Buzy Buzy Bee is a ticket redemption arcade game. The objective is to use your net to scoop as many buzzing bees into a honey pot as you can before the time is up. The number of bees successfully scooped into the pot determines the number of tickets you receive at the game’s conclusion.
Does this make any sense? Of course not.
Is it fun? Yes! And, for those of you who are skeptical that these tickets can be redeemed for anything wonderful, rest assured they can! At my local arcade, enough tickets will buy you a pen shaped like an astronaut! The pen comes out of his jet pack, so it’s not as lewd as what you (may have) pictured.
This past weekend, Mr. Aniko and I went on a date. We hit the arcade to work up an appetite before visiting our favorite restaurant (cheddar + jalapeno waffles!). Of the two of us, Mr. Aniko is the gamer. I expect and am not disappointed to lag behind utterly in Galaga*, pinball, or anything involving shooting or driving. Watch as much as I might, I do not have the hand-eye coordination to replicate his success. Buzy Buzy Bee is different, though, seeming less about any sort of precise skill than just mad determination. Instead of a myriad of flippers, buttons, or joystick, there is one handle that moves the net in a very limited range of motion. I might not be able to keep a pinball out of the drink or kill all the bugs in the Galaga challenge round, but I was certain I stood a chance at being Buzy Bee victor.
Then we got our Buzy Buzy Bee on, me going first. Mr. Aniko proceeded to kill my first score! I didn’t even have to look at the digital display to know that, either; whenever a bee goes into the honey pot, the machine goes “baa-baba!” When you hear it going “Baabababababa…” you pretty much know that the entire hive is taking the HOV lane to Honey Potsville. Did I settle for a ‘stinging’ defeat? Hell, no! Instead, I turned up my observation and discovered something fascinating: Mr. Aniko was not looking at the bees at all! Instead, he was watching the honey pot and using the net to create a draft that would push the bees in the direction of the goal. This technique did occasionally net several bees at a time, and these were dispatched to the pot, but gathering bees in the net was not Mr. Aniko’s primary focus. Instead of trying to concentrate on one particular bee, which is impossible with them moving around unpredictably in the random bursts of air, he was using the core-nature of the environment itself to get bees into the pot. This was different than my approach in every way. While he paid only secondary attention to the bees in the net, I concentrated solely on trying to pick up individual bees and transport them, one at a time in the net. Sure enough, when I switched to the fanning-waving approach rather than the snag-one-bee-at-a-time approach, my score went up. It didn’t get as high as Mr. Aniko’s best – which netted us another fifty tickets towards my spaceman pen! – but I improved.
As I stood watching him fan yet another wave of unsuspecting bees into the pot, I realized that my Buzy Buzy Bee epiphany could be applied to writing. My mistake in the game was to try and control the outcome of an individual item in the entire nexus of details: trying to net one unique bee out of the entire, buzzing hive. In writing, this is the equivalent of trying to force a story to a particular conclusion. This is what happens when you have one scene you are determined to get to and you write in that direction without wavering. If you’re a writer, you’ve done it. If you’re an honest writer, you know that results in a story that feels inauthentic and, well, forced. One solution is to write as if you are casting a very wide net that is available to catch whatever comes, regardless if it is what you expected. In Buzy Buzy Bee, this is the breeze that entices your quarry into the pot without you even having to put them in the net first. In writing, this is the first draft – or should be. Your characters and their situations should surprise you; maybe they’ll do things you’ll have to cut from subsequent drafts, but isn’t it interesting to know their thoughts on vegetarianism, anyhow? When you use the environment and permit the story to grow organically from itself, you allow for surprising nuances. Creativity isn’t about forcing an outcome. It’s about opening to the possibility of a transcendent truth you could not have built out of pure logic or planning.
Breeze, not bees!
* Mr. Aniko hold high-score at our arcade. I was going to post a picture. But I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the flash on my camera AND if I posted a picture, his top-secret identity would be blown!