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J.J. Abrams on the power of mystery: Thankful Thursday #7

May 27, 2010

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=Keri+Russell+Felicity&iid=731497″ src=”2/8/6/7/08.jpg?adImageId=13013910&imageId=731497″ width=”234″ height=”312″ /]In junior high school, I was introduced to a character named Felicity Porter. You might know her as the centre of the Felicity-Ben-Noel triangle on the show that carries her name as its title, but I knew her as a character who, unlike me at the time, was unafraid to take risks. She inspired me and encouraged me to be brave. Felicity was the second female protagonist I had ever really been inspired by. (Buffy Summers being the first, the year before, when Buffy started slaying vampires as I finished elementary school.)ย  As I got emotionally invested in Felicity, I also became more interested in tv writing, and knew I needed to keep an eye on the person who had created this show that seemed like it was speaking directly to me.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=Jennifer+Garner+JJ+Abrams&iid=851829″ src=”c/f/2/0/I_Have_a_1ca8.jpg?adImageId=13013893&imageId=851829″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]That person was J.J. Abrams, the eventual creator of the tv show Lost (but more on that in a bit). After Felicity, J.J. created Alias, and I immediately wanted to be Sydney Bristow. She was a spy, she was a grad student, but most of all she was an empowering combination of genius and badass. My favourite thing about Sydney, though, was that in the tiny space between her double lives, she was vulnerable. She wasn’t made of stone. In fact, one of her greatest weaknesses (“weakness” from a villain’s point of view) was seeing others get hurt. You could torture Sydney until she was a breath away from death, and she wouldn’t fold. But if you turned the pain on someone else, she’d give in almost instantly. I always admired her compassion. Season 1 and 2 of Alias are still two of my favourite seasons of television ever.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=jj+abrams&iid=8165132″ src=”4/a/8/a/5th_Annual_Oscar_8066.jpg?adImageId=13013850&imageId=8165132″ width=”234″ height=”408″ /]Partway through Alias’ run, J.J. created Lost. Most people watched Lost because of the actors or the action or the story or to stare at gorgeous Hawaii on a weekly basis. I know I’m in the minority here, but I watched Lost because of J.J. Abrams. I needed to know what stories he would tell next.

In preparation for Lost ending on Sunday, I re-watched J.J.’s TED Talk. In his talk, he speaks at length about the idea of the mystery box, both literally (he has a “magic box” from a magic store that contains $50 worth of magic; it has remained unopened since he purchased it – the magic is in the mystery) and as a tool in storytelling.

One bit of his talk really inspired me:

And what I love about this box, and what I realize I sort of do in whatever it is that I do, is I find myself drawn to infinite possibility, that sense of potential. And I realize that mystery is the catalyst for imagination.

Imagination and infinite possibility are so important to me, both in the way I want to look at life, and in terms of storytelling. Imagination means I’ll explore, I won’t settle, I’ll ask questions, I’ll think outside the box – hell, I’ll get rid of the box completely. And infinite possibility? Suddenly that blank page isn’t daunting, it’s exciting. This story can go wherever I want it to!

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