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!

Writer’s Workshop – Being in a Gas Station While It’s Getting Robbed

This post was written on Monday the 15th, the day after my February “break” post.

A lot of things happened today.

By way of update: I was woken up by the guy upstairs playing his music. But when I went on an investigation (fully contemplating gross sabotage of their front door), I discovered that not only was the music actually coming from downstairs, the people blasting it were an old couple. Which I discovered because they cranked it so loud that I heard it through my noise-cancelling headphones (which work, but aren’t literal magic capable of perfectly muting 80 decibels), so I just had to go down there, knock, ask nicely for whoever to turn it down, and pray for the best. Thankfully, they turned down the music enough where I barely hear it without the headphones, and don’t hear it at all with the headphones.

With that out of the way, I was also in a gas station earlier, when it was getting robbed.

And, this totally was not what I intended to write about.

But how the fuck could I not?

Because, on one hand, I’m still processing. And, on the other hand, in the most mercenary-writer way, it’s at least a useful experience.

I will say immediately that I’m pretty sure the other people involved were fine. I was literally the only person not behind a counter, and the people the robber was threatening were behind a protective barrier, but they still immediately gave him money (meaning the chances of him shooting them were extremely low–if you don’t know, people committing robberies in real life usually don’t want to shoot anyone and make their rap sheet worse). Anyway, this was also not a small mom and pop gas station, so the only loser today was the gas station chain (and, whatever–get fucked American corporation).

That said . . .

The confusion hit first. Something like the Uncanny Valley. I was hearing an amalgam of a million movie quotes, but spoken aloud–sincerely.

My brain took a moment to catch up, so it’s impossible to remember what he said, but it was something like, “Alright! I am not fucking around! Let’s go!The words of a caricature, stepping out of the fourth wall to remind me that, yes, these things happen.

I looked and saw a man poised against the gas station’s counter, his hands on it, arranged to conceal what could only be a gun (there was no way clerks behind a wall wound freak out for a knife). And as I turned back, I realized a few of things:

  1. I didn’t wear my glasses today. Half-awake and in the heat of preparing to confront a noisy neighbor, I stumbled out of my apartment without putting them on. Because of course I did.
  2. A lifetime of action movies trained me to expect Arnold Schwarzenegger, Spider-Man, or whoever to show up and stop this. As a writer hearing dialogue and auto-assigning the next step in the action, I know I thought of this for a moment, but only in relation to whatever process reigned it in–the part of my brain that sounded the This Is Not A Fucking Movie alarm.
  3. I was the only person standing on the store floor. There were people behind the gas station’s counter–women who were screaming and a guy who kept shouting something–and one guy behind its mini Dunkin Donuts counter (who disappeared into the back immediately to–I assume–call the police) but I was the only person on the floor itself.
  4. And I was standing at the ATM, which still had my card, and was slowly dispensing my rent.

All it would take was for this man to look to his left, see me at the ATM, and he could’ve walked up and demanded what I was taking out. Because I, a person who has experienced guns before, knew that they are the ultimate means of control. If someone points a gun at you and tells you to do something, you do it–unless you have real life training that gives you other options (which almost no one does).

In that scenario, I would either give him the money, or he’d shoot me for it.

But . . . he was too busy shouting for the clerks to “Get the other one! The other one!” which I guess meant “the other register.”

I stood there, frozen, staring at the ATM screen as it processed the withdrawal, contemplating if I should just leave, aware that the clerks would be fine because this was a chain (they had nothing to lose, were already giving the robber the money, and thus, he was extremely unlikely to shoot them). Honestly never for a single second did I think I should help (all of the boyhood fantasies I’ve had about confronting a robber and / or talking them down were lost immediately in the sea of adulthood–the cold, hard realization that “there is no wall protecting me, so on the off-chance that he really is trigger happy, he can just fucking shoot me whenever”).

A thousand breathless thoughts before the ATM flicked to “Your transaction is approved!” and the male clerk behind the gas station counter shouted, “That’s it! We’re closed, man!” And then, in an oddly casual way, like either he was tired of shouting or he and the other clerks had retreated far enough–into a room behind the counter–that they knew they were fine, “We’re closed, man. Nah, we’re closed.” I still don’t know what that means.

But the ATM whirred and finally finished dispensing.

And then, I did not even look back, certain that if I did, I’d be spotted.

I just took the money–folding it into my wallet in one quick motion which, in retrospect, was probably the dumbest thing I could’ve done (guaranteeing that if he saw me, “Give me the money!” would’ve turned into “Give me the wallet!”).

But, if he did see, he deemed the risk of trying to rob a dude who was already walking out of the store–a man who maybe didn’t see him?–not worth it.

The only reason I didn’t run is because, when I came out, there was another guy standing near the door who had to be a look out, and I didn’t want to draw attention. For the same reason (I honestly did not remember the Dunkin worker at the time), I didn’t call the cops, assuming that keeping an eye out for snitches was part of guy #2’s job. I just crossed the street immediately, looked back (which was another stupid mistake because, without my glasses, the station and guy #2 were just a massive blur from that distance [so all looking back did was almost get me caught]) and then kept walking.

I’ve been checking the news since to see if I could find details about the robbery. I even made the mistake of downloading Citizen App again–which, if you’re unfamiliar, is an app that shows incidents, like stabbings and fires, in a region (which means it’s massively depressing for New York)–but I’ve found nothing. [Edit: Even checking back now, on Sunday afternoon, I found nothing about my robbery.]

Which cranks the hopelessness meter to ‘Ultra Max,’ even though I didn’t lose anything, and–to my knowledge–no one else did either.

In part, it’s because I could not give a single detail about this robber–the ATM was far enough away from the counter that I, a blind man without his glasses, couldn’t have made out the dude’s face even if he looked back at me and I stared, neither of which happened. The glance I took was on the dude’s hands and posture, so I’m not even secure in the observation that he had a dark jacket on.

So, basically, I would be less-than-no-help in this situation, which makes me feel so oddly stupid.

And that’s probably the major takeaway here, writing-wise; I’ve been robbed at gunpoint before–when I was much, much younger–and that came with its own, way more acute sense of hopelessness, but even just being a bystander, realizing that there was genuinely nothing helpful that I could do in the moment (that legitimately I would only make the situation worse) fucking sucks. But that feeling goes beyond the moment; having been involved in police investigations before–working security and the aforementioned time I was mugged–I can’t help imagining the look on an officer’s face when I tell him, “No, I didn’t have my glasses, but maybe he had a dark jacket on?” I can almost hear him sighing, “Waste of my fucking time.” Like, thanks. I fucking hate it. I hate that sleepily deciding not to go back for my glasses impacted the day that strongly. And I hate that, even if I had gone back for them, I would only be able to provide a detail or two to the NYPD, an institution that, after 2020, demonstrably doesn’t give a fuck about me or any of the minorities working that gas station–an institution that would only be motivated to catch that robber if it turned out he wasn’t white.

Okay. I’m just moving on from that. I’m frustrated, guys. My bad. Focusing now–we’re focusing.

Another writing takeaway: in the moment, information is crystal clear but processing at such a hectic rate that you easily forget things. Like, all data is streamlined for your survival (i.e. “I’m at the ATM,” “he has a gun,” “no one else is on this side of the counters with him but me,” etc.), but that means some data is shoved right the fuck out of your brain to make space; I saw that dude working the Dunkin Donuts counter, looked at his face and acknowledged he was not the dude who was normally there, and then noted that he disappeared during the incident, but by the time I was outside (10 seconds later) I completely forgot he’d been there at all when I was considering calling the cops. That weird survival instinct to, I guess, override non-threatening information is totally new to me. Like, if it wasn’t pertinent to me getting the fuck out of that gas station, it did not exist.

And, last thing, having that event just absorbed by the general horror of life–finding that it was not bad enough to make headlines–is also kind of terrible.

Because worse things happened in the Bronx [that day].

At least it’s a soft confirmation that no one in that gas station got shot.

The little things, I guess.

~~~

Phew.

I genuinely don’t get how my life has become this batshit. Like, everything is a bad mess lately. I don’t want to go into detail, but yeah, the rest of the week was bad too.

But I’m just tired of focusing on all of that. I really want to get back to posting happy, fun stuff. I also want to redesign the website (I made a new logo for it and everything, and I’m excited to settle into a new, more fun vibe).

So, today, I’m gonna go order a veggie burger with coffee and get to work making things better for myself–in whatever ways I can.

Thanks for listening, and hopefully my account of this experience can be useful to your writing.

If you’re new here, thanks for passing by. I post every Sunday, so if you’re keen to hear more–about my life or my writing progress–feel free to stop by next Sunday.

Until then, take care, breathe deep, and maybe just lie down for a minute. Like, just breathe slowly and let a nap happen if you can. Cause we all deserve it.

Let’s Talk About – My Writer Quirks

So, if there’s one thing my writing group has exposed to me by accident, it’s my collection of what I think of as “Writer Quirks”: illogical standards / habits that dictate how and what I write.

I mean, I knew they were there, but some of them have been discovered by my writing group, so I’m thinking about them more this weekend.

And, since I woke up to some serious snowfall, I thought ‘why not just take a chill snow day and talk about my Quirks–the things that make me the weird writer I am?’

Yeah. Yeah, that could be fun and chill, so let’s do it.

Number 1 – I love writing in inclement weather.

There’s something about rain in particular that gets the creative juices flowing for me.

And, to be totally honest . . . I think it’s because of Jurassic Park.

Please don’t tease me, but one of the first stories I wrote was about me and my cousins trapped in my old apartment with my cats, who’d become Velociraptor-sized for some mysterious reason.

I was, like, 10 and had just seen Jurassic Park, so cut me some slack.

Anyway, yes, that movie was massively influential for me, so whenever it rains (like it did in the T-Rex scene), the urge to write hits really hard.

And, even if it isn’t raining, I can find an ambient rain sounds video on YouTube, put on headphones, and just go.

Number 2 – I love mustache-twirling villains.

Despite evidence to the contrary on this site, I do love villains. But not the misunderstood, “morally ascendant” ones.

No, I love obviously evil mustache-twirlers.

Like, the more ‘comically evil visual cues’ they toss out at first glance, the better. Is that villain in a black leather coat? Great. Is that villain in a black leather trench coat with shades on, and eyes that are burning so fucking red you can see them through the shades? Fucking glorious.

Paramount among them (obviously) is Albert Wesker as he appeared in Resident Evil 5, where he takes “obviously evil” to the ultra max.

Like, “Guys . . . I don’t want to jump to conclusions here, but . . . I think this guy is evil?”

Making him look like a stern, Aryan man was not enough; he had to be a stern, Aryan Terminator in (what looks like) head-to-toe snake skin.

It’s just so over-the-top. I love it.

Number 3 – I love writing outside
(but I hate writing at coffee shops).

I know–I should hand in my Writer Card right now.

But, seriously, I must have missed the window where it was comfortable to write in a coffee shop.

Because, every time I try, the “You can only sit for 30 minutes while eating” sign blares at me. Or the overhead music does. Or there’s a group in the corner, laughing and talking loudly about whatever. Or there are the people around me, working on/looking at who-knows-what on their computers (porn being a very real option from the Starbucks stories I’ve heard). And, real talk, that mystery of “What are they working on/looking at?” emboldens people to just stare at your computer screen while you write; seriously, the last time I wrote at a Starbucks, the woman sitting next to me went zero-fucks and openly started reading what I was writing.

Yeah. Thanks–I’m good.

However, I do like writing pretty much anywhere else outdoors–the more secluded, the better.

And this all came from my first NaNoWriMo, where I discovery-wrote Memory in different spots all over New York. The first post in that series, (which I called 30 Days of NaNoWriMo) starts at home (which was not the plan), but what followed was a fun, 30-day romp where I searched for places I could viably write, ending with the Cloisters. And I think that romp ruined me forever. I can (and still do) write from home, but I will almost always write more enthusiastically outside.

Unless it’s at a coffee shop.

Number 4 – I was heavily inspired by
Samus Aran from Metroid.

I’ve probably talked about this on here before, but a major influence for my strong female protagonists was Samus Aran. In particular, the above diagram from the Super Metroid Nintendo Player’s Guide.

My Samus is and always will be 6’3” and 200 lbs.

That said, Samus is only one side of the “Strong Female Character” spectrum; on the other side is Mabel Pines, who I’ve wanted to write an entire post about for a while. For now, suffice it to say that I love Samus for being a strong woman who’s massive, imposing, and badass . . . and I also love Mabel Pines for being a strong woman who’s nerdy, boy-thirsty, and hilarious.

Samus was an awesome gateway for me and I will always love her, but it’s important to say that she is not the end-all example of what a strong woman is.

Number 5 – FFVI made me want to write Fantasy.
FFVII guaranteed I’d never write anything else.

I was massively inspired by Jurassic Park, but my desire to write awesome stuff was forever turned from “no-frills American action movie” to “Fantasy” when I played Final Fantasy VI for the first time.

The Magitek Armor (made weird and fluid by the art of Yoshitaka Amano), the presence of fae-like Espers (who were not simple analogues of traditional deities), the variety of characters (who reach into pretty much every extreme a crew can have [from a spunky kid to a weary old man]), and the 11th hour twist that the villain succeeds in destroying the world (and you have to fight through the aftermath) made me irrevocably invested in Fantasy’s potential to be unique.

But I didn’t really understand Fantasy’s range until I played Final Fantasy VII.

I don’t want to rant about that game, so I’ll just say that it was the first time I experienced a Fantasy story set in a modern city.

And, as a kid growing up in the Bronx, the idea that a Fantasy story could be based in a modern city–that the slums under a giant city could be the starting point for an adventure with otherworldly monsters and magic–blew my goddamn mind.

I wouldn’t trade the bizarre potential and impossible range of Fantasy for the world.

Number 6 – I have a special designation for music
I want to write stories for–“righteous.”

Last thing–I take crazy amounts of inspiration from music, which I think a lot of us do.

However, I often find songs I want to write for. And, at some point, I started thinking of those songs as “righteous.”

I don’t know how this “righteous song” thing started, but most of the time, those songs will never fit into any of my WIP’s. For example, “Spectre” by Radiohead is the intro theme for a story I am not writing. What is that story? No idea, but I want to write something that fits “Spectre” so badly, and I don’t know why. It just triggers a part of my brain and evokes emotions that I really want to make into a story. I used imagine it as the theme for Aixa the Hexcaster, but it doesn’t fit Aixa’s tone either, so it will forever float as the intro theme for . . . something in my brain.

Once in a blue moon though, the visceral muse of certain songs does inspire entire stories; “Time’s Scar,” from the intro to Chrono Cross, is directly responsible for The Hand and the Tempest, the big project I’m working on after Memory. I heard that song in high school and created an entire story from it. Well, I was in high school, so really, I imagined a CG intro for a story, and then, 15 years later, made that CG intro into a workable plot, but still, if a = b, and b = c, then something-something-math.

~~~

Okay. it is now the late afternoon, so I’m going to clean up what I have and post this. I hope everyone is doing well, and if you liked this post, I’ll be posting again next Sunday . . . or Monday, depending on how insane next week is. I’m potentially landing a freelancing contract, so I will either be bummed but relaxed next week, or happy but wild-eyed and hyperventilating from the effort of making a design project perfect.

Either way, stay safe, enjoy the rest of your day, and eat your oatmeal.

. . .

I started eating oatmeal again recently and found that my old man taste buds think it’s delicious, so I’m on that kick now . . . Anyway, bye!

Monster Showcase – The Orphan of Kos

If there’s one part of Fantasy writing that I’ve largely ignored on this site, it’s Fantasy monsters.

And, right out the gate, full disclosure: it’s because I have a hard time creating them.

In part, it’s because I turned off the “dragons are great” part of my brain ages ago. I have personally always written with the mantra “no old man wizards and no dragons.” Not because I think those things suck, but because I wanted to avoid using the tropes that came with them.

The thing is, that mantra was shorthand. What I really meant was, “No old man wizards, knights, kings, elves, dwarves, <deep breath> dragons, griffons, medusas, hydras, skeletons, zombies, wyrms, elementals–

And I’m just gonna stop there, because I grew up with JRPG’s and I’ve played a ton of D&D, so the list goes on.

Which means that when I put a monster into a WIP, I take wa-a-a-a-a-ay too long trying to make that monster unique. And, yeah, already a total nightmare.

But, on top of that, Fantasy monsters have never easily meshed with the bureaucratic side of my brain either. So even when I do create something I’ve never seen before, I then have to figure out why/how it exists.

Most of the time, that means my “monsters” are just weird animals that attack humans the same way a lion or a cassowary bird would (and if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of them, cassowaries are huge birds that are real and have giant claws on their feet, similar to a velociraptor; they look doofy, but do not fuck with them because they will murder you).

But sometimes, my monsters need to come from somewhere, so I engage in the insane practice of creating entire systems by which they exist. In my first book, for example, the monsters were all undead nightmares (the story was heavily inspired by Castlevania), so I had to invent a school of Necromancy that focused exclusively on making those monsters.

So yeah . . . A lot of work.

In the end though, all of this means that I spend way less time thinking about Fantasy monsters than I should. I want to rectify that. And I figured, “Hey. Why not do it on the site?”

So thank you for joining me for the very first installment of what I’m calling “Monster Showcase,” a series where I’ll be talking about a monster that I thought was really awesome from a book, game, movie, or TV show. I promise to never go typical with this (I’m always going to try to bring something genuinely weird and unique to the table), but there’s one in particular that’s going to be a nostalgia trip, so keep in mind that we may go deep into 80’s movies here at some point.

Anyway, for this first installment, we’re talking about . . .

The Orphan of Kos

Where It’s From: The Orphan of Kos is the final boss of the Old Hunters DLC for Bloodborne.

What It Is: It’s . . . <sigh>. I’m sorry. Bloodborne in particular has some bizarre fucking monsters, so this is tough. Apparently, the Orphan is the newborn child of a dead, Lovecraftian god. It is humanoid, skeletal, has giant flaps of skin hanging off of its back (which start floating behind it like wings in its second phase), and it’s holding its placenta, which it uses as a weapon.

“What the fuck?” Yeah. I heard you say that out loud, and I know–trust me, I’m right there with you.

To actually understand this thing though, you have to see how it moves and hear what it sounds like (nightmare fuel on both counts). Here’s a video from the Boss Fight Database on YouTube (the second phase, with the weird wings, starts at 2:41 [and here’s a convenience link to that as well]).

If you don’t have access to video, this thing alternates way too quickly between “hunched slow walk” to “leaping around the entire battlefield to slash at you.” Even though it’s bipedal, it attacks with the too-quick ferocity of a rabid dog . . . while gasping and crying out in an eerily human voice when you hit it.

Why It’s Worth Talking About: First, because it is just so fucking bizarre.

If you’ve never played Bloodborne, it is a master class in “What the fuck am I fighting?” Halfway through the game, I realized that I’d never win the metagame of trying to guess what the next boss would be.

But the Orphan really takes the cake.

Why is it humanoid?

Why is it so creepily thin?

What is that thing it’s holding? Oh–that’s its placenta. Great. Real cool.

And why those wings? For me, the wings are really what pushes the Orphan into “wait–what?” territory. Give me a gangly skeleton man, give him a placenta, and tell me he’s a Lovecraftian god’s baby, and I’m like, “Sure. I guess. Whatever.” But give that skeleton man gossamer wings and I’m like, “Fucking what?” Why did they make those wings silken? Why did they want them to look pretty as it screams, cries, and lunges at you from 20 feet away in a heartbeat?

It invites you to speculate on what the Orphan actually is–to draw the natural parallels to angels, sure, but to also question not only what the game’s “Great Ones” actually are, but why you’re fighting one of their children when you have no clue what they are.

And, beyond the crazy design of this monster, the Orphan’s ability to make you ask those questions is what really makes it worth talking about. Not just how cool or weird or creepy its design is . . . but how that design makes you feel.

Because a normal monster looks tough, scary, or intimidating, but the Orphan . . . makes you question yourself.

You find it on a beach as it’s being born. During the fight with it, it will sometimes scream–deeply and agonized–a signal that it’s doing a lightning attack. But that attack . . . comes from its mother’s corpse. It’s hard to be sure about anything when it comes to the orphan, but the implication seems to be that it’s sad about its mother. Maybe it doesn’t know what’s going on. Just a weird monster, born only a moment ago, attacking you with the only thing that it had close to hand–fighting you because you’re there and you’re aggressive.

And you, on the other side, totally unaware the Orphan was out here on this beach. At this point, you’re deep inside what NPC’s have called “a Nightmare”–what feels like an alternate pocket of reality where you’re living the past and walking across a twisted dreamscape.

So you, unsure what’s going on, fight the Orphan because it’s there and it’s aggressive.

From Software games usually don’t give you a happy ending, but killing the Orphan was particularly strange because it felt . . . like you were killing yourself somehow. Not in the uplifting sense that you were killing the dark, feral side of your human mind, but that you had become that part of your mind–that you had finally become a Beast, like so many NPC’s before you–and you were just slashing wildly at a mirror.

The Orphan of Kos is an interesting monster, because fighting it makes you the monster.

What I Learned from It: I was already aware of the idea that monsters are better if they come with their own little stories. If you want to design a small lizard, for example, you’ll get way better results if you think about what that lizard wants, how it eats, where it sleeps, etc. The same goes for violent, true monsters (I still differentiate “unique animals” and “true monsters” in my mind, which I guess I’ll talk about another time); a phantom possessing a suit of armor is way more interesting if you create the story for how the phantom got into that armor, why it picked that particular suit, what it intends to do, etc. And, when you’re done, both the lizard and the phantom will tell that story without words; a reader/viewer/player will see that the lizard is dirty and walks really slowly and infer it lives in the dirt and maybe has some kind of defense mechanism that makes it so chill.

But the Orphan makes it clear that those stories don’t have to always be internal. A monster’s design can affect a person beyond making them scared or creeping them out.

A monster can make you question yourself, and, at the very least, that’s something worth thinking about.

~~~

Phew. That wound up being longer than I expected. I hope you enjoyed! If you did, feel free to drop a like or a follow. I’m not sure when I’ll do another “Monster Showcase” (I play all of these posts by ear), but if you “Follow House of Error” via the button on the left side of the screen on PC or the top right on mobile, you’ll have my future posts emailed directly to your inbox.

Man, I really need to find a new name for this site. Whatever–that’s for me to figure out.

Until next time, take care, stay safe, and watch There Will Be Blood if you haven’t. That movie is amalzing . . . Also, Kim’s Convenience is really good. Okay–bye!