world feels alive.

Finally, this precision and density give room. There’s time for glorious attack sequences and silly jokes. There’s space for creating moods with the graphics. These additions bring the characters and world to life.

The show is a masterful example of how to do good storytelling.

However, a show is nothing without a world and characters. How do you work with an old property that was largely a marketing effort? How do you acknowledge the real emotional attachment developed that took He-Man farther? Also how do you make it something new and alive?

Simple. Treat the original as raw material.

The show’s world is a complete rethinking of the original property, taking past creations and reorganizing, re-using, and re-creating. Characters may be re-envisioned, two concepts merged to form a third, and so on. The result is a deep world, but also one an old fan will recognize as sure as a rebuilt house reflects the old dwelling.

For example, let’s talk Prince Adam, aka “He-Man” (though he’s not thrilled with the given nickname). Gone is the Clark Kent take of a supposedly wimpy prince who becomes a hero. This Adam is an amnesiac in a tribe of refugees who has destiny dropped into his hands. He has to learn to use power, discover who he is, and find out why he becomes He-Man. The result is an exciting character journey that goes to not always pleasant places, but is also about good person trying to do good.

This is one character. Plenty of familiar characters appear (sometimes merged into one character) with their own stories and takes. Unbound by trying to keep it “the same,” the show can create something rich and alive.

Here lies the next lesson of the show: don’t be bound by the past, use it. Freed of trying to “do the 80’s thing but not” the show soars on its own, unbounded by expectations. All its inspirations are obvious, but they’re wings, not weights.

Finally, the show has the right voice talent – it’s clear everyone is into their role. The ever-reliable Yuri Lowenthall is a great He-Man/Adam. Grey Griffin’s Evelyn/Evil-Lynn is a joyfully villainous schemer. Last but in no way least, Benjamin Diskin’s Keldor – later Skeletor – has a wonderful arc, descending from coup-plotting brother to complete maniac and madman.  

The final lesson is get the right people to bring about your vision.

There’s a lot to learn from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (the 2011 show). It’s actually worth the time for authors and writers to pay attention to.

And that’s before you get into the fact the show has lots of good things to say on friendship, power, and more . . . 

Steven Savage

Old Writer Meet New Writer

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

“Put it down for a while” is advice often given to writers. Tired of your story, then take a break. Done editing, then take a break. The virtuous idea is that if you’re frustrated, tired, or just did a lot of writing, a break lets you return with fresh energy and fresh eyes.

I am a believer, if a hypocritical one, in taking a break as a writer. But as food for thought, let me suggest a break does not just give you fresh eyes – it gives you new ones.

When you finish a project or a writing setting, your mind is awhirl. Letting yourself take a break lets the lessons sink into your mind. Your break is a time of change.

When you finish a project or a writing session and take a break, your mind does other things besides writing. In that time, you take new stimuli, new ideas, new inspirations. Your break is a time of taking in other things.

When you finish a project or a writing session, a break is a chance to see a project differently. Stray ideas and unstructured contemplation let you gain new viewpoints. Your break is a time to gain new insights.

The work does not change when you take a break – but you do.  The person who returns to work after an hour or a day or a week off is literally someone else.

This viewpoint provides more than a way to discuss the nature of impermanence. It’s a reminder that sometimes you need to stop writing and rest to become the person that can continue your work. If you are tired, uninspired, etc., you may not just be in a bad state – you may be the wrong person for the job. A rest from writing is a chance to become the you that can go on.

So next time you’re tired of writing, frustrated, or just exhausted, just rest. The person you are has done their job; the person you will be can take over next. Give them space to arrive.

Steven Savage

Only You Goes Both Ways

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

“Only you can write your story,” is something I and others often tell troubled authors. No matter how unoriginal you feel your work is, your take is unique because you are unique. The world is filled with similar stories, we remiind our fellow creators, but those are at best a framework animated by a unique author’s spirit.

However it seems we get suddenly judgmental when we decide how to spend our time. Is this book truly worth reading? Should we see this movie? We’re ready to encourage others to create, but suddenly far less interested in taking in various creations. This is not saying you have to read and watch everything, but that maybe you can be a little more open to experiences because your reading and viewing is also unique.

You are the only one that can write your story, and in turn you are the only one that reads a book or sees a movie your way.

(Besides, as Serdar notes in a column that semi-inspired this one, you can just stop if something is truly awful.)

Your reading or viewing experience is just as unique as anything you create. You will have insights no one else has, and find inspiration unique to your own creativity. You will find flaws no one else saw, and take away lessons no one else will learn. However you consume an artistic experience, that experience is yours and what you take from it is yours.

As an example, let me tell you about when I read a compendium of Lupin stories, tales of the titular gentleman thief by Maurice Leblanc. I wanted to see what the fuss was about, and I had two takeaways. The first was that I didn’t get the popularity, and figured it was a cultural difference. The second was that the concise writing, even in translation, provided a good example of doing a lot with few words – Leblanc could do in a paragraph what might take another author a page. I didn’t fall in love with Lupin, but the style helped me reduce my own gratuitous wordiness.

That was my experience. Yours might be different, and perhaps if we talked we’d learn twice as much.

Guard your time, definitely. But don’t guard it so much you find you’re in a self-made prison.

Steven Savage