“You will pay the price for your lack of vision!” –Emperor Palpatine, 2013
The importance of vision is something that I feel is often understated. I would make a comparison between a creator’s vision to a politicians ideology: Without it, there’s really something missing. Everyone needs a goal to work toward, and that goal should be something they can picture well enough that they can work toward it, as opposed to those who simply try and tread water, barely moving at all.
Which brings me to the Palpatine quote that inspired this post. While yes, ultimately Palpatine failed despite his vision, his remark does make sense. In that scene, Luke didn’t have much of a plan at all. He had good and noble intentions, but no real plan of how to accomplish that goal. (He did want to save Vader, but he didn’t seem to have much of a plan for that either, as I’m sure getting electrocuted and nearly killed was not the plan, and he very nearly killed Vader in their fight.) So in essence, Palpatine had a point. Palpatine himself had a grand vision, and one that he ultimately realized over the span of the three prequel movies. He had his goal, put things into motion, and made it happen. (Of course, he ultimately failed, but for different reasons.)
Another discussion of vision came up in another sci-fi favorite of mine, Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm, which I recently played through. Shortly after our protagonist, Sarah Kerrigan, defeats a renegade zerg queen and brings her back into the fold, she explains to the queen why she lost: Vision, Kerrigan explains, is what made the difference. She had a grand vision, a long term goal to work toward, and a plan for doing so, while the queen only saw and thought in the short term.
The importance of vision can also be seen by looking at history. Truly important and influential leaders throughout history, be they good or evil, had visions they worked toward, and more often than not they succeeded in their goal, at least for a time, while people who did not have such vision failed to accomplish as much. For example, consider two very different nations: Hitler’s Nazi Germany and the Founding Fathers’ United States of America. In each example, there was a clear vision of what they wanted to create, and they worked with that in mind and with a long-term plan, and ultimately succeeded (though long term success or failure is often determined by other factors, and just because there is a strong vision does not mean it’s viable in the long term.)
By contrast, consider the French Revolution. There, its leaders thought in a more short-term way–they primarily wanted to abolish the old system. There was no coherent, agreed upon vision for the future. And what happened? Chaos, death, and failure. The new republic didn’t last long, and France was soon under totalitarian rule again.
This brings me to my main point, the importance of vision in writing. While my conception of vision is enmeshed with the general idea of outlining and planning, and that certainly plays a part in a writer’s vision, in my opinion and experience vision goes far beyond that. An author’s vision includes the overarching storylines in their books and series, as might be expected, but vision also extends to an author’s career goals, and what they want the impact of their writing to be. While this is a fairly vague concept, I feel that vision has a relation to the quality of writing and storytelling. An author who has a message they want to convey through writing will focus on that through everything, and can skillfully weave that into their stories. A writer with a career vision will have tons of ideas and plans ready to go, to immediately start a project when another is completed, and a writer with a vision for a story or series will have an end goal, along with a viable plan for getting there. And just because outlining lends itself so well to this doesn’t mean that’s the only way to work. George R. R. Martin is well known as a discovery writer, or a ‘gardener’, in that he doesn’t outline like many others do. But he has a strong vision for his Song of Ice and Fire series. He has an end goal, and a plan for getting there. (It may take longer than we might like, and things may feel like they drag sometimes, but that doesn’t change the fact that he had a grand vision for this elaborate world he created, and the story he wanted to tell.)
Other great authors who I feel I can safely say had/have strong visions are Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. There’s no question that Jordan had a vision when creating the Wheel of Time series. There is simply so much detail and craft put into that series that it only makes sense. But what solidifies it is that his vision even survived his untimely passing. He was able to prepare and leave behind enough to ensure that his vision would be fully realized, as close as possible to what he would have done himself. In some ways, however, Brandon Sanderson, the author who helped complete the Wheel of Time series, has an even grander vision for his writing. Anyone familiar with the concept of the Cosmere in his books knows that all most of the books he has written take place in the same universe, and those different worlds relate to each other, and there is a larger, overarching plotline that encompasses everything. The amount of work that requires is immense, and that sort of thing takes a very long time to plan. (I can say that with a little experience, but I’ll elaborate on that when I discuss my own vision.)
On the other hand, I feel like there are times when the author did not have a coherent vision, and that is often part of the reason why I may find a book disappointing. Two examples that comes to mind are the Harry Potter Series and the Hunger Games trilogy, both of which I enjoyed reading. But with Harry Potter, it seems clear to me that J. K. Rowling did not have a coherent vision for the seven books as of the writing of the first couple. As a result, many things in the later books felt tacked on, or forced. (There is no way she originally intended Harry’s cloak to be one of the Deathly Hallows.) Not to mention killing practically everyone in the last book. And with the Hunger Games, while I don’t doubt that the trilogy was planned, it just felt like the last book had no life to it, and that things were being forced to progress to the ending.
This is all my opinion, of course, but that’s how it seemed to me. And I know what is more enjoyable for me to read.
But after all this rambling on vision, I probably should lay out a bit of mine, as seeing that I feel it’s important, I have one of my own. I only plan to get into the basics of it here, as I plan to talk about it more whenever I get to writing that post about my writing philosophy.
As I mentioned earlier, I can somewhat comprehend how much work goes into something like Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere, because I have some experience with a similar idea. I’ve always been a fan of crossovers in which characters from different stories interact, so it was only natural that I’d like to do something somewhat similar with my own writing. Add to that my philosophy of a writer being a creator, and I decided I didn’t just want to create my own worlds: I wanted to create my own universe. An idea of how to do that came from reading about Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere, with many of his books taking place in the same universe, as part of a larger story.
So I set out to do that, and with advice from Brandon himself that to plan such a thing you really have to start as early as possible, I began to do so. I by no means have a all of the details worked out yet, but I can say that I have a very grand vision of the story/stories I want to tell. All told, the massive, shared universe idea I have will probably take a few dozen books and several decades for me to complete, not even taking to account more planning and any ‘out of universe’ books I may write. But I have a vision, a goal to attain, and as such I always have what to work on. And I will definitely enjoy it.
I think I’ve rambled enough regarding my thoughts on vision and how it pertains to writing. So until next time, keep writing, and work toward making your vision a reality! (I hope I didn’t just encourage any real world Palpatines there…)