Let’s  Talk About – Loki & The Potential Birth of the “Megapremise”

Loki came out this week.

And, as a man who fully expected to hate that show, I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed the first episode.

Will I enjoy all six episodes? Who knows. Can I emphatically say that its theme song is one of the best OST themes I’ve heard in a long, long time? Yes. Natalie Holt is my new hero.

But this isn’t a post about Natalie Holt. It’s a post about what I think Loki and shows like it might bring to the fiction table.

And, again, to clarify, that’s a might; I am not Publishers Weekly, nor am I an agent keen on trends.

All I want to do here today, with you, is wonder . . . if Loki is the beginning of what I’m labeling “the megapremise.”

What Is the Megapremise?

The best way to explain is to start with Loki.

Loki is a TV show about the Norse god, Loki. A version of him who invaded modern-day Earth, was defeated by superheroes, and stole back a magical cube that teleported him backward in time. Because of this, he’s arrested by a bunch of time police who proceed to show him his life, (light spoilers) including his own death. (/light spoilers)

(not so light spoilers) As a result, he decides to join the time police to help capture . . . another, presumably evil version of himself. (/not so light spoilers)

With or without spoilers, that premise is just wild.

And so is the premise that (seriously, get this) a super-powered witch, whose husband—an android—died, is inexplicably living in a sitcom where her android husband is alive again.

These premises are ridiculous—in the best way. They are, in my opinion, when Marvel is at their best these days.

And they’re also what I think of as megapremises; story ideas that are so weirdly specific and bizarre that there is nothing else like them. Premises so strange and unique to certain characters that it isn’t even possible to duplicate them (i.e. Loki would not be the same show without Marvel’s Loki, and—even worse—WandaVision would not be the same show without MCU Wanda and Vision).

And these megapremises . . . might be the future?

Because They Aren’t An Inherently Marvel Thing

It seems like they are (especially with how I defined them).

It seems like you just couldn’t write a story like Loki without ten years of build-up.

But I don’t think that’s actually true.

Creating a megapremise is easy for Marvel because they have well established characters with that decade of continuity. Every new story builds on that, so something like Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t just a movie about a space-faring team of misfits—it’s a movie about a space-faring team of misfits that ties into the special rocks a big purple man is after so he can kill half of the universe.

But—and if I’m saying anything with this post, it’s this—you can just create a megapremise. With totally new characters you made up, put into as bizarre and specific of a situation as you can possibly imagine. Everything can be explained in-story, and none of it actually requires the excess foundation new Marvel movies have (i.e. if you write a story about literal aliens pretending to be human in a small town, learning comparatively intense human emotions while slowly getting enveloped in the town’s mania [because I’ve decided they unwittingly landed in a cult town and this is a horror story now], you don’t need it to take place in the same continuity with any of your other stories).

What I’m saying here is, seriously, we can just write crazy shit like Loki.

And, I mean . . . am I weird, or is that the most exciting fucking thing ever?

You don’t have to write a normal procedural cop drama with a twist—that your partner is a demon or whatever. You can write a story about—I dunno—a law enforcement group that’s just been newly established at the center of the Earth, which humanity has only just discovered.

You don’t have to write a fantasy adventure about a group of adventurers on a quest to save the king. You can write about a—whoa-a-a-a-a-a I’m not sharing the idea I just thought of. It’s too cool. I’m actually writing that one.

Fuck—now I have to make up another example.

You can write a story about a group of aliens questing through a dangerous planet full of weird, thin, green trees and giant insects. A planet that is obviously Earth, where they search for their dying king, who fled here—I dunno.

Essentially, you can make your stories all-the-way weird and unique.

To reel myself in a bit here, yes, I am totally aware that some writers already do this. You, who’s reading this, possibly already live and breathe premises that would blow the minds of us normies.

But if you don’t . . . maybe try to make a weird, totally-out-there story just to see if it’s a good fit?

Because even if this isn’t going to become a real trend . . .

. . . it’s still incredibly fun to try to make up the weirdest, least standard premise you possibly can.

And, besides . . . I think I want the future where a new movie is like, “Meet Gary, a sentient planet who’s looking for love!” or whatever.

And, real talk, I am definitely writing that story idea I got in the middle of this post. Seriously, if anything, know that I am amazingly pumped for that, and maybe you will be too if you settle on a beyond-strange idea you really like.

And I hope you do. Because we all deserve to have at least one really bizarre idea that we’re working on for nobody but ourselves.

~~~

Okay. I am calling it here because it’s 4AM and I am about to pass out.

If you enjoyed this post, I try to get posts out every Sunday. Today, this post came out late because my weekend was weirdly busy. I will admit that part of it was a long D&D session, but you can’t be mad, because I played a Warforged Fighter who was a mix between Robocop and a Terminator. His name was Silver and I accidentally min-maxed the shit out of him, so he was an absolute monster that didn’t get scratched once. Anyway, if you liked this post, please drop a Like or consider giving my blog a follow.

Last update here: I am at the end of my outline for Memory, my current WIP. I finished my Tally Run and I’m outlining the finale now. I just wanted to stay honest about that on here. Which I will continue to do next week.

Until then, take care, and always remember that ice tea that you brew yourself, with tea bags, is infinitely better than powder mix ice teas. Seriously, there’s no contest; brew those bags, put them in water with a little sugar, pour them over ice—so good.

Stay hydrated—bye!

Process in Progress #4 – The “Promises Tally” Run

Hello!

It’s been a crazy week for me writing-wise.

The last time I talked about my outlining process specifically, I explained that I had a hyper detailed system for laying out my stories before writing them.

This post is about how I tweaked that outlining system this week. And how it was super satisfying.

If you’re new here, yes, I am a writer. But also, I am the most bureaucratic writer that exists. Seriously, from what I’ve seen (and I’m just realizing it as I write this—holy shit), I weirdly break my stories down into data–on clean, literal spreadsheets–more than any other writer I know. I seriously use Excel.

But whatever–the point is, today, we’re talking about how I decided to do a “Promises Tally” editing run on my outline. And how that is going super well.

Because My Original Outlining Approach Was Too Much

If you remember “Process in Progress #1,” I detailed the actual outline I use, with pictures, explaining how it works and focuses heavily on a part of the novel writing process I didn’t take into account before–promises.

In that post, I also made a quick point about how the Promises Outline was pared down, because when I first devised it, I also color-coded each and underlined parts of every beat that met the promise (which I rightly stopped doing because that was too much, even for me.)

Whelp, here I am admitting that assigning promises to every beat while I was writing those beats, was also too much. That approach just destroyed my flow.

So I stopped noting promises for each beat as I wrote, just like I’d stopped color-coding and underlining significant parts of each beat.

But the key phrase there is, “as I wrote.” The idea was always to go back and fill in the promises above each part of my outline, but I would only do that after writing the majority of it first (so more of a review process that I could use to fix an easily tweakable story skeleton).

Well, this week, after having 97% of the outline finished (basically everything but the finale), I went back for that run, intending to add all of the story’s promises to each beat, hoping it would be easy.

And I discovered that not only was it easy–it was massively gratifying.

And it turned into an amazing, data-generating QA pass.

The Promises Tally Run

I’m a big sarcasm guy, but I am not being sarcastic about this.

Maybe it’s because assigning promises while writing was such a slog, but doing it as part of my final edit before writing prose was fast and weirdly satisfying.

Such that I thought, “Wait. I can get more data from this.”

And thus was born the Promises Tally Run.

Essentially (and it feels like I’m being the most opaque rollercoaster admitting this but) . . . . I decided to color-code my promises. And tally them.

I don’t know why WordPress crushes these images so hard, even at their preferred resolution, but if you’d like to read a slightly more legible version of this screenshot, click on the image and it will open in a new tab. Also, my apologies.

I know. Just hear me out.

This color-coding is really just a way to make this outline a heat map. At a glance, I can tell that a beat, scene, or chapter heavily focuses on a particular character or certain aspects of the plot.

And the tally makes that effort practical for me as a writer. The goal of this run was, as mentioned, to manage my arcs, which I’ve tied to promises—at least for this novel. A tally of ‘promises advanced’ by the end of each chapter makes it unavoidably clear how much I’ve advanced each promise and arc per chapter. And an additional “MS Total” tally makes it clear what progress I’ve made with them in the outline overall.

Again, click the image if you’d like to see a larger, slightly less garbage version.

I know that this looks like a bit much–and trust me, this is not one of those times where I’m suggesting you try this out yourself. What I will say, however, is that it’s yielded interesting data that’s already made me consider how to write future projects.

For example, Memory has a solid spread between the progression of its main characters’ arcs, which is awesome. I’ve done some smoothing on those numbers, of course, but regardless, I’m very excited, because it confirmed that, yes, the pace-crushing dream sequences I was going to put in were as unnecessary as they felt.

Also, the final arcs for the protagonist intertwine in ways I didn’t realize until I had to choose which arcs were advanced by certain scenes.

Also, Memory has a lot of action, which is fine—it is an Action Adventure Fantasy novel. But I definitely want to bring that tally down in my next projects. And probably make separate tallies for things like “Action,” “Drama,” and “Intrigue,” so I can tell which specific avenue is lacking in the subgenre I’m trying to write.

At this point, I’m up to Chapter 10 of this run because I’m taking my time with it (not rushing for this one aspect of my process at the very least), but I’m definitely going to be outlining the end of the novel by next weekend, and moving onto prose shortly after.

If I can combine the speedy approach to prose from my NaNoWriMo runs with this process, streamlining as I go . . .

. . . then I think I can actually become a novelist.

But I’m not going to jinx that.

I’m just going to post this.

And get back to my outline.

Wish me luck.

~~~

My name is Louis Santiago and I’m in a hurry, so no crazy closing remarks this time.

If you liked this post, you can give me a follow on the Sidebar on the left side of the screen (if you’re on PC) or the drop down menu on the top right (if you’re on mobile). I don’t write for algorithms, but Likes and Follows are the only way I can tell what people like and what they don’t, so consider dropping one of those if you liked this post.

That said, take are, stay safe, and stay cool—it’s pretty hot in New York already and Summer hasn’t even started. Hooray.

Drink water!

Let’s Talk About – SWOGing, A Star Wars Phenomenon That Just Made It To Resident Evil: Village

I finished Resident Evil: Village.

And I have two things to say.

First, in case you’ve heard different from certain websites or YouTube personalities, I will be the completely honest party and say, man, that game is not good.

I can seriously go on an entire rant about conflicting game mechanics; bugs; bad conveyance; manipulative, time-wasting game design; false advertising (like, a very obviously, intentionally misleading ad campaign [Chris doesn’t turn into an evil werewolf even though this is the goddamn box art]) and all the other things Village does wrong, but that’s not what this post is about. Just take my word for it: don’t buy it. Just watch a playthrough of it

So what is this post about? Why am I bringing up Village at all?

Because of its stupid, obviously rushed, plot twist-dependent story.

Specifically, the way that it does what I now call the “SWOG Cameo.”

That’s short for the “Star Wars OG Cameo.” Or I guess maybe I can call it the “Rogue One Cameo,” since that’s where this weird, weird practice started.

What is a SWOG Cameo?

TL;DR: It’s when a franchise does an extremely masturbatory cameo for one of its classic characters in the 11th hour of its latest installment. These cameos can be a little longer—with them having a small stake in the plot—or they can be as short as one scene, but either way, the plot would’ve been fine (or significantly better) without their involvement. And their involvement is always over-the-top flattering for them, with the story falling over itself to make them look as awesome as possible. Why?

For fan service.

The SWOG Cameo is purely fan-service. Put in a fan favorite character, have them be a badass and do awesome stuff, and then sit back and watch the internet go absolutely crazy for it even though it took zero effort.

And it is absolutely a Star Wars staple at this point.

It started with Rogue One, where the climax of the film includes a super masturbatory scene of Darth Vader chopping up some Rebels. People always point to that Darth Vader Scene as the best part of the entire film . . . which I feel really says something about the rest of the movie, but man-oh-man am I tired of having that argument.

It continued in the new trilogy when Disney SWOG’d the entire last Rey film by throwing in the Emperor with paper thin narrative justifications. Remember when he created a storm with Force Lightning to destroy a bunch of ships? J. J. Abrams was really hoping you’d love that.

A little under the radar, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order also got SWOG’d. (Spoilers) for that game, but you spend the last 2 minutes running from Darth Vader, who shows up out of narrative thin air, murders the last boss, and then starts pulling apart the walls and machinery of the base you’re trying to escape from, metal swirling around him like he’s a literal god. True story: the friend I played it with thought it was awesome that he showed up and wasn’t at all upset about all the emotional storytelling getting sucked out the airlock immediately (/spoilers).

And, also a true story, that same friend (and all of my other friends [save the one writer]) also loved it when—(spoilers) for The Mandalorian—in the last two minutes of the final episode of season 2, Luke Skywalker showed up and easily took apart 30 Death Trooper robots who were conveyed as invincible (/spoilers).

Yeah, it’s called SWOGing because it is 100% a Star Wars thing.

At least it was until now.

Chris Redfield is listed as “Alpha” in Ethan’s phone?
Are you fucking kidding me??

The SWOGing in Resident Evil: Village is so bizarre.

To be totally fair, Chris was also in Resident Evil VII, but it was not the same. For starters it wasn’t a flattering cameo at all.

But in Village, it’s downright unhealthy.

And, look, spoilers ahead for Village, but, again—seriously—don’t play it. It’s just a waste. Lady Dimitrescu and her cool castle are part of the false advertising; she’s seriously in it for 3 hours and then dies (seriously, she’s the first boss).

To establish a framework here, the game starts with Chris Redfield apparently killing your wife for some reason. He takes you into custody, but the route to whatever detention facility passes through a village full of mutated monster people.  Oops! The van you’re in gets attacked, you wind up in the village, and you don’t see Chris again until hours later, at which point he doesn’t explain a plot twist because a giant fish destroys the house you’re in mid-conversation (it’s as stupid as it sounds). You don’t see him again until the end of the game, when he explains the game’s plot twist to you. He gives you a tank, you fight the second to last boss, get killed (in plot), and then perspective switches to Chris, who, in classic SWOG fashion, is tooled out the ass with insanely powerful weapons that you use to cut through monsters like butter.

And, yes, this is the point where it starts to get weird. As Chris, you stroll through the titular village, that it took Ethan hours to get through, in 3 minutes, turning monsters that Ethan struggled with into swiss cheese. At one point, you have to fight two of a monster that Ethan had to run from and find a special gun to kill; with Chris, it took about 12 seconds to kill them both without even getting scratched. When I had to fight an invincible giant as Chris, I called down a literal air strike to kill it. Easy peasy.

All of this while Chris’ team of soldiers call him “Cap” and “Alpha” over the radio. And I’m aware it’s because he’s a captain and I guess his code name is “Alpha,” but it just feels like the equivalent of people calling him “Supes” and “Big Dick.” “This quadrant is all clear, Commander Best-Ever Example of Masculinity. What are your orders??”

Holy shit. Resident Evil . . . please calm down . . . with the goddamn fan service. Seriously.

Why Exactly Is This a Bad Thing?

Aside from the obvious—that fan service is lazy and it sucks—there’s the fact that it usually ruins newer characters’ plotlines and arcs.

For example, Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo all lost a ton of story potential when Palpatine stepped in. Whatever their narrative could’ve been was lost the moment their villain became fan service. Because, without Palpatine showing up, the obvious answer is that there could have been some kind of intense, emotional finale with Kylo Ren (who would have stayed evil if I was writing things).

In The Mandalorian, the characters could’ve had an awesome scene where they devise some way to make it past the Death Troopers (spoilers) instead of standing in place and watching Luke cut his way through them (/spoilers).

In Rogue One, the 2 minutes spent on Vader could’ve been divvied up among the protagonists in scenes or beats that make us actually care about them. Or scenes that, at the very least, helped the audience remember their names.

In Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, (spoilers) the arrival of Vader genuinely and completely ruins the finale; right as that game’s uniquely complex (for Star Wars) villain, the Second Sister, is about to decide if she’s going to be redeemed, Vader steps in and literally kills any chances we had of complex storytelling. Because either our protagonist, Cal, was going to have to kill her and go back to tell her former Jedi Master about it, or the Sister was going to decide to be redeemed, and we would potentially get to see her go through that in the sequel (/spoilers).

But it’s actually even worse in Resident Evil: Village.

Because, in Village, although the Chris cameo doesn’t necessarily pull time away from Ethan (spoilers) –he’s already dead at that point—(/spoilers), it does oddly recontextualize our feelings for our protagonist, Ethan.

By which I mean it helps us absolutely hate him.

If you were to look through reviews of this game, pretty much every review you find will mention how stupid and unlikeable Ethan is. He’s extremely dense, really bad at action one-liners, and unbelievably gullible (at one point in the game, you have to frustratingly watch from his perspective as a villain very obviously stalls for time and Ethan falls for it). And all of those realizations get that much worse the moment you’re allowed to play as ultra-badass Chris Redfield. By the time (spoilers) you’re back in control of Ethan, who it turns out is one of the monsters from the previous game (it’s not as interesting as it sounds), you just want to be playing as Chris again. The entire time you’re fighting the last boss, you’re thinking, “I could just air strike her and be done with it if I was playing Chris.” And when Ethan ultimately decides to sacrifice himself even though he does not need to in any way, for any reason whatsoever, and it’s totally hollow because he’s dying anyway, all I could manage to think was, “Thank God.” Like, “I’m so glad I’ll never have to be in Ethan’s shoes ever again” (/spoilers).

But Chris’s role in Village also takes SWOGing to a whole other level.  Because the problem isn’t just that his presence made us dislike Ethan even more . . .

. . . it also made Chris himself less malleable as a protagonist.

Because now, he’s not just a man. By the end of Resident Evil: Village, he’s more like a myth; a super hero with massive connections behind the scenes, allowing him to achieve insane feats (like leveling an entire village in 5 minutes). I can’t imagine him having relatable, human drama anymore. Or, rather, I can’t imagine the writers at Capcom giving him relatable, human drama anymore. It feels like he will always be the untouchable badass in the background now.

And that is the real problem with this growing trend. SWOGing ruins the tension of a story and usurps focus from that story’s characters, sure. But it also elevates the OG to legend status, setting a new bar of awesomeness for them. They become untouchable, very, very unlikely to die, make mistakes, or do anything beyond dropping into a story and being perfect for a little while. Village ensures that if we ever get to play Chris in another Resident Evil game, it’s going to be a tacticool run-and-gun experience where he kills armies of monsters without breaking a sweat. Because now, it kind of has to be.

Vader, Luke, they’re all already legendary; they wouldn’t be appearing as protagonists in anything anyway.

But other SWOG characters totally might . . . until they’re used for an over-the-top, fan service cameo.

Which sucks because I’ve recently seen an OG character appear in a sequel with new characters and it worked well. There’s a lot wrong with Terminator: Dark Fate, but probably the best thing about it was Linda Hamilton returning as Sarah Connor, because Sarah had new drama, and it was really cool watching Hamilton sell that drama . . . It definitely wasn’t as cool when they tried to sell us on a Terminator raising a family and becoming a good guy, but whatever.

My point is, I hope SWOGing stops so characters can continue being human.

Instead of becoming caricatures, designed to make us clap like nostalgia-drunk seals.

~~~

Man, I almost didn’t get this one out at all because I’m weirdly sick. I don’t know why or how, but I slept 12 hours last night and then woke up exhausted and (still to this point) light-headed. I’m seriously off to just drink cold water and sit in front of a fan (and hope that I just overheated [yes, I am Grass Type, btw]).

If you’re new here, I post every Sunday. You can always stop by next week or give this blog a follow if you want to hear the opinions of an aspiring writer on the internet.

Until next time, take care, stay safe, and seriously, stay hydrated.

Process in Progress #3 – My Villain Isn’t Palpatine (and, Seriously, Thank God)

I had to do my taxes this week.

They just got away from me. I was definitely spoiled last year, able to get to them at the point I naturally would have (in June), so when I learned that they were due earlier this year, my brain just kept hearing “Not yet though,” until days before they were due.

Cool.

So I busted my ass to do them and managed to finish before Resident Evil: Village and Subnautica: Below Zero came out (because the true hell would’ve been owning but not being able to play two of my most anticipated games of 2021 because I had to finish extremely tedious paperwork), but, as you can imagine, this week was still a major pain. Which is also why this post is a little late.

That said though, somewhere in the mix, nearly lost, was a super important triumph:

I finally finished the backstory for my villain.

And, to frame that success in the most accessible light I can imagine, I have to add that–thank God–he’s not just Palpatine.

That Easy Palpy Goodness

I don’t know if it’s just me . . . but the reflex to make villains like Palpatine . . . is weirdly strong.

I don’t mean that I make them look like him or act like him; none of my villains has ever criticized the protagonist for their lack of vision and shot lightning out of their hands.

But, because I grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy, and the prequels came out while I was in high school, Palpatine’s backstory stands out more than any other backstory for any other villain I love. Pro-o-o-o-obably because no other villain I love has full movies devoted to their backstory.

Well, I mean, Darth Vader obviously does, but I always choose to forget that his backstory is “he hated sand a lot.”

Okay–jokes aside, I never really think of Vader as a villain of Star Wars; in my eyes, he’s more of a puppet used by the real villain: Palpatine.

Anyway, my point is, I watched Palpatine become the Emperor in my teens and early 20’s, so whenever I think about my own villains, even if they’re a floating mask that looks like an eye and attaches to people’s faces, forcing them to do its bidding (yes, one of my early villains was basically Majora’s Mask), when I try to dive into their backstory, it is always super duper easy to imagine that they were a politician in an ancient era who fomented civil war that allowed them to gain power.

The villain for Memory, who actually is an old, male emperor, really re-e-e-e-e-eally challenged that reflex.

Thankfully, a totally different problem with his backstory helped me shake off that case of the Palpies.

A Forced Restart

I absolutely hate scrapping massive blocks of worldbuilding and starting over. It’s just soul-crushing every time, especially if it’s tangible pages of writing you’ve already done that you literally have to delete.

And even though it was written in outline form, my first run at my villain’s backstory was many pages long. Wa-a-a-a-ay longer than it should’ve been.

The thing is, I was forced to restart it because it was built around a discrepancy with my magic system that didn’t make sense–a super esoteric plot hole that would only be visible to me on the back end . . . which meant I just could not let it stand. Because I just obsessively hate plot holes so much that it’s borderline dysfunctional.

Anyway, I smoothed out the magic system, went back to restart the villain’s backstory, and realized that one of his major drives (learning how to wield magic better than his siblings so he could make a name for himself like his father stressed all of them should) just wouldn’t work anymore (because, post change, no one can wield magic except for gods). That meant I couldn’t go the route of him just being power-obsessed.

Which was, ultimately, such a blessing that I’m here writing about it. Because, without realizing, I’d slathered on a little bit too much of the Palpy on the building blocks of my villain. I didn’t go full Palpatine, but the dude was an old man who manipulated different political parties to fight while hiding he had crazy powers . . . Definitely too much Palp.

But being forced to find a new, more unique motivation yielded a backstory that feels weird and interesting. I can’t share it here, but the major thing is that my villain wasn’t an insane narcissist who manipulated his way into power. Instead, he was just a guy who had pretty intense issues, put in a variety of world-specific situations that ultimately made him a monster.

And I guess that’s the key term here: world-specific.

This is, in no way, an instructional post. If anything, this is just me venting about how I’m still learning how to fight bad reflexes when it comes to my creative process.

But I think the most important take away here is that my new villain’s backstory is world-specific; the things that made him who he is are only possible in the world of this story, and that feels so integral to making him unique that “How are their motivations world-specific?” is going to be in my villain-design tool kit from now on. Because that alone will force me to think more creatively about the world as a whole, and that just feels right to me.

Whether or not that’s right for you is totally up to you. I’m not here trying to preach today. I’m just a man freshly done with his taxes, venting.

And celebrating. Cause my WIP got several degrees less typical this week, and that’s always a good feeling.

And, more important than anything: because I finally finished the villain’s backstory, I can finally finish the outline this week.

Which means I’m just a week out . . . from finally writing prose again.

I’m so stoked I could open-hand slap a cake right now.

~~~

To be clear, I’ve never open-hand slapped a cake before.

But I absolutely could right now.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I post here every Sunday. Full warning though: this is just an aspiring Fantasy writer’s blog, and, as you can see, I post whatever weird, sometimes entirely self-centered bullshit I decide to write about each week. I just do not cater to algorithms; in fact, I usually don’t write about new fads until literal years after they’re popular. Example: I watched Terminator: Dark Fate for the first time the other day. I just don’t care about being timely. I care about writing, and experiencing stories outside of their hype windows. So if you’re down for reading the perspectives of a guy who cares a lot about storytelling but doesn’t give a single shit about what’s happening on the Epic Games Store, well, hey, there’s a Follow button on the side bar on the left side of the screen (on PC) or the upper right corner drop down menu (on mobile).

Until next time, stay safe and try making resin jewelry. It’s a relaxing, easy hobby. Just sit somewhere pretty; pop open a window; wear safety goggles, a face mask, and gloves; mix up some resin with whatever colors; pour it and leave it for a day. Come back, see what worked out and what didn’t, try something else.

Just allow something fun and uncomplicated to exist outside of your control. Because, especially if you’re a writer, you deserve to enjoy some chaotic beauty in your life.

Writing Prompt Workshop #1 – Sensory Relay

Hey, everybody.

This week, I thought I’d start a new series, which I’m calling “The Writing Prompt Workshop.”

I’m finally about to wrap up the outline for my rewrite of Memory, my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel, I figured now was the time to get a little practice in.

Also, I’m just wildly pumped to actually write prose again instead of editing and outlining. So pumped, in fact, that I’m bringing my habit of making up weird writing prompts to House of Error.

And for the very first prompt of the series, I’m going to try to use one sense to elicit a reaction from a different sense entirely, which I’m calling “The Sensory Relay Prompt.” Just as an example, it’s like trying to describe a smell that makes a reader feel cold. I have no idea how successful I’ll be, but I’ll do my best not to cheat.

Also, this will definitely be longer on my end than it will be for you, because I’m only going to post what I feel are successes, and those successes are probably just going to be a sentence or two each. Whatever snippets I post will have the senses I tried to evoke beneath them.

That said, here we go.

The sky was a muted grey–a mottled, old canvas, crossed and circled by shadow-dark seagulls. He barely heard them over the crash of waves, spray hissing as it rode the wind.

Sight to Touch.

Sound to Touch.

We’re talking temperature here. Not sure if that’s too easy, but hey, it’s a start.

The slow sway of the leaves smelled like rain. Like soil made tender by a storm.

Smell to Touch. Trying to evoke my favorite kind of cool, Spring breeze.

Specifically though, I wanted to give the sense of stepping on soft soil with the second sentence. Incredibly hard to do without saying “soft.” Definitely cheating in the end with “tender,” but man, I must’ve written “that gives under foot” ten different ways.

Okay. Enough nature talk. And enough “[Whatever] to Touch.”

She slipped immediately, feet sliding until she splashed into the stream burbling through the sewer access pipe. It was so warm.

“Godammit.”

You okay?”

She looked up at him. “How could I be?” And then she was doing her best to find some part of the pipe that her hands didn’t slip away from.

Touch / Sound to Smell.

But how the bread looked didn’t matter the moment it reached his tongue. It was almost sharp, poking his pallet until he maneuvered it. The only thing that made it food was a whisper of yeast, so light on his tongue that he wasn’t sure if he was smelling it or tasting it.

But then, he was hanging onto that phantasmal almost-flavor, because when he bit into it, it crumbled into a gravel so course his jaw stuttered.

Taste / Touch to Sound? Totally reliant on that last sentence to maybe invoke an insane crunch, but I . . . definitely got carried away. Sorry not sorry; I just love describing bad food. I do not know why—I’m just fucking owning it.

Maintenance waxed the floor with something that was sharp in her nose. A chemical tinge she blew back out instinctively, so tacky that it refused to be exhaled.

A sterile sheen that clung to her heels with every step.

Smell / Touch to Sound.

Man, Smell to Sound is the hardest thing in the world to convey. It seriously took me an hour to get those three sentences, and I wound up cheating in the end.

The paper smell hit him first as the bag settled on his head, holes–cut by a rounded scissors–not quite lining up with his eyes, no matter how hard he fidgeted. At one point, he tried whipping it around and down with a quick roll and snap of his head, but when it settled, the eyes had switched, left oval in place, right oval somewhere up at his eyebrow–only his own breath rushing out of both.

Smell / Touch to Sound.

Had to try for Smell to Sound one last time, but it is next level rough.

~~~

Okay. Well, that was extremely fun for me and I immediately kind of love this series.

Thanks for joining me. I know this may have been a weird, short post, but I highly recommend trying this Sensory Relay Prompt as a way to flex the descriptive muscles.

If you’re new here, I post every Sunday. If you like, you can give me a Follow on the Sidebar to the left (on PC), or the drop down menu on the top right (on mobile). Or just drop on by!

But either way, be safe, get vaccinated, and to all the moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

Edited in Post – The Falcon & The Winter Soldier

Disclaimer 1: Spoilers for The Falcon & The Winter Soldier. Seriously, if you haven’t watched the entire series, read no further.

Disclaimer 2: I enjoyed TF&TWS. After last week’s post, I was happy that the finale answered a few questions I had and focused enough on Sam that I wasn’t annoyed. Last week, I was definitely on a rage bender from The New Mutants, and jumped the gun on some heavy criticism of The Adventures of Birdman & Arm Man. I just wanted to take a moment to say I pro-o-o-o-obably should’ve waited for the final episode before tearing into it (last week’s post really could’ve been a well deserved, merciless takedown of The New Mutants, a movie that perfectly caps the bullshit spectacle that was the majority of the FoX-Men universe).

Having said that . . . I am a very heavy editor. I’ve admitted that a bunch of times on this site. It’s just in my nature to think about how a story could have been better. And nothing, from my favorite series to my own writing, escapes that obsessive “it could have been better” reflex. Seriously, I loved She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, but my very first “Edited in Post” was on that series anyway. Actually, I think this series might always be for movies and shows I love (because I tried a few weeks back to write one for a movie I didn’t like and ran out of steam 2 paragraphs in).

What I’m getting at though: as a man who likes Marvel stuff and enjoyed The Falcon & The Winter Soldier, I just . . . really think it could have been better.

To the extent that I re-e-e-e-eally had to do an “Edited in Post” after the series finale.

If you’re new here, “Edited in Post” is a script doctor series; a vehicle by which I, a random aspiring writer on the internet, explains how I would’ve edited a movie or TV show if its script hit my desk in pre-production. This is all 100% for fun, so if you love TF&TWS, cool. This post in no way threatens that.

How I’m going to tackle this: a list of edits I would’ve made followed by a super rough outline for how I would’ve reworked the story.

That said, let’s just jump into the edits. And yes, we’re starting gentle to establish a baseline for the kind of edits I’d make and the reasons I’d make them.

Edit 1: Make It So One of the Senators
Was Sam’s Former Commander

If there was only one change I could make to the show, this would be it.

I would’ve just added a named Senator to the cast. And, in the very first episode, in a brief, snappy exchange (in the crowd after the shield passing ceremony), I would’ve conveyed that when Sam was in the military, that Senator was his CO. And maybe that former CO is still comfortable speaking to him with authority (not belittling him, but definitely pulling rank, with Sam saluting and calling him “sir,” etc.). In this same scene, the Senator would thank Sam for taking his suggestion to give up the shield, conveying that he was pivotal in getting Sam to turn the shield over to the government.

In episode 2, after the reveal that the shield went directly to John Walker, we get a tense phone call between Sam and that commander who basically says, “This is just the way things have to be,” to convey that classic “it is what it is <shrug> oh well,” down-talking energy that shitty government officials have. Maybe here, he more abrasively pulls rank and asks if Sam is questioning the military, even though Sam is an Avenger who helped save half of the universe.

In the final episode, that Senator is among those saved from the Flag Smashers (maybe taking the lines of the one male Senator who told Sam he didn’t understand politics) and we’d get the catharsis of Sam challenging his morals and winning–on camera. Just to make things a bit more personal for Sam (which I think was missing) without making insane changes to every single episode.

Okay. Turning the Editing Dial up just a notch . . .

Edit 2: More Isaiah Bradley and the Project Rebirth Suit

Definitely getting crazier here, but I would have added another scene with Isaiah Bradley or his grandson, Eli.

I’ve thought about it a lot and there are so many ways this could’ve been done, but my goal for adding more Isaiah would’ve been threefold.

  1. I would’ve wanted him to seriously and more intensely challenge Sam’s feelings about the government way, way earlier.
  2. I would’ve wanted to (again) make things more personal for Sam.
  3. And I would’ve wanted him to somehow dismissively give Sam the suit he wore while he was doing missions after Project Rebirth.

The most extravagant way to do all of this: Isaiah lives in Sam’s town from the very beginning. Maybe he was an old man Sam always knew, who always bitterly challenged him for serving in the military and/or wasn’t impressed by him being an Avenger, particularly for working with Captain America. When Isaiah finally reveals the truth to Sam and tells him to leave, maybe he adds, “While you’re at it, take this too. And you throw it in the goddamn gutter when you leave,” and tosses an old duffle at him.

When Sam leaves, he opens the bag to find an old, burned suit that’s similar to Captain America’s–an MCU take on his costume from the comics, with logical alterations (maybe no headband, no scales, different color tones, etc.).

The less extravagant way to do this (and the way that I definitely prefer) would’ve been Sam going back to Isaiah’s house, but only Eli comes to the door. I would’ve done this mid-series, with Eli telling Sam some story from Isaiah’s past to explain why Isaiah is done with all of this and won’t talk to him (allowing for a potential flashback). But maybe Eli wants his grandfather to be happy, or wants him to be remembered as the hero he is; and/or maybe Sam manages to convince him that he cares, which makes Eli go inside and come out with an old duffle bag. “I’d tell you to hide it and get out of here, but . . . I don’t even think he’d notice it was gone.” Sam takes it, opens it up, and finds the old, burned suit.

Either way, at the end of the series, I would’ve had Sam either wear this exact suit (after cleaning it up), or he would’ve altered it to make something new, showing that he wasn’t just taking up Steve’s legacy.

“But wait,” you might be asking. “What about that sweet ass suit the Wakandans made for him?”

Yeah . . . I mean, I like that outfit for sure, but . . . I don’t think the Wakandans would’ve been in my version of the story because . . .

Edit 3: Completely Cut Baron Zemo

Okay. Hear me out.

We’re in full challenge mode now, but before you close this window, let me just say: I cannot tell you how excited I was to have Zemo return for this show.

In the promo material, I was seriously freaking out when I saw his mask. Like Kang the Conqueror, Zemo has always been one of the Marvel villains I absolutely love. Like, without backstory, if either of those dudes walked into a room and started talking, I’d be like, “Who-o-o-o-okay! Who the fuck is this dude with the blue face and the super deep voice!?”

“Who the fuck is this smooth talking dude with a purple mask and a purple jumpsuit with fucking leopard fur shoulder muffs? And why does he have a sword??”

Seriously, I love Baron Zemo.

But he is just a waste of time on this show.

And, worse, he . . . kind of feels like a completely different character from Civil War Zemo? Like, seriously, Civil War Zemo didn’t frame Bucky and find the other Winter Soldiers so he could kill super soldiers–he did it to make the Avengers fight each other. If TF&TWS Zemo had been in Civil War, he would’ve just shot Bucky in the head the first chance he got and then tried to do the same to Steve Rogers. Like, he will just forever feel like two different people to me.

To boot, Zemo doesn’t have an arc on this show? And, at least to me, it doesn’t feel like his contribution to Bucky’s arc . . . matters? Like, if Ayo had asked Bucky if he was going to kill Zemo, and then warned him that doing so would be bad for him, and then we saw Bucky deciding not to kill Zemo even though he wanted to, that would’ve been good character growth. But, from the very first episode, it’s shown that Bucky doesn’t struggle with an itch to kill the people who used to control him, so . . . why is Zemo there?

Whatever. The real point here is, I would need time for more Isaiah and tense convos with Senator Douchebag, so I would’ve cut Zemo, meme dance be damned.

The biggest loss here for me would’ve been losing Ayo and the Dora Milaje kicking ass. Oh, and that cold open with Bucky in Wakanda was a good moment. I definitely would’ve tried fitting them in anyway (maybe Ayo is there to check in on Bucky?) but if it came down to it, yeah, I would’ve killed some darlings.

The Rework Outline

Episode 1 – Exactly as it was, only with the addition of Senator Douchebag.

Episode 2 – Also as it was, but with Sam talking to Senator Douchebag. Without Zemo, the cliffhanger would have to be that Sam and Bucky are contacted by Sharon, who invites them to Madripoor, or gives them a lead in the city.

Oh, also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that I would’ve heavily edited some of Bucky and Sam’s bickering. In this episode in particular, some of their back-and-forths were super cringey. To the extent that I would’ve crossed out entire pages and handed them back like, “No.”

Just throwing that out there for anyone who thinks I play favorites with Marvel; nope, I harshly criticize boardroom writing wherever I find it.

Episode 3 – Essentially the same, but cutting out the Zemo breakout to replace it with Sam going to Isaiah’s and talking with Eli, getting an Isaiah story flashback, and getting the suit. Continue with the trip to Madripoor, with everything Zemo would’ve done achieved via Sharon’s connections and Joaquin Torres providing tech support (i.e. guy-in-the-chairing) instead.

Without Ayo making a cameo, maybe it ends with the hint that Sharon is working with someone? Not sure, but I’d definitely be able to figure it out if I was actually in the writing room, instead of belting this out in four hours.

Episode 4 – Basically the same, but with Sharon instead of Zemo. Maybe work in clearly grey-area things Sharon is doing to hint at her being/working for the Power Broker, but give every weird thing she does a logical excuse. Or, if you didn’t want to risk spoiling her twist . . . maybe we could just use Joaquin? Like, maybe Joaquin Torres actually gets to step in and help a bit more, since he eventually becomes the Falcon? Just saying–it would’ve been cool to give the MCU’s first Latinx superhero more to do in his first appearance. Ya know, aside from getting his ass kicked by a super soldier?

Whatever. The episode still ends with John Walker killing a dude in public.

Episode 5 – Largely the same, only an alteration to the scene with Isaiah, with Sam showing him that he has Isaiah’s old costume. “Your grandson gave it to me. Because he wants what I want. To help you.”

Cliffhanger with Sam working on Isaiah’s old suit, attaching and repairing his wings with Joaquin’s help (I’m going to keep adding him into every scene I can).

Episode 6 – Almost identical, only with Sam in the altered “Isaiah” suit, making all the changes that would be essential for a suit that isn’t made out of vibranium (probably can’t block a crashing helicopter with his wings anymore). Also, of course, we add Senator Douchebag to Sam’s speech scene to make it more cathartic.

And that’s it. Outside of a full story overhaul, that’s how I would’ve changed The Falcon & The Winter Soldier. Just representing Sam’s military life the tiniest bit and adding more Isaiah while removing extraneous characters. In my eyes, that would’ve made it a bit more personal for Sam while making Isaiah a better mirror for him.

But the major thing I would’ve loved: Sam in Isaiah’s suit. It would’ve been emotionally complicated and scenes would’ve needed to be tweaked to support it, but I definitely would’ve cried my eyes out.

~~~

A-a-a-a-anyway, that’s it for me. Thanks for reading if you made it all the way to the end; I really appreciate having this forum to at least vent these ideas.

That said, I post here every Sunday. If you’d like to read more stuff like this, feel free to drop by then or Follow my blog via the button on the left sidebar (on desktop) or top right drop down menu (on mobile). I don’t always do script doctoring, but I do heavily criticize blockbuster movies I don’t like at all (the other end of the spectrum from “Edited in Post”). Those posts are called “A Writer Watching,” and the last one I did was a two parter on Wonder Woman 1984 (Part 1, Part 2). Give it a read if you want to revisit your hatred for that movie. Or your hatred for people who hated that movie.

Until next time, take care. And, if you’re really down for getting into some seriously intense race issues in a comic TV show, holy shit, HBO’s Watchmen is excellent. Like, I hesitate to say things are “excellent,” but if you’ve already read Watchmen but haven’t seen the show, watch it. It’s so good.

Anyway, bye!

The Brown Main Supporting Character & The White Side Protagonist

I watched The New Mutants a few days ago.

Based on the trailers, I was expecting something unique and hoping for something cool.

What I got was something a little meh.

And a lotta racist.

Yeah, New Mutants really pissed me off.

Because it starts and we’re introduced to Dani Moonstar, our brown protagonist, and immediately, the part of me that went, “Oh, man! Awesome!” was curtailed by the fact that, having watched the trailers, I had no idea she was even in the movie.

That’s a really bad sign, the old, embittered part of my brain told me.

And as the movie rolled on, that part of my brain was absolutely justified.

Because, on one hand, Dani was prominently featured in the movie as a protagonist.

But, on the other, she was suffering from a phenomenon that I’ve seen somewhere else recently: The Falcon & the Winter Soldier. Something I’m going to call . . .

The White Side Protagonist /
Brown Main Supporting Character Syndrome

I’m going to call it “WSP/BMS” for short. I know. Doesn’t roll off the tongue. But it’s 4:45 in the morning and I’m angry.

If you haven’t seen New Mutants, I’ll spare you spoilers.

Suffice it to say there’s a white character in this movie who gets an inordinate amount of attention.

And, of course, it’s a team movie–so everyone in the team is going to get some attention.

But one character, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Illyana Rasputin, aka Magik, blows the idea of unfair character bias out of the goddamn water.

In a film that is supposed to center around Dani, Magik–a blonde white girl–is the center of many, many scenes.

When the titular mutants are quietly coexisting in a common room, Magik comes in and starts saying openly racist shit to our protagonist, starting a fight.

When the titular mutants are momentarily free to blow off some steam because someone (Magik) drugged the person in charge of them, it’s Magik’s idea to use the lie detector the scene is based around. And the conclusion of that scene is that Magik stoically tells everyone about something dark from her past that leaves everyone in stunned silence.

When people start getting chased by living nightmares, Magik’s are the most unique and prevalent ones.

And, at the end of the film, even though no one else has any, Magik has a series of ridiculous, over-the-top hero shots that watch like ridiculous, at moments cringey, fanfiction.

All of this–especially the ending–left me with a pretty clear idea of what happened behind the scenes:

Someone, at some point during the production of this film, wrote this story entirely for Magik. It was basically Sucker Punch 2, pulling for that same vibe. Even if they didn’t put it down to paper, someone wanted to make that movie.

Then, someone else told them, “No. Actually, we want Dani Moonstar to be the protagonist.” And that Magik-obsessed writer was super pissed.

So they did an edit of their original script that pulled some focus from Magik to give to Dani . . . but then pulled focus away from the rest of the cast to give more to Magik (because, seriously, the other characters get very little development in comparison).

So, in the end, we wound up with a weird, extremely hokey moment at the end of the story, where Magik goes full super hero, complete with wind-swept-hair close-ups that feel wildly out of place with the rest of the film. There’s even a heavily contrived super hero name drop that the supporting cast awkwardly sets up for Magik (“You can’t fight that thing! It’s magic!” even though literally no one in the entire film suggested the thing they were fighting was magical, just so Magik could follow up with, “So am I.”).

Or absolutely none of this happened. Maybe instead, a few Hollywood writers got together, researched some characters, picked a diverse mutant for their protagonist, but then just fell in love with their rendition of a white character. And they saw absolutely nothing wrong with giving that white character a ton of attention.

Writer A: “I mean, she’s not even the protagonist.”

Writer B: “Right.”

Writer A: “So it can’t be racist if we give her a ton of attention! She’s a side character!”

Writer B: “Didn’t even need to say it! Clearly not racist!”

A: “So, yeah, wouldn’t it be so cute if she talks to Lockheed at the end and he reacts!? Like, not once, but twice!?”

B: “Yes! OMFG! And we can have her shout at one point that she’s the most powerful mutant in the team!”

A: “Essential! And we can have her murder the final threat in the third act by stabbing it with her sword!”

B: “YES! And–actually, wait . . . Shouldn’t the protagonist defeat the final threat in the third act?”

A: ” . . . Oh! Right! Pfft! I’m so stupid–totally forgot! Magik isn’t the protagonist! That Native girl is our protagonist! Ha ha! Slipped my mind somehow!”

B: “Ho ho! No problem! A mistake anyone would make!”

A: “Yes. An honest mistake and, most importantly, not a racist one!”

B: “Again, didn’t even need to say it, my friend!”

. . .

Yeah, either of these scenarios are bad.

If a writer wedged in and then steadily undermined a brown protagonist with a white side character, that’s bad.

And if a writer accidentally pulled focus from a brown protagonist to give more attention to a white side character they loved, that is also bad.

And, of course, to finally put a stamp on it, that’s what WSP/BMS Syndrome is. The tendency for writers in charge of a story with an ethnically diverse protagonist . . . to focus so much on a white side character that said white character might as well be the protagonist.

Now, most people can see right off the bat why that’s bad. But for anyone who doesn’t get it, WSP/BMS is an evolution of the practice of studios dooming minority-led or woman-led projects to fail by assigning terrible writers and artists to them. It is the act of demanding writers who don’t care about or don’t understand the need for diversity to write diverse stories. And then either not caring when those stories sideline their protagonists or . . . not even realizing that it’s happening.

And it sucks, because what gets lost in translation are a lot of great opportunities for telling that protagonist’s story.

Dani Moonstar’s entire personality focuses exclusively on the night when her reservation was destroyed. It makes sense she would think of that night a lot (it is the inciting incident of the plot). But . . . we see literally nothing else about her past and know nothing else about her as a person. She is a mutant whose reservation was destroyed. That is her character.

The same way that Sam Wilson’s character came dangerously close to being boiled down to, “He’s the guy Steve Rogers gave his shield to.”

Yeah, I’m bringing all of this around to something recent. Because The Falcon & The Winter Soldier comes dangerously close to being . . .

The Winter Soldier & Falcon

I am aware that this is the freshest of hottakes. The show isn’t even over yet.

However, it is very strange to me that in a show where the Falcon is the protagonist, there is a full episode where he just stands in the background.

And his personal arc with his family starts in Episode 1 and isn’t picked up again until Episode 5.

While, in the meantime, his partner, Bucky Barnes, gets intense, heartfelt moments in almost every episode. We get looks into Bucky’s past, intensely emotional moments of him coping with that past, complexity between him and Baron Zemo, questions about how much of the Winter Soldier is still inside of him.

While Sam Wilson is, for a bizarre amount of time, just standing in the background.

Sam gets a handful of good character moments, but 5 episodes in, we still don’t know why he gave up the shield. What he was feeling–why he thought it was the right thing to do, which I thought he’d explain in an emotional exchange with literally anyone by now.

We get Sam using his experience as a therapist for soldiers, which is great . . . but somehow, the plot does absolutely nothing with the fact that Sam was a goddamn soldier. Which is insane to me. Even in moments where he could easily relate to John Walker’s Captain America, we don’t get a story from Sam about the one time he had to make a hard choice while he was on a mission. No admission to anyone about how he felt when he came home from war. No former war buddy Sam calls to talk. No venting about how coming back from being an Avenger and finding corporate America ungrateful feels like coming back from defending the country abroad and finding the same social injustices are still in place. The latter is conveyed by another character entirely while Sam just stares at him and shakes his head, as if Sam would not have experienced any of that himself.

And all of this is a major bummer. Especially when a white villain, Baron Zemo, joins the cast and sucks up even more screen time (in a show that already gives time to another white villain, John Walker). Seriously, I know the Zemo dance became a meme, but at that point in my viewing experience, I threw up my hands like, “Why the fuck am I watching Zemo dance!? More of Sam’s family drama, please!”

Of course, a part of me should be like, “Whatever! It’s cool that we got a show prominently featuring Falcon and they are, at this point, doing a good job showing him becoming Captain America.” And also, a total surprise: they actually have the MCU’s first Hispanic super hero getting a tiny origin story of his own in the background (which, wow, no one is talking about at all–probably because Torres will forever be in the background [I know how these things work–I call it ‘Star Trek style’]).

But, at this point in my life, that bitter side of me can’t help thinking, “They could’ve done more.”

With New Mutants, that’s extremely obvious, what with the one character saying blatantly racist shit and other characters being white-washed.

But, with The Falcon & the Winter Soldier, even though it’s subtle by comparison, it’s still something we need to fight.

Because I don’t want to live through, like, ten years of movies with Black and brown protagonists who aren’t actually protagonists. With writers who ignore entire facets of their lives so they can give tons of screen time to a white side character.

Seriously, I want to get to the point where we get an MCU film or show that’s headlined by a Hispanic super hero before I die.

And, when I get it, if that hero gets shoved aside in their own show or movie so their sidekick or villain can get more of the attention they’ve no doubt gotten already in the source material, I will fucking scream.

~~~

Man, it’s been a while since I wrote something . . . angry. But goddamn, I really want the world to nip this one in the bud.

If you’re new here, and you were expecting something chill, yeah, I was too when I turned on The New Mutants. Wasn’t expecting to get a bunch of racist shit in my silly horror movie about super heroes in a haunted hospital–that’s for goddamn sure. But, hey, that’s the experience. The fun of being a minority and trying to watch anything.

Anyway, I’m definitely going to wind down for next weekend. Unless the last episode of The Falcon & The Winter Soldier really pisses me off. Who knows.

Either way, you can find out by stopping by next Sunday!

Until then, take care, stay safe, and if you haven’t read it, oh man, The Raven Tower blew my mind. It takes a while to get going, but once it gets good, it gets so good. Anyway, bye!

Monster Showcase – Mother Longlegs from Kong: Skull Island

Disclaimer 1: Yes, this post contains minor spoilers for Kong: Skull Island, which I only point out because if you haven’t seen it, KSI is actually good. Seriously, I just watched it for the first time earlier in this week, and I was floored not only by how entertaining it was but how that movie exists and–only four years after its release–no one talks about it. I’m actually going to write a post about the micro-genre I think that movie exists in, but whatever–for now, my point is if you haven’t seen this movie and don’t want a good scene spoiled, go watch it first, then come back here. And, seriously, get popcorn and beer, watch it with friends if you can. You’ll absolutely have a good time.

Disclaimer 2: The biggest trigger warning for people with Arachnophobia. Navigate away from this post, burn your computer, charter a boat to the middle of the ocean, weigh down the remains and throw them overboard. And if you watch KSI, just know that there’s one scene you need to skip. But, seriously, read no further.

Disclaimer 3: I’m sick. Like, sharp headaches, congestion, dizzy sick. So if I do anything weird, like start a post with three disclaimers, please cut me some slack.

All of that said, hello and welcome back.

Today, I just wanted to add another entry to Monster Showcase. Not just because the monster I talked about in the first one was pro-o-o-obably too weird, but because I was genuinely floored by what Gojipedia calls . . .

Mother Longlegs

This is a species of giant spiders living on Skull Island (yes, if you haven’t seen the movie, those are not bushes–those are tree tops).

Now, the thing is, I know Fantasy, you know Fantasy; there are a ton of giant spiders a-a-a-all over Fantasy. So why would I ever write an entire post about a pretend giant spider from anything?

Because of the worldbuilding.

What Makes It Cool

It’s fucking legs look like bamboo stalks. Because it hunts in bamboo forests.

How fucking awesome is that? A Mother Longlegs hunts like this:

Absolutely terrifying.

It just stands in place in a bamboo forest, obscured by the canopy, waiting for prey to wander close. When that happens, the Mother Longlegs might quietly spear them with one of its legs, or fire sticky tendrils down and draw them up to its massive pinchers. In KSI, the characters being stalked by it only notice it because it decides to kill one of them. Which invites the thought, If it didn’t decide to kill any of them, would they have just walked through the forest never knowing they were walking through the legs of a 20 foot spider? Would they have just not been aware it was there? And that, my friends, is, like the fear of spiders perfectly embodied. The terror of seeing a large spider scurry behind your wall unit and thinking, “Oh fuck . . . I don’t know where it is!” Sitting down and jumping because a chord brushed your leg. Or just glancing down and seeing a spider (or any large bug) inches away from your bare foot and flipping a table.

I’m getting a little carried away here, but my point is, all of the elements of this weird, giant spider immediately make sense. Its niche, its mutations, all of it comes together to make a very believable nightmare.

But, on top of that, all of those details that I just laid out–the things that make the Mother Longlegs feel real–didn’t come from the wiki.

They came from just watching the one scene this monster is in. From a cumulative 30 seconds of screen time, where everything anyone ever needed to know about this monster was conveyed in-story.

We get a short exchange between characters before this thing even reveals itself. It kills someone and the other characters turn around to attack it. In the confusion, it shoots its weird tendrils at someone, starts drawing them up to its massive pinchers, and another character calls out for everyone to “Cut the legs!” so that maybe if you didn’t realize some of the bamboo stalks were it’s legs, you definitely know now. The monster is killed, the characters continue their trek, and you get to just nod like, “Cool nightmare I’m gonna have tonight. Thanks. Can’t wait.”

All jokes aside, you come away from that one scene able to write the Gojipedia entry for Mother Longlegs yourself.

And that is amazingly clean conveyance. Like, Masterclass Show Don’t Tell.

What I Learned From It

The Mother Longlegs itself is a showcase on how to create a monster that feels like a living, breathing creature.

But its scene is a clinic on how to convey all the things that make it feel real–in seconds.

And that’s what I really want to master. I want to both make a monster that’s weirdly believable and convey all of the things that make it believable in a single scene. Without a character walking up like, “Oy. You heard about them big spiders? They ‘ide in the tree tops and scoop you up.”

Like, no. I want no lead up. No suspense building. Just clean, awe-inspiring design.

Seriously, last word here: just Google “Mother Longlegs” and marvel at the crazy amount of fan art there is of this thing.

~~~

Okay. That said, it’s 4:30 AM and I am going to go Flying Elbow Drop my bed.

If you’re new here, I post every Sunday. So stop by next week, when I’m going to talk about something other than Kong: Skull Island–I promise.

Until then, stay safe, take care, and make sure to double check the expiration date on your antibiotic ointment. Seriously, expired antibiotic ointment makes your skin red and itchy so it looks like you have an infection and need to apply more ointment. Slipperiest of slopes. Bye!

Let’s Talk About – “Uncanny Mess Realism” in Worldbuilding

Welcome back! Or Happy . . . First Time Here? Uh . . .

Welcome!

Holy shit, I’m never trying to write a normal intro ever again.

Today, I wanted to get back to writer talk. I have an important life update I’ll drop on you guys, but nothing crazy . . . Well, it is crazy, but not in a bad way or a great way. It can wait.

Especially because a really good topic came to me in my weekly zoom call with other writers last Saturday.

How to use a very specific type of realistic complexity in worldbuilding.

As I brought it up to my writing buddies, I realized, Maybe this isn’t a facet of worldbuilding everyone thinks about?

To put it simply, it’s the messy, microcosm-riddled complexity of both in-world institutions and pre-story timelines.

I took a week and tried doing some research about this topic, but I was only able to turn up a bunch of basic worldbuilding tips. Which means no one (from what I saw) has talked about this before. I’m choosing to believe that’s because I’m just obsessing over miniscule facets of writing again. But whatever.

I’d like to point out that I didn’t create this concept. I learned it from watching a DM on Twitch ages ago; Adam Koebel, who possibly still DM’s for the Rollplay D&D channel, used to do worldbuilding sessions for the games he ran and after watching a few, this one aspect of his approach to worldbuilding stood out to me. I don’t remember him calling special attention to it or naming it, but I’ve come to think of it as . . .

Uncanny Mess Realism

Okay. Hear me out.

Your basic worldbuilding for the guards in a Fantasy city is this:

The guards in this city are servants of the king and they ride horses from the stables at the castle’s guardhouse.

Uncanny Mess worldbuilding for the guards in a Fantasy city is this:

The guards in this city were a mercenary faction that was employed so long by the kingdom that they were folded into the military 300 years ago (which is why they’re called “the Wolves” [I dunno–it’s 3am] and why their coat of arms is the kingdom’s sigil with a full moon behind it. Among the Wolves, there are two pretty distinct mindsets–those who love the kingdom (who grew up here or came here because they heard stories of it and are content to protect it) and those who want to be Wolves because they have “Wolf’s blood” in their family line or grew up on stories about the sell swords (and who don’t care nearly as much about the kingdom and its citizens). Also, they use horses from three different stables–Lockley’s, West End, and Minish, which are all on retainer with the king. A normal person can still buy or rent horses from those stables, but their warhorses are technically property of the crown, shared by the Wolves when necessary. Yeah, the previous queen used the castle stables to outfit the Wolves, but the current king loves horses, so the castle stables are full of his personal stock.

Basic worldbuilding for a company that makes androids is this:

Android Co. [3:30am now] makes androids in its facility in Silicon Valley! They sell androids at their fancy chain stores, and even though they are the only android manufacturer in the world, their androids are incredibly high tech and basically human.

Uncanny Mess worldbuilding for a company that makes androids looks like this:

Android Co., like the 5 other major android manufacturers, gets a lot of their parts from third party manufacturers. Considering, for example, the highest quality processors come from one company and heat sinks come from another, they have a bunch of contracts with a lot of third party firms who ship parts to their factories. Even after you take into account proprietary technology, their androids are still about 40% identical to every other android on the market. Android Co.’s major claim to fame is the hyper realistic synthetic skin they use on their products, but even that is a commissioned variant from the same firm who sells to everyone because they make the best, least creepy-looking synthetic parts.

What I’m trying to get at here is that, in the real world, organizations and institutions are very messy.

If you go to the bear enclosure at your local zoo, and you see the one brown bear you’ve always seen there, who now has *gasp* an adorable bear cub with them, the temptation is go, “Aww! He/She had a baby!?” But, in reality, that cub was possibly brought in from another zoo or a sanctuary. In fact, if you’re not particularly keen on the bears, maybe you don’t even notice that the one brown bear you’ve always seen is a totally different bear–that yours was moved to a different zoo and a new one was brought in and you’re 30 feet away and can’t tell regardless.

Okay, it’s starting to sound like I’m roasting your ability to identify bears from 30 feet away, but no–what we’re focusing on here is that zoos 100% operate like that. All organizations do.

A security firm orders their uniforms from one local outfitter that buys shirts from a different company that mass produces them. Every pizza place in New York uses boxes that don’t advertise their pizzeria. I don’t know why, but clearly, there’s some needlessly complicated reason why that happens.

That complexity is just the way organizations actually work. They are these messy chimeras of intentions, business decisions, and contracts that are constantly changing. And making the organizations in your fictional worlds operate in this way will make them weirdly realistic.

If that is something you want to do.

As always, whether to use this approach depends entirely on what you want to do with your story. I build organizations like this in my stories for the same reason that I do pre-story timelines for my characters–it just adds potential fuel to my work and sometimes influences the entire story in important ways.

Another thing to keep in mind: organizations can be as Uncannily Messy as you want. Android Co. can purchase 100% of their parts from other manufacturers and have them assembled by a contractor. Or they can ship in 10% of their parts, the rest all proprietary, made in a massive complex of factories in Canada. Obviously, all of this is your call and subject to whatever facet of realism you think fits.

But I will add that . . .

Uncanny Mess Can Also
Be Applied to Character Timelines

Obviously, Uncanny Mess is a beast of timelines; in all of the example above, it is a tool I used to flesh out the timelines of different organizations.

However, even though a character isn’t assembled at a bunch of different factories, their pasts can definitely be that complex.

Which I only say because, was I was younger, the reflex was always to be like, “And before this character walked into the plot, he was a knight. He grew up in this town, became a knight, fought in the Old War, and now he’s old. A-a-a-a-and done.”

But, really, that knight’s history should be, “He grew up in this town. Maybe right when its trade in–oh man . . . Okay. Wait. I have to come up with what they traded in. Fish? Okay. Wait. So I guess he was a fisherman’s son? Maybe that affects how he talks? Did he hate fishing? Maybe that’s why he became a knight? Or wait . . . Maybe he loved fishing but he had to leave that town anyway? Maybe he, like, fell in love with someone in the big city, but had to become a knight to gain the status necessary to marry him/her? Okay. Whatever. He was a fisherman until he was 16. Then he went on a trip with his family to the big city, maybe to deliver a bunch of fish, and that’s when he met–wait! . . . How did he get to the big city? Was it on a ship? His family probably didn’t own it, so was it a merchant’s vessel, commissioned by the king?”

I mean, look, you don’t have to be as crazy as I am when it comes to designing characters’ pasts, but the potential to find some interesting facet of a character is always somewhere back there. There could be an experience he has on that ship that inspires him to become a knight–anything from getting to see different ports to living through a pirate raid, thwarted by a royal vessel full of knights.

Again, none of this is essential. In fact, there’s a very real chance that going back and entertaining all of this for a story you’re already writing would just be detrimental.

But if you feel like your characters aren’t round enough–if you aren’t sure about their motivations or what story you want to tell through them, maybe give their past a second look.

And if you’re writing an intrigue story centered around some organization and you’re having a hard time figuring out the pieces of the plot, maybe take a second look at that organization’s past.

And make an absolute mess of all of it.

~~~

Well, that was fun.

If you’re new here, I post in this web zone every Sunday. And I’m going to try to start posting as early in the day as I possibly can, because I’ve realized that by the time I’m posting every Sunday (usually at night), I’ve always missed a spike in visitation. So I tell people to stop by, and they do–to find nothing. I feel really bad about that, so I will officially start aiming for 12am on Sundays.

So, stop by next Sunday! Or, if you would rather just avoid all of this scheduling BS, you could always follow me here (a button on the left sidebar on desktop and the top right menu on mobile) so my posts can get emailed to you.

Either way, thanks for reading. I am flirting with the idea of making audio recordings of these posts–but that’s going to rely heavily on how easy it is for me to read them/the cost of apps and equipment. If it’s not too bad, I’m throwin’ the stimmy at it.

Anyway, until next time, take care, stay safe, and hug your cats! Just a full-on hug. Unless they’d hate that–LOL. Bye!

Process in Progress #2 – The Character Wall

Hi there.

I had a bunch of things I wanted to write about today, and, in choosing one, I wound up shooting wa-a-a-a-ay over the typical release deadline. Apologies for that.

But I didn’t want to publish another life update. And I didn’t want to vent about my presence on social media either (which I’m displeased with not from a popularity standpoint, but from an “I hate what I do on there” standpoint [more on that in the Afterword]).

What I did want to do: actually talk about writing again, which I feel I haven’t done for a while.

The topic? The weird way a story requires you to prioritize certain character arcs. In a roundabout way. Let me explain.

I’m Honing One of My Protagonist’s Motivations
(& I Was Having a Harder Time with It Than I Wanted)

The situation: one of the protagonists in my current WIP is named Kole Buchanon. As that WIP is a rewrite of a book I wrote years ago, Kole’s personality has drastically changed.

In the original, he was insecure from a lifetime of being mistreated. Lacking in confidence, he was often unwilling to face challenges and his arc centered on defying that–putting himself in harm’s way to help other people. The hang up of being mistreated is something I still want to use in a future book somewhere, because I think that has merit, but the arc was as typical as they come.

New Kole is a capable, fledgling rebel. A person who’s challenged the setting’s corrupt Emperor by engaging in (admittedly low-impact) criminal activity. His hang up is experiencing, in the Prologue, the futility of challenging the Emperor when he tries a slightly higher-impact heist and it goes horribly wrong. His arc is . . . still up in the air actually, but that doesn’t matter for this post! Ha ha!

What matters is, in my outline for the rewrite, I kept referring to Original Kole’s arc.

I’m not sure how that happened. I knew he was a different character in the rewrite, but somehow, I focused so heavily on my other protagonist, Memory, that I just didn’t realize the adjustment to his personality was as intense as it was. Or maybe I was just so hellbent on getting the outline done that I didn’t realize I needed to slow down for Kole’s sake?

Either way, all of this came to a head when I got to the last chapters, and finally looked at the notes my writing group gave me about Kole’s motivations: that they weren’t clear. And, after I revisited those motivations and his arc as a whole, I finally realized the mix up.

Now, why am I writing about this at all?

Because, on one hand, after the last session of my writing group, I realized not only that Kole needed a totally new background story, but that the arc he needs for this first novel . . . isn’t going to be his best arc?

Like, I came up with a really awesome arc for him when I was brainstorming what his best character arc could be, but it just doesn’t fit in the first book? He needs to react to the situation in front of him, and that awesome potential arc works way better for a potential sequel?

I definitely explain, but first . . .

The Character Wall

When I realized I needed to rewrite Kole’s past, I realized that there were certain aspects of him that I wanted to focus on.

And, if you’re here exclusively for the “Process in Progress” part, then this is it.

I realized that, with Kole and all of my characters going forward, I want to know:

  1. The Hang Ups – Probably the most important thing for me is going to be the emotional problems that a character has. It’s “hang ups” plural because there are going to be a bunch of these. “Regrets abandoning his family.” “Experienced a lot of horrible things in the war.” Not all of these will heavily impact the plot, but in my mind, they’re as prevalent as “Favorite Color” and way more important.
  2. The Arcs – Specifically the arcs the character is going to go through and how those arcs are split up among the different entries in the series (if it’s a series). I can’t predict this right off the bat–I’ll have to work on each installment of the story before I know what arcs fit where.

But I’m here mentioning all of this now because . . .

A Character’s Arc in a Story Needs to Fit the Story

Okay. Seriously, forgive me for sounding dense.

But what I meant with that heading is . . . a character’s arc can’t just be what you want it to be for a novel.

You can’t just design a setting, establish a plot, and then just force the character’s best arc to happen in that setting and plot if it doesn’t fit.

Kole Buchanon is going to learn some hard truths about his past. It’s going to happen.

But as absolutely bizarre as it is to say, he’s not going to learn any of those truths in the first book.

Because it just doesn’t fit what’s happening and what he’s feeling in the setting and plot I’ve created for the first novel.

Kole can’t reconcile his bad experiences with his family because that just doesn’t work with the theme and plot of the first novel. Even if I tried to wedge it in, with would be rushed, rigid, and would not land like it would in book 2.

So I can’t do it in book one. And, as a person who’s never written a sequel, that blows my goddamn mind.

The Memory Roadmap–which is a things I have now?–is set for Kole to have his big arc in book 2 and Memory to have hers in book 3.

And, aside from that being weird and surprising, it also brings me a lot of hope.

Because, for the first time in my life, a sequel is coming together in my mind.

And just yes.

Please.

I am so goddamn pumped to write an amazing sequel.

This is a weird milestone that I have to imagine other writers hurdled right over.

But whatever. I’m not them, and I’m massively grateful to be experiencing this progress.

Book 2? I’m coming for you.

~Afterword~

Thanks for reading.

Yeah, about social media–I hate it. LOL I just don’t do it well. Like, when I hop on Twitter, it’s just to look at cute cat videos or get massively angry about political stuff. Or, at the worst of times, I scroll through fandom hashtags and get inspired to talk shit about things I don’t like.

And–I’ve said it so many times on here–I just don’t want to do that anymore. Dissecting multi-million dollar blockbuster films is one thing, but talking shit about something people love–on Twitter–is another thing entirely. Like . . . why? Why shit on someone for being excited about Justice League, or for liking the DCEU in general? I unironically loved Aquaman. It was a stupid, fun spectacle and I’m super excited for it’s sequel.

I’d just rather dole out that love than fling hate.

So, yeah, I’m deleting my Twitter. I would keep it and say positive things, but I’d feel trapped not being able to speak my mind, and speaking my mind has the chance to spark an argument, yadda yadda yadda.

So, on the chance you’re following me there, expect me to just disappear.

And, hey, just follow me here instead.

Where, ya know, we can chat about dumb stuff in more than 280 goddamn characters.

If you enjoyed this post, I do this every Sunday (unless it’s a day like today where I got to posting after 12am). You can always stop by next week for something else that could be anything. Between now and then, I could go to space and write about how that felt. Probably not gonna happen, but maybe.

Anyway, until next time, stay safe, and take care of yourself. Really though–make sure you’re drinking enough water and don’t push it all the time, even if you want to. You are the only person capable of pampering yourself the way you deserve to be pampered. Basic human rights, like water, are a good start.

Bye!