A Long Break

Early October, 2015:

“It’s postin” time!”

I thought it–or maybe I actually shouted it–at my computer.

And then I sat there, staring at its screen.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of a topic; there was always some aspect of writing I could spend hours writing about. Dishing about. Nit-picking.

Hours. Hours that always absorbed whole writing sessions. Because, as manic and critical as I am, something like a blog post wasn’t a thing that could possibly be finished in just a few hours.

A blog post. Because that’s what it was, wasn’t it? Not an author’s website, because Louis Santiago wasn’t an author. By definition, authors are published.

At best, I’m a blogger.

Late October, 2015:

While trying to decide what to NaNo, I realized I still hadn’t posted for the month.

At some point, after telling a friend that I was considering taking a break from the blog, I’d been so eager to kick it off–so absolutely exhausted with the biweekly grind of writing posts–that I’d done it without realizing.

Because, after five years, the original plan for this site wasn’t working.

Step 1 – Make an author website.
Step 2 – Build a platform with that site while working on my writing.
Step 3 – Get published, in part because of the platform built on this site.

The writing part? That was coming along beautifully. When I started this blog, I was incredibly, naively confident about my writing skills. A few years in, I was questioning every story I thought up–fretting about every last word I wrote. But, at this point, I’m back to being confident, in part because I finally have my own technique. A style and a voice. Write it quickly, editing as you go. Don’t question whether an edit will make a scene less _______; just make the edit if it leads to a story you like. Don’t fret over first drafts–just get them out and give it your signature nit-picking and crimping when it was done. Plan stories, but not every scene–not every action. That’s my balance and I love it.

But, in contrast, I do not have the same grasp on this blog. The original plan for it just wasn’t happening. It wasn’t unfair–not a mystery why the site wasn’t working. I wasn’t beating himself up about it.

It was just suddenly clear, with the second year of NaNo approaching, that spending a week or two’s worth of writing sessions every month on blog posts… didn’t make sense anymore. Doing 30 Days 2, although tempting, wouldn’t help with the short stories I had to edit. The submission process I needed to keep working on.

And it wouldn’t help any of the new short stories, like Rainwater, get finished. After five years of writing about writing, I just wanted to write. The oddly sudden wave of new ideas that started crashing in the moment I understood that I could actually finish them. The characters I could indulge in because I could confidently give them voice now.

Since I was young, that was my dream. Writing.

Posting on my blog every other week, feeling awkward about it because I didn’t have any published stories to back up my observations about the craft? Not so much.

That was it then. Time to write a “last post for now.”

Yeah. With NaNoWriMo less than a week away.

On average, my blog has had about ten readers per post. Not enough to actually miss one of my posts. Not enough people to inundate the site with outrage over a lull in content.

But “about ten” was absolutely enough readers to stop me from posting right before NaNo. No matter how improbable it was, I refused to negatively impact anyone’s November in any way.

Today – December 1st, 2015:

I just want to get back to finishing Rainwater!

I spent the majority of NaNoWriMo 2015 working on it–an effort that included the creation of a total coding mess of an Excel world-building file; a very important part of that project.

But I also started other stories. “The Eldritch Auditor.” “Not Stupid, Fucking ‘Wonderboy.'” I just want to get back to those too. And roll right into editing Drowned God (AGAIN). I want to resubmit Memory: Shadow of the Lord Sun and keep working on the loose outline for its sequel, Legacy: The [SPOILERS–TITLES SHOULDN’T HAVE SPOILERS].

But first, I want to take a moment first to thank absolutely anyone who has ever read, liked, or subscribed. Anyone who’s commented here. Anyone who’s been with me for the past five years. Anyone who’s only hung around for five minutes of it. Thank you–so much–for being here for a cornerstone of my life.

I’m not going to remove this site; it’s not going to disappear. It will be here for as long as the internet exists. But I might not post again.

If I do though, I’ll post for one of two reasons.

  1. Because I had a thought I just had to shove out into the world; maybe another long rant about how much I just fucking hate lizardmen.
  2. Or, I’ll be writing to let you know that I’ve finally, finally been published. That the posts will immediately resume because they’re a luxury I feel I could have. That I was finally comfortable talking about writing like it’s a thing I know how to do, because there would finally be emphatic evidence that–yep–I know how to write. Well enough to get picked up.

So, again, thank you. For reading. For stopping by.

And, as always, write well.

The Latin Bechdels – Part 2: The Latin Lover Test

It’s been a little over two weeks since I posted the first part of my Latin Bechdels series. Since then, I’ve continued casually subjecting everything I watch, read, or play to the CAR Test. Nothing new has passed; there are only ever new failures for the CAR.

Zoo? Despite its culturally diverse cast, that’s a fail.

Rick and Morty? I want to believe, but I’m pretty sure Rick Sanchez’ last name is only “Sanchez” because it’s funny. Besides, Rick is technically a criminal so he wouldn’t pass anyway. But holy shit if Rick Sanchez is actually Hispanic! Because, seriously, a Hispanic protagonist? In a widely popular American anything? That is actually rarer than finding a unicorn. A Hispanic protagonist who’s a scientist? That’s like finding you were a unicorn this entire time.

Fair warning: I’m writing this at 4 AM.

Anyway, let’s not let the unending barrage of CAR Test failures keep us down. Let’s talk about a test that most media passes! But a test for which the failing grade is I. I as in, “I can’t believe people still make this joke.”

Let’s talk about the Latin Lover Test!

The Latin Lover Test

Criteria for Failure: Your story features a Latino or Hispanic male character whose personality traits are dominated by or include an immediate, cartoon-ish determination to have sex with a female character.

Bonus: This character actually says, “Oh, hello, pretty lady,” in Telemundo voice the moment he sees whatever woman he creeps on for the rest of the story.

*If your story doesn’t feature a named Latino or Hispanic character–if, instead, the Latin Lover is used as a disembodied gag (i.e. a replacement personality for a non-Latino character who has hit their head/gotten comedic amnesia/etc.), that story extra fails the Latin Lover Test.

I’m going to keep it short and sweet with this one, because I feel it should be really obvious why using the latin lover–in anything–is bad.

My full explanation: It’s racist humor from the 40’s.

That’s it. Seriously, it’s an obviously demeaning racist gag that’s decades old, grandfathered into American culture so firmly that it’s still being used.

It’s also pathetically easy comic relief. Need a quick laugh? Don’t want to actually work for it? Then dump the Latin Lover into your story! No tact required!

A simpler perspective on it:

Blackface? Obviously not cool.

Gross, joke Asian characters? No!

The latin lover stereotype? Oh, that one’s still okay.

. . .

Let’s take a look at what properties could possibly be ignorant enough to fail the Latin Lover test. You won’t be surprised.

Properties that Fail

Toy Story 3 – I lied.

I absolutely love the Toy Story movies. I think they’re great.

But that doesn’t mean Toy Story 3 isn’t incredibly racist.

Partway through the movie, Buzz Lightyear has his language setting changed from English to Spanish. That single change instantly 180’s his personality, making him go from level-headed, adventure-loving astronaut . . .

. . . to Latino horndog, trying relentlessly to bone Jessie. There’s not even a hint of who he was; he is immediately a stereotype, present for comic relief and nothing else. If I remember correctly, the movie walks us through a few matador stereotypes too. Because, ya know, that’s what men do in Spain–walk around with roses in their mouths and gross-flirt.

I know–I know it’s an animated film–but the Latin Lover is still so… casually offensive. And easy; really, so fucking easy.

If you’re on the defensive about this, just take a moment to imagine a non-offensive alternative; Buzz Lightyear has his language switch turned to Spanish and is the same person but now struggles with being understood. To pour on the humor, let Buzz see a glaring plothole/solution that would neatly wrap up the the movie’s entire conflict in the first or second act–but no one understands him. He can desperately try to point it out while everyone stares, taking progressively less realistic guesses at what he’s trying to say.

The sad thing? Coming up with the non-offensive alternative to the Latin Lover wasn’t actually hard at all.

Moving on.

Final Fantasy XII – It was ages ago, but I still remember meeting Al-Cid in that game. We get our first glimpse of him when he interrupts a meeting the protagonists are having.

I remember that, when he opened his mouth and had a strong, Spanish accent, I thought, “Whoa! A Hispanic character in Final Fantasy? Awesome!”

Then he almost instantly gets on one knee in front of Ashe, the female lead. Kisses her hand. Continues holding it as he starts in with, “Stunning is Dalmasca’s desert bloom,” because Ashe is the princess of Dalmasca. Immediately, another character groans in disgust.

So did I.

Did Al-Cid have a character outside of being a gross caricature? I have no idea and I never will. I instantly popped FFXII out of my PS2 without saving and haven’t touched a FF game since.

Properties that Pass

Red VS Blue – It’s weird to bring up this ancient web series, but I do it to provide a direct reply to Toy Story 3. Yes, when it comes to what’s more racist, a crass, turn-of-the-century machinima based on Halo–the franchise with space marines killing aliens–is actually less racist than the family friendly movie about kids’ toys.

Bear with me on this one.

In RVB, the mechanic for Red Team is a robot named Lopez. For fifteen episodes, he doesn’t have a speech unit, but when Red Team eventually gets their hands on one, it’s damaged on instillation. The result? Although he can understand everyone else, Lopez can only speak Spanish.

And, from there, the robot does not become a horndog. He doesn’t become a matador, doesn’t start humping Tex’s leg, and he doesn’t suddenly weld a rose to the mouth of his combat visor.

The robot remains a mechanic. Literally the only difference: he speaks Spanish now.

Is it weird that the only Hispanic character on the show is a robot? Yes. Is it weird that the only Hispanic character on the show is a Mexican worker? Even though there are obviously hard working Mexicans in the USA, yeah, it’s still weird that Lopez is a stereotype. Is RVB tasteless in a lot of other ways? Absolutely.

But is Lopez his own character? Yes, he is. He’s melodramatic. He thinks of the Red’s Sarge as his dad because Sarge built him. He talks way too much and is super loyal to Red Team.

In short, he’s still a joke character, sure, but at least he’s not a quaintly racist gag.

Aside from The Flash, I honestly can’t think of another property that passes both the CAR and the Latin Lover Test – The Flash, is officially a bright, shining beacon of representation for Latino characters in fantasy, but I already talked about Cisco in the last post.

The more important point for me to make here… I genuinely can’t think of another popular, American series that passes both the CAR and the Latin Lover.

Because, usually, these tests are mutually exclusive–a Hispanic character is either a criminal/an ex-criminal/a person who’s related to a criminal, or they’re a gross stereotype.

It’s a weird thing to just openly write about all of this–like I’m breaking some unspoken code of conduct. Like someone’s going to bear down on me about how wrong I am to criticize an old joke character. I’m not sure why; maybe because it’s always been the Latin American modus operandi to just shrug these things off.

Regardless, we’re going to keep talking about all of this in two weeks, when I get to the test I’ve really wanted to write about this entire time–the DAGGER Test. It’ll be about racism, as a whole, in fantasy, so if you love fantasy, you won’t want to miss it.

—Project Updates—

LS-ProgressBar(3.0)-8.30.15-(InPost)Had a weirdly intense breakthrough while brainstorming my novel for this year’s NaNoWriMo. The result? It totally invalidated a few of the short stories I was working on. Dream Runner? Possibly out because its message is done better by the NaNoWriMo novel. Another short I was planning? Same thing.

The other two shorts have endured similar creative weirdness. One of them has snowballed into a potential novel. The other I realized I need to take apart from the ground up (at least I caught it before finishing it).

My goals for next time:

  1. Finish editing Memory.
  2. Submit “Aixa” again.
  3. Finish one of the remaining shorts, now whittled down to the two that are worth finishing.

 

 

—Acknowledgements—

Thanks for the Likes . . .

. . . moteridgerider! I appreciate the support!

. . . Damyanti! Check out her Q&A with playright/author Michele Lee! It’s a really interesting read–especially if you’re an aspiring playwright!

. . . Megan Manzano! The Manzano clan is currently knee deep in the 777 Challenge, and Megan’s contribution was pretty solid!

. . . Justine Manzano! Her post from the Dark Side of submissions is definitely comforting for any writer who struggles with them (i.e. all writers).

And that about wraps it up! If you like what you’ve read, consider giving this post a Like or giving me a Follow.

But even if you don’t, thank you for reading. And, as always, write well.

The Perfect Idea: That Thing You Can’t Hunt

Sometimes, I wonder about perfect ideas.

It seems like there’s just a time and a place for them; a story comes along, or a character, and they’re so straight forward and simple . . . but so awesome that it’s ridiculous.

Take Rick and Morty, for example. Is it a bad example? I don’t know–I love it; gave it a shot last week and just burned straight through all of it that night. Point is, for me, Rick and Morty is a perfect idea. It’s so simple; crude, animated Doctor Who, only the Doctor is replaced by an alcoholic, granddad scientist who shoves his stupid grandson into ridiculous, hilarious adventures. But, no–that’s not actually what it is. That hint of Doctor Who is just a byproduct of the show actually being a spoof on Doc Brown and Marty McFly from Back to the Future.

. . .

In what way . . . is that not perfect? A cartoon spoof on Doc Brown and Marty McFly is such an awesome idea that it is also another great idea–a spoof on the Doctor–by accident. You think, “But the Doctor’s already a great old bastard these days anyway,” but somehow, it winds up not being the same; you watch Rick and Morty and, despite the clear influences, you don’t feel like you’re watching someone take the piss out of Doctor Who or pay homage to Doc and Marty.

It’s beautiful. It’s stupid and beautiful and it’s perfectly timed.

Because, could a show like this have existed ten years ago? Back then, Doctor Who wasn’t the phenomenon it is now. I know I’m in danger of analyzing this backwards (Doctor Who and Back to the Future are undeniably responsible, to some degree, for Rick and Morty, so obviously Rick and Morty couldn’t have existed ten years ago without being a very different show).

But my point is that perfect ideas terrify me.

Other examples: Star Wars. The Hunger Games. Harry Potter.

At times, I look at these stories and think about how massive they were/are. Every time, a perfect idea is so incredibly simple that it seems to jump out of nowhere, right next to you, where it was the entire time (“He’s an orphan boy who discovers he’s a wizard and goes to wizard school” doesn’t just feel like something you could’ve made up; it feels like something you should’ve made up because, “Of course! Wizard school!”). Every time, perfect ideas have elements of something else (Buck Rogers intros and the traditional quest narrative) that make them feel warm and familiar.

And every time, these ideas are just . . . addictive.

Perfect idea characters are no less daunting to me. Example: nerddom is currently up in arms about Jared Leto’s Joker.

The Joker. Who is a criminal mastermind . . . who looks like a clown . . . because he’s named after the most powerful card in a deck of playing cards.

And people are losing their minds about who’s playing him because they love him that much.

And–in case it’s not obvious–so do I. Because (and I can’t even say this emphatically enough) how awesome of an idea is the fucking Joker? He’s perfect.

And . . . okay, my point with all of this is that you can’t write that kind of perfection on purpose. At least, I don’t think you can. I wonder how Finger, Kane, and Robinson figured out the Joker (“So does he like . . . throw the card?” “Shit, I don’t know, dude. Maybe he just looks like a clown?” “That’s stupid, Bill. That’s stupid and you’re stupid.”). But I know that answer with Star Wars, at least; I’ve heard many a time that George Lucas didn’t actually think that Star Wars would take off the way it did. It was a labor of love.

Which means the best we can do is stick to writing labors of love–stories we want to read, as the mantra goes. We can only do that and shrug. “I dunno. Maybe people will lose their minds over this thing I just made up. I have no idea.”

Maybe I’m wrong about this; maybe people who create things I love (or at least some of the things I love) kick back with an abacus and work out the exact formula for awesome–but, in all of the cases I’ve mentioned, it just seems to be the luck of the draw. None of the perfect ideas I’ve seen seem strictly calculated.

So, what we’re all left with, as writers, is a goal that we can’t really aspire to.  We can’t write with abaci. We can’t try to tweak our characters so audiences will love them more. We can’t go for “extremely marketable” because we know that it’ll all spiral into a nightmare of wooden business ventures, the likes of which we’ve seen countless times thanks to movie studios.

But how do I not wonder if x idea is going to blow up? How can I stop myself wondering if I’ll write something that turns out to be perfect?

It feels so unhealthy to even wonder about it. I try to stop; to ignore it like I ignore questions about human mortality (30+ years of practice! Bring it on, cold void of death!).

But sometimes, I find a stupid show about an alcoholic scientist and his dumb grandson and I think, “Maybe, someday, I’ll write something as totally stupid and casually perfect as this show.”

— Project Updates —

LS-ProgressSidebar(inPost)-7.16.15Actually, one of the major factors in this was having a new idea vomit itself at me. That’s my affectionate, totally-not-crass way of saying, “I thought of a new short story and it was so determined to get written that it vomited itself right out of my brain (I wrote this at 3AM–please forgive).” I started it on Saturday–finished it Tuesday. I don’t have a title (I’ll find one during revisions), but for now, I’m just calling it “Aixa” and throwing it up on the Progress Tab. Again, I’m reminded that this story, “The Drowned God of the Silent Realm,” and Memory are all things that I didn’t plan and just . . . wrote. Despite what I’ve argued before, here’s the current score: Writing with outlines 1 [completed but failed manuscript and two unfinished short stories], writing without outlines 3. If you feel you can only write one way, maybe try writing that other way you’re sure is wrong.

I finished my last edit of “The Drowned God” a few weeks ago and have submitted it and Memory repeatedly. I’m going to spend some time this month editing Memory again, but with two jobs in full swing, that’s about all I’ve had time for creatively.

— Acknowledgements —

Whoa ho! What’s this? Acknowledgements? Yes. I’m super tired of copying and pasting links at the top of my page and calling that gratitude for Likes and Follows; I really, really want to reach out to people who reach out to me, so, from now on, you’ll find Acknowledgements at the end of every post, in which I’ll give a quick thanks to those who Liked and Followed after my previous post. I’ll also throw in links to posts that I enjoyed on their sites (if there are posts, and if those posts are kosher [there was the one woman who followed me but had a bunch of naked pictures of herself on her page (I’m not complainin’, but–hey . . . not sure I can link that [I dunno])]). Anyway, let’s get to it!

Thanks for the Follow . . .

. . . WILDsound Review! WILDsound takes written entries and turns them into performances, which is pretty cool. Their blog is mostly poetry, but their latest post links to this dramatic reading of a screenplay for Hannibal–in case you’re in a mourning mood.

Thanks for the Likes . . .

. . . Megan Manzano! I’ve gone on here about how I feel it’s essential to pick out themes for my characters, so her latest post, about how music has impacted her writing and where it stands in her writing process, immediately spoke to me!

. . . Damyanti! She’s a long time supporter and I just want to say I’ve always appreciated that! Something else I appreciate: her reassuring post about the madness of submissions and Kelli Russell Agodon’s concept of submitting “like a man.”

. . . Ellis Nelson! I’m not much for astrology these days, but this post is still an interesting follow up for the rant you just read (also, it has a pretty sweet owl illustration).

. . . and Justine Manzano! Naturally, this post, about how artists have to build their careers, speaks volumes to me. Maybe because there’s a perfectly manic metaphor in there relating career building to pawing Lego pieces together. I enjoy Legos. And being manic!

And, really, also a huge thanks to anyone who passed by; I always appreciate it. Please Like or Follow if you enjoyed and remember that you can find me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor, where I suggest things like Normal Cop–a prequel to Robocop (truly next level tweets).

Regardless, thanks again! And, as always, write well.

War of Exiles Has Been Submitted

People are talking a lot these days about the horror of letting go of their manuscripts. It’s established that it’s something you have to learn to do and that it’s difficult, like sending your child off to college.

But I don’t have kids and, even if I did, that metaphor wouldn’t be perfect. It’s close, but it’s not quite there. So Imma tweak it, just to make it absolutely clear how I felt about submitting War of Exiles for the first time.

It was like sending a child off to college completely by your will–and only your will–with the horrible certainty they’ll just be back in 2-3 weeks with a note scotch-taped to their face.

Cringing, you pull it off, open it, and read, “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to stare critically at your child, but it’s not what we’re looking for right now.”

You take a deep breath, hold it as you look up at your child, standing there, saying nothing because it’s a metaphor for a manuscript and manuscripts don’t actually talk.

And then you let out that breath in a sigh. And even if you don’t smoke, it still sounds like you’re a smoker when you rasp, “I knew you’d be back.”

Submitting War of Exiles was more like that.

I hit this strange wall near the end of my third edit when I realized that the entire series needed to be more thoroughly planned out; Exiles is only book one of three, and although some people can probably just jump into a new book with no real plan, I’m neurotic and needed a very definite plot for the rest of the books. This turned into daily brainstorming sessions with only War of Exiles’ epilogue left to edit.

The result of those brainstorming sessions? Finding a new plot twist that drastically changed the second and third books. And also the world itself; it’s easily the biggest endeavor I’ve ever taken as a writer, and although I’m excited by how much I like it, I’m also already exhausted; I wound up spending the last two weeks of February knocking around the one, crucial detail, making sure it worked.

And then it did–I reached the point when the next two books had a direction clear enough for me to finish Exile’s epilogue and do some last minute tweaks. Not hard, in comparison to the weeks of brainstorming.

But almost impossible when I realized it was another step toward that point when no more tweaking could be done. For me, that is the true difficulty. You hear constantly that an artist is never satisfied with their work. It’s true; every time I reread War of Exiles or Memory, I can always find something to improve. And, despite the fact that I’ve caught myself occasionally undoing changes I’ve made on previous edits, I’m still brutal enough on myself to want–to almost need–the luxury to change what I write. To try to make it perfect.

If I was a different man, I would never let go of that luxury.

Instead, I spent my Tuesday packing a suitcase for my metaphor child. One summary of the kid’s entire being? Check. One letter where I quickly talk about how awesome my kid is? Check. Again, to make this metaphor closer to the experience it represents, imagine that synopsis and query letter as a single shirt and a pair of pants that you continually fold, place in the suitcase, yank out again, reexamine, refold, place back in the suitcase. Just over and over–for actual hours–until you’re exhausted. Until a voice inside of you is all, “Just do it! Come on! PAX is like… tomorrow or something! Get packing or I am going without you!” And for a moment you’re tired enough to feel truly threatened by the voice in your head.

So you center yourself on that Send button. Your finger hovers over it and the same voice comes back, pricking your index finger with, “Don’t do it!”

But then the desperate rush–the incoming flood of a single promise: if you don’t send your novel now, you never will.

So before you can argue, you’re all, “I’m doin’ it.” And even if you don’t put shades on after you say it, you still click Send and it’s still the most simultaneously terrifying and gratifying thing you’ve ever done. At once, you shove your metaphor child out the door and you’re all hoping he doesn’t come back while also totally hoping he does.

But either way, you throw your hands up because it’s done. You’ve written the Synopsis and Query Letter. You’ve followed your agent’s guidelines. You attached a fragment of that whole book you wrote. And you sent it all. There’s no taking it back and no more fussing. Unless the response to your query is negative–then you get to go nuts fussing for a very short window before sending it off again, the second time already easier.

Because in the wild multiverse of possible you’s, you’re the one who already hit Send once.

~~~

Thanks for reading. I’ll be at PAX East this weekend, but the moment I get back, it’s time to once again do all of the above with Memory. If there’s better timing for this con, I can’t think of it. Thank you for reading and please give me a Like or Follow if you enjoyed.

As always though, no matter what you do, take care and write well.

Memory Is Now on Its 2nd Draft

A weird thing happened to me the other day.LS-MemoryProgress-1.22.15

I finished the 2nd draft of Memory. I changed a surprising amount from the original (from one entire setting to another character’s physical appearance). So, really, it was a huge job and a lot of work. Upon finishing it, I felt like the book was far stronger than it had been–definitely a lot more unique and more finely paced.

But what I didn’t feel was any sense of achievement from finishing the 2nd draft.

It’s strange. I’ve tweeted about it. Every time I finished War of Exiles, I felt like a king. When I finished the first draft of Memory, I was also pleased. But, for whatever reason, finishing an edit of it (even this quickly) did absolutely nothing for me. There was no hurrah–no feeling of triumph.

And maybe that’s because of what a friend suggested: “That’s probably because it will never feel complete to you.” Yeah. Maybe. As a writer, I definitely fall into the trap of always wanting to pick at my work. In fact, upon finishing the 2nd draft, I immediately went back and tweaked the ending. There is always the certainty that I can find something to improve in my work, and the possibility that, to me, it will never be done and I’ll just have to publish what feels like a rough draft of it. And that’s a kind of horrible, depressing idea.

But that’s probably not the problem. Because I can work on Memory enough that it at least feels ready for publication (I’m fully aware of elements of it that still need work).

So I have to ration that finishing a draft doesn’t feel like an accomplishment anymore because… it isn’t? That sounds grim and bitter, but maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe finishing a single draft just… shouldn’t feel like an incredible achievement. At least, maybe it shouldn’t feel like a beer-chugging, let’s party kind of achievement.

Because, after a while, you pass the point as a writer when finishing a draft is an incredible thing you never thought you’d do. It’s still awesome to get a new story off the ground or finish writing one you’ve been planning for a long time, but after doing all of that, finishing another draft becomes a kind of silent step–a bridge between the greater achievements of “Finished my 1st draft!” and “Started submitting my book!”

And so maybe the achievement here isn’t the finishing of the draft… but reaching the point where I don’t care about having finished the draft? Maybe the victory here is having written enough that I’m not impressed by small victories.

That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t feel anything, but it also doesn’t mean its time for shots. It means I should, instead, smirk tiredly at having gotten to this point. It means I should, of course, roll right into that second edit and on toward “Started submitting my book!” without stopping for beer-chugging and partying.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 14: The Diner Challenge

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.14.14Where I Wrote: The worst diner in my neighborhood.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Not bad. There was a bit of pressure today; I had a lot I had to take care of (thus my taking a personal challenge I’d never even considered for NaNoWriMo), so I was a little rushed, but that didn’t translate into tearing through 1667 words in the short time I had. Instead, I made sure that what I got down worked and I stopped the moment I hit a set piece I’d missed with my brainstorming. At that point, I was anxious to get to other responsibilities I had today anyway.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Almost the instant yesterday’s session was over, I knew where to take today’s session. It was one of the rare cases when only a moment of brainstorming yielded the next plot point. I sat down super ready to go.

The Experience: I have a serious fear of making people uncomfortable.

It’s tied directly to how uneasy it makes me to ask for favors. The reason’s pretty personal, but I grew up with a special hate for feeling like a burden.

So there are certain things that I hate doing to people in public. For one, there’s taking pictures that people happen to be in; I’ve briefly mentioned not taking pictures of writing spots because there were too many people there. At the Pine Tree Cafe in the Botanical Gardens, I tried to take a few pictures from my seat, but in the very first one, I caught a guy just as he was slurping up some soup, eyes directly on me with a look that dripped, “Seriously?” I must’ve chanted, “Nope nope nope,” for a good ten seconds as I deleted it, put my tablet down, and honestly tried to convince myself that I hadn’t been taking pictures–really.

So, what does this have to do with today? Well, I woke up at a good hour, but, more than any other day of NaNoWriMo, today was just… jam-packed with time-devouring responsibilities. First, there was NaNoWriMo, usually a block of about six hours on my daily schedule. Then, there was a need to put in more hours at work, a task requiring, in my mind, literally all the time that I could possibly devote to it (I’m working as I write this). But, on top of all of that, there was also the modifier of a planned gaming session that I really wish I’d known would fall through (although I got back the hours I thought I’d lose to that, so I can’t really complain, I suppose).

So, knowing all of this–waking up needing a solution–I tried to think of where I could write that would save me at least three hours. That meant Manhattan was out, which didn’t help because other spots I considered in the Bronx were far enough away that picking them still wouldn’t free up enough time.

The solution finally came when I thought of a spot I actually wanted to go to that also wasn’t far away; a diner that recently opened here in the Bronx. It was enticing, but then I thought, maybe that would be really awkward and unproductive? I mean, the wait staff would see me writing and want me out of their section. I’d feel like such a burden. Gah. Could I do that? Could I even write in a diner?

Ohhhhhhh… Yep. Yep, that’s it.

The Diner Challenge is what I named it. The noise, the wait staff that’s either so pleasant that they don’t stop talking or so stand-off-ish that you can tell they’re trying to psychically will you to leave. There was also the matter of possible televisions, the guaranteed jabber of radios, the need to order and the distracting food directly in your face. By the time I left my apartment, I was oddly excited, even though I chose the worst diner in my neighborhood (to save more time and because it felt more appropriate for the challenge somehow).

When I got there, the awkwardness, though slow to arrive, was very constant once it did. It was not the television or the radio. Not the wait staff’s outdoor-voice rapport with the kitchen staff. Somehow, loud talking and noise are old distractions, easily defeated now unless they’re truly obnoxious.

No, the awkwardness arrived when I realized that they thought I was a food critic–or possibly a health inspector. I don’t know if it’s because I was alone or because of the tablet. There’s a good chance it was just because of the clear, accent-less enunciation that confuses everyone (“Are you Paki, my friend?” I’ve gotten. Also, “You from the Islands, man?” No. No, I probably don’t even know what islands you’re talking about).

Regardless, they were way, way more attentive than they ever have been at that diner. This I did not expect, making it way more awkward than I’d expected.

But I still persevered–still ordered my food and eventually got over the reflex to just keep watching them watch me watch my tablet screen. Eventually, I shifted my coffee to the side and started working.

And then jumped when my waitress told me, literally, “Okay! Time to stop working!” as she brought my food over. And then asked, “Is that work? Are you working?”

“No,” I said. And then, with what I’m sure wasn’t a convincingly innocent fear in my eyes, I added, “I’m just writing.” The moment I said it, I realized it wouldn’t help matters at all.

Still, I went back to my story. Slowly worked through my need to just eat the french fries right in front of me (they were so good), and got back to working on my story. I did, in fact, change the description of yesterday’s set piece and then went on to write a few pages that felt extremely natural. So natural that they changed the course of the plot very slightly and led to the next set piece a little earlier than intend–

“Do you need wi-fi?” It was the owner.

I almost asked a confused, “What?” in reply, but I rallied. “No, thank you. I’m good.”

The owner went on to explain that they had wi-fi, me sitting there, nodding and cringing inside. I wanted to say, “I promise I’m not here to rate your amenities.” Instead I wound up confessing, “No, I’m just writing a novel,” with enough manufactured calm that it only made me sound like slightly less of a douche bag.

But, at that point, the danger was gone. The owner added a convincing, “You can stay as long as you like, buddy,” but my waitress never again asked if I needed anything. It allowed me to finish up–to get to a point when I was sure it was better to stop for quality and responsibility’s sakes (some time after my waitress idly wiped down a part of my table while I was still sitting there).

The verdict: diners, at least for me, will probably always be too awkward to write in. Maybe I’ll try again after NaNoWriMo–I’ve definitely been determined to challenge my defeats when it comes to writing lately. But I’m… pretty sure diners will remain as spots that are only good for hammering out quick emails.

Unless there’s some kind of… writer… friendly diner?

Excuse me. I must google a thing.

Games for Writers – Dark Souls

G4W-DarkSouls

Disclaimer: This article has been a long time coming. At this point, I’m actually a little reluctant to write about video games on here instead of just post straight writing talk, but, like I said last post, I feel I deserve a break and this post is ultimately about writing anyway. Still, just to start us off, apologies if you’re a writer but not a gamer.

This one is a bit of a guilty pleasure.

Because there’s a really, really great chance you’ve already played Dark Souls. I have to acknowledge immediately that last gen, I was incredibly close-minded about the series I played (for a long time, it was almost totally Playstation 1 era series or GTFO). So, forgive me, but I still haven’t played Mass Effect. I haven’t played any of the Dead Space’s except for the last one. I gave Assassin’s Creed two minutes before giving up on it.

And, until it was offered for free on XBL a few months ago, I’d never played Dark Souls. I’d never played Dark Souls and I was really, really tired of hearing people go on about how awesome Dark Souls is.

And now, of course, please humor me as I go on for way too long about how fucking awesome Dark Souls is and explain why it’s probably one of the best series a prospective Fantasy writer could ever play.

For the sake of not just ranting, I will do this in two direct points that support one bottom line: for a game with extremely little actual story, Dark Souls has a weirdly moving story exclusively because of really subtle but strong world-building.

Point 1: The Bosses Have So Much Charm / Mystique / Whatever That They’re Characters

So, I posted a link a while back on Twitter about the music I was using for a writing session. This is the song I linked. It’s the music that plays while you fight Gravelord Nito. And, really, if you haven’t played Dark Souls, just from reading this paragraph, you already know almost all there is to know about Gravelord Nito; his name, you fight him, he’s in Dark Souls. Here—I’ll round out your knowledge of him; he’s “the first of the undead.” He’s a god made of skeletons that are mashed together. He wears a cloak made out of darkness and he wields a big sword. There. That’s about 90% of all there is to know about him.

That said, I… love… Gravelord Nito. I definitely didn’t do him justice with my description in the last paragraph because I really can’t; I gave you hard facts and, as there are for most of the bosses in Dark Souls, there are next to no hard facts to be had about him. I can tell you as much about Gravelord Nito’s definitive personality as I could tell you about any other boss in Dark Souls—nothing.

But… there is a ton of characterization that I simply can’t explain because you’d have to experience it to understand. Gravelord Nito isn’t just awesome because he’s a (truly) awesome looking, giant skeleton(s) man with a sword; he’s awesome because it takes you, the player, many—many—hours of struggle to get to him. He’s awesome because you have to go through the Tomb of Giants to find him and the Tomb of Giants is incredibly dark, terrifying and dangerous. He’s awesome because, despite being Dark Souls’ god of death, he’s tucked at the back of a nondescript hole in a wall deep underground. He’s awesome because he’s sleeping in a giant coffin in that hole but he comes out to kill you when you show up; and because, at the start of his boss fight, he slowly walks out of the dark to face you.

And—before I keep just listing these minute, seemingly throw-a-way details—what do any of these details say?

Well, hours of struggle to even get the chance to be killed by him immediately gives him a huge degree of godly mystique—he’s so important that not just anyone can turn on the game and face him.

His being beyond the pitch black Tomb of Giants, with its giant skeletons (all untouched until you come along) says that no one has faced him in ages—it says that he is beyond an unfathomable depth.

That he’s tucked at the end of a weird, small hole in a cave says all kinds of potentially terrifying things about the mysteries of the unseen; according to Dark Souls, a god could be sleeping at the end of a cave in my local park, which is, immediately, more terrifying than placing him at the end of a huge, obviously evil castle. But, to bring this back to Nito, it says that he’s possibly beyond human trappings and flattery; he’s beyond needing a temple in his name somehow—a cave is fine for his slumber just as a grave is fine for any human.

And, of course, the fact that he’s sleeping when you find him and the way that he slowly walks around to face you speaks volumes about how ancient he is. The design choice to make him hunch-backed adds to this idea.

All of this… conveyed… with subtle detail. It blows my mind. It blows my mind even more because this is a fraction of what Dark Souls conveys about one boss. Just about all of the bosses in this game have that much silent detail worked into them. My reflex here is to just rattle off a bunch of boss names and a handful of their details, but it will mean absolutely nothing to you if you haven’t played it, so instead, I’ll just say this:

If you’re a Fantasy writer, I can honestly not think of a better lesson than Dark Souls on how to give your monsters and villains real, evocative mystique and story with almost no dialogue. In a really weird, writery kind of way, every boss in this game is beautiful. Seriously, for the first time in ages, even though I knew next to nothing about him, I actually got upset when I killed the last boss.

Phew… Okay. I have to move on now.

Point 2: The Settings Tell a Story

As you may have noticed, I got derailed on one of my points about Nito and started talking about how his cave was oddly terrifying in how normal it is. I didn’t take that out because, ya know, laziness, but that environmental element is one thread of the really dense tapestry of Lordran, the setting for Dark Souls.

I do not want to start the Ever-Rant again and I also don’t want to get spoilery, so I’ll cut my explanation down to this: at one point, you start to venture down beneath the starting area. The starting area is a town, so what’s beneath it winds up being, at first, a large, weird cellar. In that cellar, waiting around a collection of long tables, there is a large group of Hollows (feral undead [there are undead who aren’t feral, like your character]). In this same room with the Hollows, on a sub level, there’s a giant, undead butcher cutting large pieces of meat. If you defeat all of these enemies and then happen to explore the hole directly behind the butcher’s table, you’ll fall into a pit, landing directly onto a large pile of discarded bodies. It’s gross—I know. But not as gross as the huge, undead rat that’s on the level below, a spear sticking out of one of its eyes.

And, seriously, the point is not to gross you out. The point here is to give you a good example of the completely silent but weirdly detailed storytelling that’s all over Lordran. The butcher is preparing meals for all of the Hollows that are waiting above him. What the butcher doesn’t use, he throws downstairs, meaning that he’s serving humans or undead to the Hollows above for whatever reason. But regardless, downstairs is where the giant rat eats what he throws away (growing gigantic from left-overs its been scavenging for years, presumably). For bonus points, the spear in the rat’s eye implies that someone was thrown down here in fighting shape and tried to defend themselves.

This kind of detail is everywhere. And, sure, there are just strange, video gamey locations too that are clearly designed to get the player from point A to B. But then, there are little spots like the area directly before Nito, where a large group of ancient, lifeless skeletons are all kneeling in worship, facing the portal that leads to him, until they fall apart at your touch.

Despite having pretty much no dialogue or plot, Lordran is incredibly alive with story. And, of course, working in details like these shouldn’t compromise your writing (for example, I’m definitely not suggesting that you wedge the armory where your lizardmen make their giant lizard swords into a story just to show that, hey, this is how they get their swords [especially not when world-building like that is easiest in a medium like video games, where ambling and looking at everything is natural]). But it’s always a good thing to remember to make your world that alive.

As countless other areas in Dark Souls showed me, the setting is a place that exists without your character’s influence.

The Bottom Line: Even Though It Doesn’t Have a Story, Dark Souls Has Tons of Story

Even if you’re not convinced, you should still give Dark Souls a try if only because the very last area in the game is—I promise—beautifully evocative. It placed so much mystique on the final boss that, like I said, I was actually upset when I killed him, as if I was making a mistake. It was a feeling I’ve only gotten one other time—at the end of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and that game had the benefit of a million cutscenes and tons of dialogue. The fact that Dark Souls got the same emotion from me with next to no dialogue, will always blow my mind.

So, if you haven’t played Dark Souls, I promise it will positively impact your Fantasy writing. Even if you’ve already played it but didn’t pay attention to the fine details, play it again with a keener eye. Look out for all of the subtle things it does and, if you haven’t, just look up all of its secrets (because this is the kind of game that has huge, completely missable secrets). I promise that you will not regret at least seeing the subtlety of Lordran and its cast of silent characters.

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Well, apologies if this post was a little short, but it was seriously an effort not to go on forever about this game and spoil everything for you. Still, I hope that you enjoyed! If you did, I’d appreciate a Like and a Follow!

In the middle of the month, I’ll come back to straight writing talk. In fact, I might—might—come back with the most difficult topic I possibly can. At least, it immediately feels like a difficult, dangerous topic. We’ll see. If you don’t want to miss a post about something I’m even reluctant to mention here, you should Subscribe! Cause I’m probably going to write about it anyway…! … Yay!

But, regardless, thanks for reading! And, as always, write well!

 

George Lucas and Your Editing Process

There’s a really good chance a ton of people navigated away the moment they read the title of this post. Of course, you didn’t and that’s probably because you’re curious. “What does George Lucas have to do with my editing process?” you may be asking yourself.

Well, before I get into that, let me specify that I’m not a huge, totally forgiving fan of everything George has done; this article definitely won’t be forgiving the Star Wars prequel trilogy or trying explain that you should totally watch those movies (because, first, who cares, and second, no you shouldn’t, if you can get away with it).

Unless… of course, you’re watching the prequel trilogy to fully understand how bad it is before watching a professional grade edit of all three movies… like Double Digit’s Star Wars: Turn to the Dark Side. Because then you’d be engaging in a solid look at what editing can do for a story.

Of course, unfortunately, someone had to pull Star Wars: Turn to the Dark Side from Vimeo because it made the prequel trilogy cohesive (and we couldn’t have that [the universe was slowly imploding, I imagine]), but I’ll sum it up while sharing two important ideas that I took from watching Turn to the Dark Side.

First, No Matter How Difficult, Get Rid of the Distracting Glitz

Here’s a summary of what Star Wars: Turn to the Dark Side cut.

From Episode I: Nearly everything. Seriously, everything but maybe four minutes worth of Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn fighting Darth Maul. This winds up being a prologue, ending with Qui-Gon using his last breath to tell Obi Wan to train Anakin. We also get Yoda giving Obi Wan permission to train Anakin, specifying, of course, that the Jedi Council doesn’t like it.

From Episode II: The entire intro remains intact with all of the (what I call) reminder dialogue (“It has been ten years since you’ve seen Padme. As you and I both know, but still, I said it. Ha ha!”) actually setting up the full plot of the movie. The cuts start after that with scenes devoted entirely to Obi Wan’s relationship with Anakin, Anakin’s relationship with Padme, Anakin’s relationship with Senator Palpatine, Anakin’s political views, Anakin’s attempt to save his mother from the Sand People and Obi Wan’s hunt for Jango Fett, because there still needs to be action, after all. However, all of the clone nonsense (including Obi Wan’s fight with Jango Fett on Kamino) is cut, the remainder of the action given entirely to the stadium battle on Geonosis. But even that act is trimmed with no follow up battle between Count Dooku and Yoda.

From Episode III: The intro is cut and so is almost everything else that doesn’t have to do with Anakin’s relationships with Senator Palpatine, Padme, and Obi Wan. Most of Obi Wan’s scenes are also cut (meaning that General Greivous is only briefly mentioned and we only get clips of Obi Wan participating in the battle on Utapau (and even these are just to sell Obi Wan’s friendship with Cody and the rest of the Clone Troopers). I’m not sure how much more of the movie is cut (I watched it the one time when it came out), but Anakin being worried about Padme’s death, the Jedi being suspicious of Palpatine, Palpatine’s playing Anakin, Anakin turning, Palpatine becoming the Emperor, the Emperor’s fight with Yoda, and Anakin’s fight with Obi Wan are all there. The very last shot of the entire edit is Darth Vader taking his first breath (aka the best moment in the entire prequel trilogy).

So, what is there to take from this? Clearly, a very, very minimal amount of Jar Jar. No kid Boba Fett. No oddly disappointing, anti-climatic battle with Count Dooku at the beginning of Episode III. Seriously, I could be here all day talking about the bad things that were cut out.

But, instead, let’s talk about the good things that were cut out. To the general public, the pod racing scene from Episode I was the best part of that entire movie. When I saw Episode II in theaters, everyone went nuts when Yoda pulled out his lightsaber and started fighting Count Dooku at the very end (and, take it or leave it, a Fett versus a Jedi was also a really big selling point). In Episode III, I think General Grievous was the most interesting and likeable of Lucas’ prequel “Bond villains” (Darth Maul, Jango Fett, and General Grievous show up and die in the same movie, like Bond villains always do). These are big, flashy elements that I enjoyed a lot when I first saw these movies. And, to be perfectly honest, a lot of these elements were what I considered the best parts of the prequel trilogy.

And yet, cutting them all out to emphasize what I thought were the worst parts (Anakin’s sappy relationship with Padme and the galactic politics)… actually made for a compelling, interesting, complete story. Because there was an overarching plot present through all three movies and, without Double Digit’s edit, that plot is very, very slowly developed across the three films, easily getting lost under the piles and piles of flashy, distracting CGI we didn’t actually need.

The lesson to take from this is to just get to the point; to not pad your story with nonsense elements, of course… but also to not pad it with awesome elements if they don’t help either. Because distracting is distracting.

And flashy bits and action are always better in controlled moderation; yes, Turn to the Dark Side did cut a lot of action from the prequel trilogy, but it just took the majesty and weight from those scenes… and shifted them to other scenes that had no problem carrying the weight. The best example of that was how Episode III was cut; the only action happened at the very, very end, but it was the culmination of two hours and thirty minutes’ worth of recut drama and felt incredibly fulfilling.

So, if you like to write grand, flashy scenes, moments, characters and events, just remember to always take a step back from the glamour to make sure your simple, tragic love story (or redemption story or revenge plot or whatever) doesn’t get lost along the way.

Second, the Failure Paradox

The other interesting thing about the cuts Double Digit made was how consistently the nonsense they trimmed off… was full of easter eggs. Obi Wan tosses a blaster aside distastefully and says, “So uncivilized.” C-3PO was made by Anakin. Young Boba Fett. These are all concepts that were cut for Turn to the Dark Side.

And they were all fan service. Of course, lots and lots was cut that didn’t have fan service, but the point is, a ton of fan service got axed and it didn’t negatively impact the edit at all.

Now… I don’t want to suggest that a huge series like Star Wars shouldn’t have its fan service, because, come on—that would be kind of silly. However, I do want to stress that the prequels were actually way better… without all of these ideas and scenes; however you chalk it up, the story was more powerful, more focused, and more unique and assertive without the fan service. And whether or not fan service is essential overall…

… it’s definitely never essential in your first novel.

Maybe this sounds really weird and obvious, but, for fantasy writers, there’s an intense urge to add what I always think of as Reread Craft to our first novels. It can be as tiny as a character meeting someone who will be important in a future book or as complicated as them doing or saying something that will come back to haunt them later in your series. To get even more honest and direct about it, it can be as tiny as a character saying a bit of cheeky foreshadowing that, you rationalize, readers will catch when they reread your entire series.

To be brutally honest about it, there’s probably nothing worse we can do as amateur writers than writing easter eggs into our very first books. There is an obvious degree of (for lack of a better word and to continue being honest) conceit there where there shouldn’t be for an amateur writing. But, on top of that, adding invasive Reread Craft creates a strange, writing-specific paradox that we often don’t see (I didn’t for a long time). This paradox is… actually something I learned from George Lucas. I call it the Failure Paradox.

One of the DVD’s of Star Wars featured Lucas talking about a scene he cut from A New Hope. It was the (then) famous scene where Jabba the Hutt meets Han Solo in Mos Eisley. According to Lucas, he cut the scene because it was hurting the flow of A New Hope and ultimately wouldn’t matter if A New Hope didn’t do well (or something like that; I’m paraphrasing).

Now, if you take that point and apply it to the incredibly difficult task of writing a complete novel with a specific word count… it means that easter egg scenes like the meeting with Jabba the Hutt… could actually stop your novel from happening at all; there’s no question of “will it do good” for us because, for amateur writers, the question is (and always should be) “Will my work get published in the first place?” And, honestly, it probably won’t if it doesn’t meet a certain set of very friendly, enticing criteria for publishers (especially in terms of length; publishers don’t want to gamble on a longer book because it’ll cost more to print).

So, in the end, all of this means that stubbornly holding on to fan service in your first novel creates a paradox of failure; you don’t want to let go of fan service to make your book better, thus it’s never released and has no fans.

The goal here is not to make anyone upset, but to be extremely clear and open about this because it’s a writing habit that’s really hard to spot and stop doing. There is, of course, nothing wrong with adding Reread Craft if it’s very subtle and non-invasive; if it’s shorter than a scene or if it’s a bit of dialogue that won’t seem out of place to a first time reader, then by all means, go for it. However, if you’re struggling to stay under your word goal and contemplating what to cut out, Reread Craft is always the first thing that should go. And if you’re ever being stubborn about it, just remember two words:

Failure Paradox.

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Man. Whodathunk there’d be all of that to learn from the Star Wars prequels? At any rate, I hope this helped you out. If it did, help me out with a Like or Subscription; I’d definitely appreciate it. Regardless though, thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you. Always.

The 3 Great Fiction Sins

First, apologies for taking so long to get another post out; things are a bit rough at the moment and the article I finished last week and was intending to post just wasn’t up to snuff (and I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time with a post that didn’t offer readers anything). I was going to settle for more generic life update this week, but this idea came first, so let’s get to it instead.

So, The Day of the Doctor happened. And I absolutely missed it; I enjoy Doctor Who a bunch, but I haven’t watched in a long time. I’ll be completely honest about my bias: the 10th was my Doctor, and before you say anything, yes, I have watched a bunch of Matt Smith and I like him, but he’s not David Tennant. Bias aside, I think I actually fell behind because of some of the story elements of Smith’s run.

I won’t get into them because that would be a whole other article, but I will say that one of those elements that nagged me… led to this article, my 3 Great Fiction Sins. What are they? The elements that I believe any fiction writing can easily fall victim to. There are, of course, way more than these three, but I feel that these are the three I’ve seen prevail in professionally produced works of fiction (so more obvious things like creating plot elements that don’t make sense didn’t make it onto this list). These prevailing sins are, however, still extremely obvious and jarring… and sometimes incredibly awkward… So let’s jump right in!

1) Clear and Obnoxious Character Bias

This is not the worst of these sins (worst for last, baby), but it is absolutely the most common. As writers and creators (or finders—whatever) of characters, you’re bound to like some of your characters more than others. The plot may result in some characters being stronger and (very naturally) more awesome than others—perhaps more cunning than others. One character may be particularly funny and, if that’s the kind of character we like, we’ll be drawn to them immediately, wanting to put them at the front of every scene and have them present for every situation. And, for the most part, that’s fine.

What isn’t fine, however, is stopping the flow of a story to include a completely unnecessary scene that is completely focused on:

Omfg Isn’t he/she/it BADASS!?

If, say, the main characters are trying to achieve something in a limited amount of time, but, unrealistically, everything stops so that we can watch, say, a cyber ninja (the first archetype that came to mind—honestly not drawing comparisons here) cut through a full brigade of soldiers… it’s almost like the writer has slapped the book out of our hand / TV to the floor / controller into the garbage only to jump in front of us, hands held forward, eyes manic as they say, “Okay… PICTURE THIS…” For me, these moments are always that degree of awkwardly invasive—particularly because the intent is always (pretty honestly) to fap over a single character.

Which, of course, cheapens everything else about a story; suddenly, the characters are actors again, the scenes are a plot. To put it simply, your adventure stops being an adventure and turns into a piece of writing a writer wrote. Maybe this is just how I think as a writer, but chances are, scenes like this will still annoy anyone if they very naturally don’t like the writer’s favorite character as much as that writer does; if the audience doesn’t really care about the cyber ninja, they’re immediately going to roll their eyes when he jumps out with his sword in his mouth and starts chopping up dudes effortlessly… without arms (I seriously just remembered that part of Metal Gear Solid 4, so hey, I guess I was drawing comparisons—subliminally. Somebody writing this article suuure hated that scene).

Most times, a writer can handle this kind of character well, showing them off in ways that are natural and—most importantly—non-invasive.

Every other time, though… Well, let’s just say that if there’s any chance you’ve done this, seriously reconsider slapping your audience right out of the moment to hold a loose leaf sketch of the one character in front of them. “He can grab his sword… with his foot clamp!”

2) The Tea Party

For me, this second sin is really bringing it back.

I did not make this one up—a friend back in high school brought this to my attention when we were talking about Xenogears (aaand I just dated myself). Very likely, we were playing it together and got to a scene where a town was burning down during an attack from a mech (if I remember correctly). The main characters were in the process of escaping… when one of them stopped in the center of the town to talk about things I can’t remember—I’ll be honest. The thing was, it didn’t matter what they were talking about while the town burned around them and people ran, screaming, children and possessions theoretically clutched to their chests.

No, what mattered was that they were talking.

And talking.

And fucking talking.

At the time, I was too naïve about writing to realize something was wrong, but my friend said something along the lines of, “I hate these fucking tea parties.”

When I asked what she meant, she explained: tea parties were incredibly suspenseful moments in which characters who are actively running from a very real danger suddenly stop and kick up a conversation, against all logic. Depending on the eminent danger, tea parties can either be as short as a single line or as inordinately long as the full 3 minute long conversation I witnessed in Xenogears (as I remember it anyway). However, no matter the length, characters always stop running / escaping for the duration of the tea party, brazenly defying all common sense.

I immediately took her explanation to heart. And ever since, it has destroyed a surprising amount of reading, watching and playing experiences immediately for me.

In the case of a fantasy read, this sin was at its most annoying when the main characters were in a house that was actively being crushed by giants. An escape vehicle of some kind (I forgot—read this ages ago) arrived a distance from the house and the characters decided to run for it. Most of them ran.

Two immediately stopped running so that one of them could shout about how excited he was to be escaping—particularly to their next destination.

There’s absolutely a chance that I’m being too critical on this one—the intent was to be cute and funny; the excited character was a zany old man if I remember correctly and the character with him was trying to get him out of the house.

But at that point, the giants had already pummeled the house for so long that there was no sense of danger; and perhaps that’s the best definition of a Tea Party: a moment in which all sense of danger is defeated by a clear contrivance of the writer. The player stopped caring about the town burning down around them because none of the other characters seemed to. And the reader just rolled their eyes at the author’s attempt at a laugh because the house—very clearly now—was never going to actually collapse under the tree-hammering the giants were giving it.

3) Incredibly Awkward and Creepily Open Displays of Sexual Fantasies

Best for last, baby.

I watch South Park, so I’ve seen the recent jabs at George R. R. Martin and Game of Thrones focusing so much on sex. Before I go on, I haven’t watched the Game of Thrones show because I didn’t like it for reasons I also won’t get into here (my favorite character is completely different—for starters) but one of my big problems with it was the sudden persistence of sex and sexuality in the show. In the books, sex happened when it felt like it should’ve; in exactly the same way that characters used the bathroom on occasion and it wasn’t glossed over, Martin also didn’t gloss over occasional sex because it’s a thing humans do, like urinating. I have heard that he has a lot to do with the show, so I throw my hands up with all of this and say, ‘I dunno—whatever.’

But what I absolutely know is that Martin never wrote 100+ pages of Jon Snow being tortured by a dominatrix with a magic dildo.

Yes, I read that book. And yes, it was an Epic Fantasy novel; not (openly) a hybrid of Fantasy and Erotica. Should it be deemed Erotica? No idea. But 100+ pages of anyone being tortured by a dominatrix with a magic dildo, is a very clear, very awkward, and very open display of sexual fantasy being mass produced and sold to the public.

And it just skeeves me out.

Nothing is wrong with a sex scene. Although I wouldn’t write one, nothing is even wrong with a detailed sex scene.

But something is extremely wrong with dragging out sexual scenes for inordinately long. And yes, any sexual scenes, not just scenes that are fetishistic.

I don’t want to go on because I’m sure I’d just repeat myself, each time getting more and more insulting, but I’ll end on the most tactful comparison I can think of:

Focusing on a character’s sexual adventures in a story that’s going to be mass produced for the general public in a genre that’s not known for sexual exploits is like introducing yourself to someone, shaking their hand with a smile, and then leaning in and whispering, “I like anal.”

Everyone’s reaction: “… : ( I need an adult.”

~~~

Well, I know it’s short and not especially helpful, but I hope you enjoyed. As always, thanks for the read and from this weird void where I never get around to thematically celebrating holidays, I hope yours are awesome. Happy that day you celebrate!

Deep Thoughts: Two-Face

Disclaimers: First of alland this is super importantthis is not my weekly post (which I generally save for the weekend). I’ll go on a rant when the mood takes me, and if it’s funny enough, I’ll post it here; but it will never count as my actual post for the week. Second, as where I kind of hope readers get something from my weekly posts, I don’t expector even wantanyone to take anything that pops up in Deep Thoughts seriously. You probably don’t know me, but if you did, you’d know immediately that something I wrote titled Deep Thoughts is absolutely not meant to be taken seriously. Finally, let me be clear; yes, this is a post about Two-Face, the Batman villain. Why? Because, I enjoy comics. And also, because seriously.

So, Batman has the best rogues gallery there is. I think that’s pretty safe to say. They’re all pretty great, and somehow, a new villain is added periodically and those additions are… also really great (I’m thinking of Professor Pyg). It seems like no one else’s rogues gallery does that. But anyway, the point is, they’re all great.

Source: http://www.comics.org/issue/102160/cover/4/
Except for one!

Now, I don’t want to say that Two-Face isn’t charming. Like all of Batman’s best rogues, he has an awesome name, a great origin, a really charming and badass shtick with the coin…

But at the same time… Two-Face is a guy. He’s just an angry, crazy guy. What is the major thing that separates Two-Face from an angry mobster? That mobster maybe doesn’t like the number 2 as much. What separates him from, say, the Joker, who is also a crazy guy? Well, Two-Face may ransom something for an extra one million dollars.

But also the Joker definitely doesn’t create a new Gotham landmark every time he pulls a heist. Seriously, how many  Janus Theater’s and Twin Casino’s are there in Gotham at this point? How many banks on 2nd Ave.? And for that matter, seriously, how many banks on 2nd Ave. and 2nd St.?

And realistically… that mobster, who’s been working in the mob for a good long while? Probably a better shot than Harvey Dent, former District Attorney who just now went crazy and picked up a gun.

So really, Two-Face walks into the room, and I can’t help thinking, “Well, shit could be worse. Killer Croc could’ve just walked in. I mean, that motherfucker’ll eat you. He’ll eat you without flipping a single fucking coin.”

Like, I understand that there’s supposed to be tension and total unpredictability with Two-Face and I appreciate that. I know that he’s supposed to be cerebral and an interesting example of the good and evil in all of us. But… Ventriloquist / Scarface does that better? Legitimately, once Harvey turns into Two-Face, he kind of just… stops being Harvey. But Scarface is literally always Scarface and Ventriloquist. I don’t want to get too deep here, so I’ll just say that I find Ventriloquist a lot more compelling even though he’s not popular. Also, I like to imagine Arnold Wesker (Ventriloquist) is actually Albert Wesker’s brother. Or dad. Neither makes any sense at all for so many reasons, but in my mind, that’s cannon.

Anyway, like I said, I do like Two-Face and I love the coin toss. But… Okay. The coin toss. Imagine that Two-Face and his thugs have you hostage and one of his goons looks at you and asks, “What do we do with this one?”

Two-Face takes out his coin.

You say, “What? You’re just deciding to flip that thing? Aren’t you supposed to flip it to make all your decisions?”

Two-Face stares at you for a moment. Then he looks down at the coin.

And then the paradox makes his head explode.