A Writer Watching – Titans, Episode 1

Yesterday, I decided to watch a comic book movie to try and wind down, escape the news.

By the end, I was so incredibly angry that I hopped on here and wrote a monster post about that movie–how I couldn’t help seeing it in a really, really bad light.

It was one of those cases too where you just need something vitriolic out of your system, so I wrote the entire post in one, trance-like sitting, hit “Save draft,” and then thought, “I can’t post this.”

Not because it was so hateful–I have no shame in the fact that I fucking hated Venom and I’m never going to apologize for that (also, yeah, it was Venom)–but because it was very reactionary; I might still post it, but I need some time to think it over–maybe share it with some friends to see if my extremely hot take has legs, or if I was just seeing a huge issue that wasn’t really there.

That done, I decided to wind down . . . by watching a comic book TV show.

And, literally 13 seconds in, I realized, “I need to do a Writer Watching for this.”

So, here we are. As always, I’m super late to the party, but, look, I’m still quarantining and working-from-home, so I’ve delved into the “bad movies / shows I felt I should watch” part of my backlog.

So, if you’ll humor me, let’s dive into the tonally backwards, massively irresponsible mess that is the first episode of Titans.

  • (0:13) Holy shit. The very first shot is of abandoned circus tents. A girl is walking in, looking at the blinking lights, music playing in the background, and . . . are we getting the Joker immediately? Seriously, if this show couldn’t go 5 minutes without shoving that fucking clown down our throats again, this is going to be a real short Writer Watching.

    [Kept watching and it turns out this was a Dick Grayson origin scene, but wow, isn’t it weird how my brain is just trained to expect the Joker whenever I watch anything DC?]
  • (2:13) The marquee in the background, which says “The Flying Graysons,” started to blink. “Flying” went dark, and, omfg . . . I seriously thought it was going to light back up as “The Dying Graysons” and I almost lost my fucking shit.

    Please, 2020, give me this one gift. The one executive who was like, “Oooooh, that would be super edgy!” Just please, give me that sweet, sweet, boardroom-certified melodramatic grit!
  • (4:15) Also, as a huge fan of the Teen Titans cartoon from back in the day, y’all fucked up with this intro. Seriously, how did Puffy AmiYumi knock it out of the park so hard that motherfuckers don’t even try?
  • (4:46) Oh. Oh, we’re actually following Robin immediately. Okay. Yeah.

    Disappointing.

    Cause, alright, I’m about to drop my truth on you guys.

    DC has four crutches that they absolutely rely on for almost every movie and show they make.

    1. The Psuedo-Batman Crutch, by which the protagonist of a show emulates Batman so closely that they cease to be themselves and become Batman instead (i.e. Arrow, in which Oliver Queen was even fucking trained by Ra’s al Ghul).

    2. The Bat Family Crutch, by which a movie or show centers around Bat Family characters or is otherwise tied directly to Batman (i.e. Gotham, Pennyworth, Batwoman, Titans).

    3. The Joker Crutch, in which a movie or show A) focuses entirely on the Joker, B) heavily shoe-horns in the Joker, even if he has nothing to do with the over-arcing plot, or C) focuses on characters directly related to the Joker, thus including a ton of scenes about the Joker and/or cameos by the Joker (i.e. Joker, Suicide Squad, anything else with Harley Quinn in it).

    4. The Marvel Crutch, by which a DC movie or show attempts to emulate Marvel (i.e. Wonder Woman [which is set during a World War, has Diana using a round shield–which she’s never been known to do before–and even gives her her own Howling Commandos], Aquaman [in which a prince of a mythical realm has to fight his brother for control of that realm], and Legends of Tomorrow [in which a gang of misfits goes on fun adventures in an exciting frontier, like the Guardians . . . and the Atom is a very embarrassing rip off of Iron Man. Also, Arthur Darvill–who played a significant, named role on Doctor Who–is playing a straight, no-fucks-given rip off of the Doctor, which isn’t related at all, but will always blow my mind]).

    Getting back on track, this show is already leaning real hard on that Bat Family crutch and I was hoping it wouldn’t.
  • (6:04) Sound the alarms! We’ve got a “Joker” here! Six minutes in and already the name drop!

    I don’t remember if this show has its own Joker, but I’m going to assume it does and he just got lost among the 4 other Jokers we got in 2019.
  • (7:02) We get our first clear shot of Raven here, and . . . I mean, no shade whatsoever on this actress, but seeing her, with the purple hair and everything, is just a reminder that I never, ever wanted this show. On the long, long list of things I never wanted a grim dark, realistic reboot for, Teen Titans wasn’t even on the list because I could never even fathom it being an option.

    It is just depressing that this is real, but a revival for the original CN show isn’t.
  • (8:20) I know this is a TV series with an ensemble cast, so they need to move quickly. I really shouldn’t rag on them for that.

    But holy shit, this first scene with Raven goes from “Hey, mom,” to “The demon inside me almost killed you, mom” in one minute and eighteen seconds.

    I mean . . . maybe slow down a little? Cause if you had her say, “It’s because you’re afraid of me,” and her mom just knelt, took her hands, started praying, and you ended the scene there, I would’ve been so intrigued.

    Instead, someone came in with a 2×4 with “THERE’S A DEMON INSIDE HER OR SOMETHING!” written on it and hit me in the back of the head with it. Eight times in a row.

    Them: “ARE YOU GETTING IT!?”

    Me: . . . <unconscious>

    Them: “THERE’S A DEMON INSI–
  • (9:46) That said, I would gladly watch an entire Raven TV show and, based on the last few minutes, I really wish that’s what this show was.

    [A few minutes later, at 11:20] Yeah, if this entire show (or episode at least) was devoted to Raven, her plot could slow down and we wouldn’t have to experience it at this insane, break-neck pace.

    Like, if nothing else, this moment is a great example of bad plot balancing. Or bad prioritizing of plot threads. Robin’s pseudo-Batman stuff? What-the fuck-ever. I’ve seen it a million times. Go watch any Batman show or movie, or go watch Arrow. But this superhero who has dark powers she doesn’t understand and can’t control? Wa-a-a-a-ay more interesting in my opinion.
  • (12:48) We’re in a tropey-as-fuck drug exchange scene. Gang A gave Gang B a duffle bag full of plush dolls and, obviously, the drugs or whatever are in the dolls.

    But, fuck, I would give everything if the one guy in Gang B cuts open the doll, looks at the stuffing inside, and is like, “Synthetic stuffing.” And the other guy is like, “Grade A. Only the best.”

    Gang B: “And they’re all cute animals.”

    Gang A: “As requested.”

    Gang B: “Deuce, give this man his money.”

    And e-e-e-e-end scene!
  • (13:21) After Robin drops down and demands everyone drops the drugs and guns, one of the thugs starts looking around like, “Where’s Batman?” and, on behalf of the entire audience, yeah, same, dude.

    Cause even I, a longtime Robin fan, think this Robin sucks.

    He just looks terrible. They had an opportunity to give him some sick new outfit, maybe some mash-up between his old Robin suit and the Nightwing outfit, to make it clear he’s already going in that direction. But, nope, they gave him the half-cape, full-bangs treatment that Tim usually gets.

    He’s wearing kid-Robin’s look and thus looks like kid-Robin.

    Just the worst choice for him.
  • (13:40) And here’s why I could never write Batman. Cause, however many years into his campaign, criminals are still, to this fucking day, falling for this smoke pellet bullshit.

    If I wrote Batman, criminals everywhere would operate with gas masks and infrared at the ready. Because, even outside of Gotham, Batman’s techniques would be recycled by amateur vigilantes so often that fucking no one would fall for Batman Gadget #1 anymore.

    Them not learning is the equivalent of real life criminals never thinking to wear bullet proof vests. It just does not make sense.
  • (13:55) Ah, yes. That new-age Batman thing where he and other Bat Family members use guns all the time and just murder people.

    Them bats gotta grit, I guess.

    [After watching to 14:02] Okay. Robin is . . . actually murdering these guys, and like . . . <looks around> Is this shit for real? Like, actual Batman, as I know and love him, would hunt this Robin down. I know in new movies he doesn’t give a shit, but my Batman–TAS and JLU Batman–would not stand for this shit at all.

    And just . . . Why this? Why is this the turn all of this Batman shit is taking?

    Why are we leaning into murdering these criminals the heroes know nothing about?

    At this point, you have to ask, “How were Silver Age characters more progressive about the treatment of criminals than modern heroes are?”
  • (14:03) I actually just laughed aloud, because they try to do that thing where someone rakes a bad guy’s face against something sharp or dangerous, like broken glass or the road from a moving car. Only, here, it’s boney-ass Robin raking a guy’s face against . . . the alley wall? And, like, apparently half of his face comes off on that wall? Bitch, was his face cake? Is that the plot twist of the show?

    Batman drops down and is all, “Yes, Robin, the criminals are all cake!”

    And Robin is like, “Wha–What!?”

    And the Cake Boss or whoever the fuck pops out of the trunk like, “Crime is cake, Robin! All crime is cake!”

    And Twitter is like, “omfg i cant whats real”
  • (14:26) Also, I thought this show was going to rip off Daredevil with Robin’s fights, but, instead, we just have the same over-choreographed fights we’ve seen in everything else.

    I guess that’s not fair–there’s no winning for DC in that scenario–but, I mean . . . I could’ve won. If they’d ripped off Daredevil, I would’ve laughed really hard at least.
  • (14:36) Robin catches the child abuser he came out here for, and–after killing, like, 5 guys in this alley–he cuts this guy’s face and says, “If you ever touch your kid again, I’ll find you.”

    Like, “Hey, uh . . . Robin? That one guy who you stabbed in the throat with part of a gun? He was just someone’s cousin who didn’t even know he was going to a drug deal tonight. That guy was terrified before you even got here, and you murdered his ass in cold blood. But this actual child abuser who you know is evil . . . gets to go free?”

    Just what the fuck even are these priorities?
  • (15:07) The infamous “Fuck Batman” from all the marketing could not have been delivered at a stranger place. It’s supposed to be a reply to the one guy who was like, “Where’s Batman!?” but that was, what, five minutes ago? Just didn’t stick the landing here.
  • (15:33) Okay, I wasn’t going to say anything, but holy shit, Robin’s apartment looks exactly like Daredevil’s. What the fuck even? They show a longshot of the living room, and the only difference is there’s no neon sign outside–just dirty, mute white windows, which actually draws a perfect comparison between Netflix Daredevil and this Robin now that I think about it.
  • (16:00) I know they’re going for “gritty badass hero” here, but it re-e-e-e-eally just comes off as “young serial killer” using his vigilante work as a vehicle to commit his murders . . . And, actually, ya know what? I’d watch the shit out of that show.
  • Sidebar: Okay. Gonna dial it back here because I’m commenting on things every 30 seconds, and I can’t spend five hours doing this today.
  • (21:43) Okay. Okay. So excited, because Starfire’s intro is, like, the closest we’ve come to really rad cinematography and I’m pumped.
  • (29:49) Okay, eight minutes later, it’s cool that she is clearly socially and physically powerful.

    But I’m disappointed that she has an amnesia plot.

    And that amnesia plot is also gritty.

    I don’t know why I expected anything different though.

    Whatever. Getting into the craft of it, we’re already working with one mysterious past with Raven, so the fact that we have another is annoying. Especially because Starfire is someone I just want to have clarity on immediately–mostly because I’ve never had to wait on her premise before, in anything I’ve ever watched. Starfire has always just been an alien from another planet and that was always fine. I’m not sure why we need this gritty, origin-like preamble for a character I always expect to be a source of comic-booky levity with no origin whatsoever.

    But, even ignoring all of that as my preference (which it absolutely is), I think it just does a disservice to the dynamic of the of the characters to have character A in a mysterious past plot, character B in a detective work plot, and character C . . . doing detective work to figure out their mysterious past.

    Starfire looks dope, acts dope, but the plot they gave her is weirdly samey.
  • (33:36) Robin describes Batman as a “stop-at-nothing guy who solved everything with his fists,” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a worse description of Batman in my entire life. Not because that isn’t what Hollywood has made him into, but because that isn’t all Batman is supposed to be. The idea that Robin described him like that means the Titans Batman has to be the worst piece of shit on Earth. Basically a rich boxer who goes out to beat the shit out of people every night. No thank you.
  • (35:52) Okay, I’m officially sick of this damsel-Raven bullshit. Like, I get we’re doing an origin story here, but this girl just needs to be more aggro. And, sure, creator’s choice, but if she, at least, tried to fight back when someone tried to force her into a car against her will, it would feel more like I was actually watching Raven. I mean, isn’t this supposed to be a gritty TV show for angsty teens? Why the fuck isn’t Raven like, “Hey! Get your fucking hands off me!” or something? Why can Robin kill people but Raven can’t “cuss”?

    Whatever. In the end, this is a case of source material balancing: do you make her completely different from all the source material? Totally similar to the way she was in one piece of source material? I would argue that, because the cartoon was pivotal in making the Teen Titans popular, it would’ve done them a service to make her a little more like that interpretation of the character.

    Cause this interpretation just feels like a helpless kid and it sucks.
  • (40:13) Starfire giggles at the dude she just burned alive and . . . cool. Great. So, the team of fun, teen heroes I loved so much are all total sociopaths in a hyper gritty world.

    Fucking . . . lame.

    They took all of the sullen bitterness out of Raven, doled it out to everyone else, and then turned the contrast up to ultra-max, so she’s the innocent, helpless one and all the other characters are edgy, gritastic murderers.

    And it just fucking sucks.

    I could write an entire post about this alone, and maybe I will.

    Because I don’t understand how you could so thoroughly and absurdly kill an entire team’s dynamic.

    It would be like if they redid Guardians of the Galaxy and everyone was a large bruiser with daggers while Drax was made into the pilot of Quill’s ship.

    Just fucking why?
  • (44:16) If there’s one thing I wanted to see, it’s this shot right here: Raven, with the full black eyes, kicking ass. I just wish this could’ve happened way more often. Slower plot, but maybe with one more instance of her actually fighting people off instead of crying for help.

    Also, I don’t want to sit through another 8 episodes of damsel-Raven learning to control her powers.
  • (48:34) Oh nah.

    Nah. They did my Beast Boy dirty.

    He looks . . . terrible.

    And his weird, gross, slow, bone-breaky transformation means he’s going to be locked in as the one animal per fight?

    I– . . . I’m sorry. I’m out. I’ve seen a way better version of this character already and I refuse to downgrade.

In fact, I’ve seen better versions of all of these characters.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep watching and maybe do more of these posts, but the answer is a firm, resounding “no.”

Instead, I’m going to go find out where I can watch Teen Titans and wash away the grim dark.

~~~

Thanks for stopping by. I don’t do A Writer Watching too often, because they take way longer to write than it seems. However, I did one on Solo: A Star Wars Story, and another on the first two episodes of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the follow-up for which became my first Edited in Post.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to Like. If you agree with any of it, or if you want to argue why I should finish watching Titans, feel free to Comment down below (and also, absolutely drop spoilers if you want, cause I’m pro-o-o-obably not watching more of this, even if you tell me I should–no shade, just being real). If you want to be notified when I post again, you can Follow me via the button on the left side of the screen on PC, or via the hamburger menu on the upper right on mobile.

But, no matter what you do, please stay safe, and take care.

Drafts – “The Tome”

Elise was mid-joke when the flaming bolt raged out of the dark.

She and Gwin were in a temple ruin underground, so you had to expect that sort of thing, but the townsfolk had hired them to investigate increased seismic activity, not to fight–

“Wizards?”

“I fucking hate wizards,” Gwin said. He was still covering her with one of his wings, its plate armor smoking where the bolt hit. His head was snapping, eyes darting to the extremes of the dining hall they’d just entered. “Nothing, but–“

A bolt of lightning arced at his head, so fast even he barely ducked it.

“Stop!” Elise was shouting, her ears still ringing. “Whoever you are, just stop!”

And, somewhere, someone snickered. “A voice changing spell? Really, Rutherford? Pathetic.”

“Rutherford?” Gwin asked, head tilting.

Elise shrugged. “Sir, we have no idea what you’re talking about, okay?”

“Still your foolsome tongue! You’re trying to get to the tome again! I know your patterns!”

“‘Foolsome tongue’?” Gwin asked, brow furrowed.

“I . . . am not Rutherford!” Elise shouted back. “And I can prove it if you’d just let me and my partner stand up!”

Silence from the other end of the hall as up echoed off the stone walls.

Finally, a weary, “Very well.” And, of course, an, “I’ll play your game.”

Elise nodded at Gwin, and together, they stood, her hands up, his wings poised to block another shot if one flared out of the dark.

At the other end of the hall, a dirty, old wizard blinked. “Oh shit. You aren’t Rutherford.”

“Nope. We’re goddamn wayfarers.”

The wizard cracked a gummy smile. “Of course, of course. Come to, eh, investigate the seismic activity, yes?”

“Right,” Elise said, heart already sunk. “Which I’m guessing you’re responsible for–“

The darkness on the balcony erupted in a wash of angry red. Fire pouring down on the wizard so hot Elise had to shield her eyes.

When it was over, another wizard was dancing on that balcony–a gangly shape in purple robes, kicking in the after image of the flame. “Yes! Fuck you, Tamsus!”

And the place that should’ve been a puddle–the spot where the first wizard, Tamsus, had been standing–rose from the floor. “Gods damn you, Rutherford! I am trying to get the food!”

Before anyone could speak–before Elise or Gwin could ask what was happening–Rutherford was hit from another corner of the room by spears of ice, fired from the wand of another wizard. Rutherford was pinned to the wall, absolutely dead until the spot where he’d been impaled blossomed with purple light–a chain that whipped to Tamsus, and then to the new wizard, each one of them screaming in pain before the tether passed to the next.

And, when it was done–when Elise and Gwin opened their mouths to shout questions over each other–someone else exploded (but then was whole). And then Tamsus melted in a rush of burning acid (but didn’t really). Each time, a new robed wizard jumped out of the darkness to drop stone spikes from the ceiling or cleave another in half with wheels of pure, furious light. And, each time, the death hit every single one of them in the same sequence, raging through them all so each of them felt it, but none of them died.

“They’re all tethered together with some kind of magic?” Elise whispered, but it was during the first lull in explosions and screaming–a full ten minutes since the last time she’d spoken.

One of them, (Archimestites?) grumbled. “Chain of Woe: a spell that deflects the vast majority of any injuries you suffer to the person you cast it on.”

“Unless that person cast it on someone else,” another wizard jumped in. “Then they only get a tiny fraction of the harm before it gets passed on! So I cast it on Dilamitrix!”

“And I cast it on Borf.”

“And I cast it on Marthes.”

“Yeah, and so on until Humphrey cast it on me and now we have a perfect loop where no one dies,” Archimestites cut back in. “I knew when I cast it that these sheep would do the same damn thing, but it was the only way I could be sure I didn’t die. The only way I could get that tome!”

“You?” Rutherford panted, “You’ll never get it you sack of shit! Rah!” and the explosions started again, only this time with more dodging and shouting: “You’ll never make it past my incantations anyway!” and “You’re not a real wizard!” and “Fuck you, Tamsus!”

Elise let them get into the thick of it before she slowly started to back out of the room, pulling Gwin with her.

But they only managed a few steps before the explosions stopped.

“Hey!” one of the wizards shouted. And then, when Elise and Gwin stopped: “Leave . . . the food!”

In jarringly dead silence, she and Gwin pulled whatever food they had out of their knapsacks, leaving it in a neat pile on the floor with movements that were as precise as possible.

“And don’t tell anyone in that town about this, you hear? Go back, say there was another, eh, giant mole or something, and get your pay!”

“Do it, or we’ll know!”

Elise wanted to ask how long they’d been doing this, remembering that the people in town said there were spikes in seismic activity around the temple every few weeks . . .

But then one of them said, “And say it was a worm, cause a giant mole is a stupid idea!”

And, just like that, they were back to screaming and hurling deadly forces of nature at each other like the wayfarers weren’t still there.

Elise and Gwin hurried back out of the ruined, subterranean temple.

And when they got to fresh air, Gwin sighed.

“I fucking hate wizards.”

~~~

I thought it was high time for another Draft, and, when this idea came to me (essentially an RPG side quest), I thought it was the perfect candidate for a creative writing session. It wound up being a more comical than the stuff I usually write, but that made it so much more fun to work on. Seriously, I needed to snicker like an idiot at my writing desk for a bit.

Also, I just wanted to bring back Elise and Gwin, the Red Markison, from an earlier draft. I am definitely still operating under the assumption that I won’t write a full story about them . . . but . . . man, I really love the idea of insane, overpowered wizards just being a problem in a fantasy world. Are they all like this? Do normal people seek them out for power, but the learning just drives them mad, and thus new wizards are born?

Goddammit. I have so many projects already.

Anyway, if you enjoyed this post and you want to be notified when I post again, you can follow my blog in the field on the left side of your screen (on PC), or via the hamburger menu on the upper right of your screen on mobile.

As always, thank you for passing by and take care!

Process in Progress #1 – The “Promises Outline”

My process has always been manic.

It’s 2010 and I’m a plotter, ’cause that’s obviously the way to go! My first novel was a mess even though I outlined it, but that’s only true because I wasn’t thorough enough. “Thorough in what way?” you ask? Why, thorough with my characters’ micro-expressions, of course! This new outline for my rewrite has everything worked out down to gasps and eye rolls!

Of course, the moment characters deviated from that outline (within the prologue) I knew that level of plotting wouldn’t work.

So, it’s December, 2016 and discovery writing is *clearly* the best. My characters are free to do whatever they want without having to adhere to a plot. It’s beautiful, natural, and I finished an entire novel in one month for NaNoWriMo 2020. It’s so comforting to have found the approach that works for me. A little surprising that it’s discovery writing (considering I’m such a chronic organizer when it comes to other projects), but, hey, whatever works.

Only it didn’t work. The plot was incredibly muddled. The intro was especially confusing. Plot lines, intended or implied, were established and then dropped because I didn’t manage them at all (I didn’t even think to because I was so set on the idea that plotting didn’t work).

After that, I spent a long time just thinking about my process. I knew that I’d have to outline whatever I did next, but I also knew that I had to leave it open-ended. I was afraid to tank another few years into another failed novel, so I worked on story structure across a group of short story ideas instead, considering a rewrite of my NaNo 2016 novel on the back burner.

It’s 2020 now and I am very tired. I know that, inherently, there’s something I’m not getting about the writing process. I know that I have a hard time maintaining my plot lines, but I also never want to force my characters to adhere to something. I do not have time to do both of those things, back and forth, to see what works, and I am too busy at work and dealing with my bullshit life to think outside of the box.

Oddly enough, it isn’t until I’m a few months into quarantine, in the heart of a terrifying time, that I find hope.

I’ve already talked about stumbling onto lectures by Brandon Sanderson on YouTube. Those lectures presented his process: a loose outline. Sanderson plots, but is always ready to completely change that plot if his characters aren’t following it. Or if there’s something wrong with its structure. Beyond just talking about it though, Sanderson detailed his process, provided links to his own outlines, answered student questions.

I don’t know if it’s because I was in the middle of quarantine, or if it was because I was listening to my problem being solved by a pro–for free–because he decided to upload videos with the express purpose of helping other writers, but after years of struggling and repeatedly hitting walls, I cried. I know that’s probably weird, but, at a certain point during that first lecture, I teared up.

Because, 20 years into my career, it was the first time I found a professional offering a helping hand (without it being locked behind a contest or a paid seminar), and I could not believe it was exactly the help I needed. If ever there was a moment in my life that felt contrived by fate, that was it.

The interesting thing about those lectures, however, is that Sanderson points out, repeatedly, that his way is not the only way. While talking about his process, he made it clear that there are famous pantsers out there too. And that other plotters might have a completely different process from his.

Which was amazing to hear because I knew some of his approach wouldn’t work for me. So, instead of just emulating his to a T, I sat down and devised an outlining process that works for me.

And I figured I’d present that here (and continue presenting it as it evolves), because I need to contribute to this effort of helping other writers in whatever way I can.

So, here, as of August 31st, 2020, is my process:

The “Promises Outline”

My major takeaway from Sanderson’s lectures is that you need to keep track of the promises you make to your readers. My problem was that I’d never even thought of “promises”; I dealt in plot lines, which are different.

A plot line is a facet of the story that you establish and maintain.

A promise is an event that your story implies will happen, whether you intend it to or not. Promises are conveyed by elements of your story that the audience has seen before and thus make assumptions about, and managing those assumptions is essential to composing a novel.

And, yeah, that sounds pretentious, but it’s just the right word; being aware of your promises allows you to direct the reader along the experience you want them to have.

Promises and plot lines often overlap, and that’s fine, because that’s what you want them to do.

That said, let’s get to my process:

Step one, as per Brandon Sanderson, is to start my outlines with a Story Archetypes section:

LS-ArchetypesExample

Note: I’m using Grounded just as a quick example here (I’m not into novelizations, but I have been playing Grounded a bunch lately and this was the quickest route to an easy example. Also, I probably shouldn’t have listed Bug Buddy as a story archetype, but I was extremely excited for lady bug friend.

My goal with Archetypes is to just lay out what’s been done by other stories similar to mine. If my story features a Terminator-like character, for example, I jot down a heading like “I’ll Be Back,” think about the iconic things the Terminator did in Terminator or Terminator 2 (depending on whether my Terminator is a robotic killing machine or a robotic hero), and then I try to summarize those iconic things.

And I do this not so I can emulate those things, but so I can more easily pare them down into Promises:

LS-PromisesExample

The name of the game here is trying to come up with whatever trope events happen in the story archetypes I’ve listed.

Typically, my design standard here is:

Number of the Related Archetype) Heading Summarizing the Promise: Explanation that details how I meet that promise, or why/how I’m going to subvert it (as I did in the “Ol’ One Eye” example above).

Now, when I got to this point during my Memory rewrite, I wound up sitting with Promises for a while, honing them into a framework; with the plot ideas and worldbuilding that I’d already done (on a totally different part of the spreadsheet [and yeah, I use spreadsheets]), I considered what I wanted my story to be. The tone, the arcs for my characters, the balance of the villains.

In the end, when I worked the promises down into a set that I knew I wanted to keep, I started the actual outline like so:

LS-Ch1OutlineExample

Chapter Number: Chapter Title

Chapter Number.Scene Number

Promise Title

Promise Title

Promise Title

Beat Number (and then, in the next cell) Outline Copy

I have to clarify that this is just my current layout. This has changed while outlining Memory 2.0; initially, I also used color-coding and underlines to signify two different things (which I so dropped).

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m still adjusting, and that’s a good thing. This layout is closer than I’ve ever been to working out a process that I can use forever. It is not perfect, but it’s better than writing blind and over-plotting. With this layout, I’ve been able to do what I think of as taking the wrong path (writing a chapter or two that ultimately lead in a bad direction that didn’t work) multiple times with extremely minimal repercussions–losing a day’s worth of work deleting two outline chapters instead of two weeks’ worth deleting two draft chapters. For me, that’s huge.

But, that’s not why I wrote this post; I’m not trying to sell you on this weird, repetitive process I’ve drummed up for myself. What I want–what I’m hoping for–is that someone sees this and goes, “Oh . . . Yeah, wait, I can make my process whatever the fuck I want!” because yeah, you can.

I spent so long jumping between extremes for some reason–trying out other people’s approaches–but the best thing that I did for myself, as a writer, was realize that I could customize my process to work for me as long as I was honest with myself. Everything about it is devised by my preference, from its weird formatting down to the fact that it’s a spreadsheet (it wasn’t just a weird design choice–I love spreadsheets!).

But the key there was self-evaluation. “How do I want to write?” “Is this working for me?” Never, “Am I doing this right?” Never, “Am I following the directions perfectly?”

I have no idea if this process will always work for me, but I know that I can just keep changing it so it will.

And when I do, if I feel like I’ve actually made a template that would work for a lot of people, I’ll absolutely post it here.

And, please, if you have a weird process of your own, I hope you’ll consider sharing it somewhere too.

Because writing fucking sucks. It’s hard, depressing, secretive and shallow. It’s so easy to feel like nothing’s working and there’s nowhere you can go for actual help. I’m not conceited enough to think my process pulled someone out of a rut, but if you are struggling . . .

. . . it’s cool. So am I. We can figure this out together.

~~~

I’m getting this one in just after the buzzer, but I hope you enjoyed regardless. I will be continuing to post about my process as it changes–under the title “Process in Progress”–so although I don’t have a time frame for it, I will be continuing this series in the future. If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified when I post again, please consider giving my blog a Follow.

For next week, I have a bunch of posts lined up, but instead of tying myself down to one by name dropping it now, I’m going to leave my options totally open. I will be posting something next Sunday and it’ll either be really angry or really chill depending on my mood. I hope you consider stopping by.

Until then, please stay safe and take care!

Edited in Post – The Rest of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

It’s been over two years since I did the first “Writer Watching” for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. While rereading it, I had a bunch of nervous laugh moments whenever I’d said shit like, “I’ll talk about that next time!”

Yeah, I have no idea what “that” was.

What I do know is that it was always weird for me that I just never came back to finish the series.

In one part, it was because it just felt weird–I was voicing really reactionary opinions on the first and second episodes of a TV show; it felt like I should finish the season and then comment.

But, on the other hand . . . it just felt like watching it while nitpicking was making me like the show less. Like, significantly less.

And, finally, it felt like the feminist angle of the show actually required more patience than a 30-something man, writing on his blog, could give it. Basically, I reached Seahawk, initially hated how he was handled, and decided to back away instead of writing a whole thing about how much I didn’t like him.

Well, I’m still in lockdown. It’s 2020 now, and, seeing as all of my time is spent in the one room, working or watching things on Netflix, I figured it was the perfect time to actually return to the series and finish what I started.

Instead of being absolutely insane and commenting on specific things, however, I’m going to try something new.

As I’ve said on this site before, I am a really intense self-editor; I will mercilessly edit and rewrite my own work, which is a double-edged sword because A) there’s always going to be room for improvement and, B) the new additions I make will always have grammatical errors of their own (it’s a thing).

A vent for that reflex (or maybe a result of it), is that I love imagining edits for existing works that I think can improve with a few tweaks (or, in the case of Episodes VII – IX, a ton of tweaks).

So, considering that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power triggered that reflex, I figured, “Why not write a whole post about it?” A post that I’m making the first in a new series: Edited in Post.

To be clear, my goal here isn’t to “improve” on the story as a whole; I am not conceited enough to think my edit of She-Ra would be better. All that I can say objectively is that A) it would be different from the end product we got and B) it would be how I would’ve edited the end product if I was in the writer’s room. Ultimately, this is just an editing exercise and a way for me to consider my identity as a writer.

All of that said, let’s start by establishing a really healthy baseline with . . .

What I Liked

1. Adora

Of all the things I didn’t think I would like in this show, Adora herself was probably number one. In my original post, I talked about how much I disliked the White Savior vibe I was getting from the pilot two-parter. I was super glad to see that problem didn’t persist because the show spends a lot of time with Glimmer, Bow, and other non-white characters.

Beyond that, however, I still didn’t think I’d like the no frills protagonist of any Fantasy show that much; I have become hard-wired to expect the typical batch of issues a protagonist has (like trying to understand their powers, trying to figure out a mystery left for them by an ancient race, etc.). For sure, Adora has that same batch.But . . . she still manages to be incredibly likable on her own. She’s funny, a terrible actress, cocky in a dorky way that’s super fun to watch, and–more interesting than anything, else in my opinion–she’s su-u-u-uper prone to making mistakes (which is probably the freshest breath of fresh air). Like, I often consider protagonist fatigue; whether they’re men or not, the lamest thing in the world is the no frills protagonist who just does everything right. Adora is not that character.

And, because it needs to be acknowledged, she is not that character in massive part due to Aimee Carrero’s performance.

There were . . . so many moments where I laughed out loud just because Carrero’s delivery was so good.

“I’m a triple may-zhor, and I also teach, unless that’s not a thing students do. Is it hot in here?”

“Ah ha ha ha ha. Is that a good laugh or a bad laugh? Ha ha ha . . . Well, the longer it goes on, the more I think it’s a bad laugh.”

Really early on in my watch, I started getting super excited for Adora dialogue in fun situations.

2. Scorpia

The greatest failure of my life is that Scorpia isn’t real and she isn’t my best friend.

I’m not kidding; I’m actually sad that I can’t be woken up by Scorpia every morning, rushing into my room to ask if I’ve breathed in the new day yet (which I would absolutely hate coming from anyone else).

I think that in the great array of strong female protagonists, ranging from Super Sexualized to Tough and Angry, Scorpia is something completely different. She’s this extremely hug-able, determined, compassionate woman who’s also always the strongest non-She-Ra person in the room, and she has the freedom to be all of those things because her character is not her charging into a room, tackling the nearest man and flexing like, “I am Scorpia! I am strongest in the world!” Like . . . she’s just a character and her being a buff giant just adds to that character. I just love it. I’m here for Scorpia. I stan her and I want to see way more characters like her.

3. Basically the Rest of the Cast (and their Fun Drama)

I really enjoyed the majority of the Princesses and other characters (some more than others naturally; it is a cartoon show after all).

Mermista was the real standout for me, and she’s the one who made me realize why I liked the cast so much; they all had some low stakes drama with each other on occasion, and every instance of that was extremely fun and fresh to me (i.e. Mermista deciding that she was Sea-Ra, just straight up jacking Adora’s alter-ego for her character in the D&D episode). I really lived for those moments–those brief, beautiful nuggets of petty that really gave the characters life.

Those dynamics, and the show’s ability to showcase that drama, were great.

Okay. There’s a lot more I liked, but I have to start trying to shorten these posts. Suffice it to say I liked the show a bunch, but to get into the edit, here’s . . .

What I Didn’t Like / What I Would Change

1. The Not-So-Fun Drama

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the show wasn’t able to handle more complicated friendship drama later on. I felt Season 5’s Adora/Glimmer beef was a little exhausting–especially after it seemed to be solved by the end of an episode . . . but was still there in the next episode. I’m definitely not saying I didn’t want to see those characters fight; I just got incredibly tired of watching them voice the same issues, over and over, without working on them, which even the show points out is strange.

2. The Pacing on Catra’s Arc (and thus, for a while, Catra)

It must be reverse day, because of all the things I thought I’d love for the entirety of the series, Catra was number one.

When I first watched the show, I absolutely loved her. I enjoyed her attitude, her design, how her situation was understandable, so you wind up feeling for her.

But then the show shoots way past the point where she’s understandable . . . and the plot just keeps supporting her, for way too long.

It isn’t until Season 4, Episode 10 where she actually starts losing, and, as a person who’s experienced the full spectrum of gaslighters, it feels like it took way too long for her to be redeemable. Like, she opens a portal that almost destroys all of reality because she’s a jealous brat, and it is pretty impossible to forgive that.

It doesn’t help that the plot support came in ways that seemed over-the-top and devalued other characters.

Scorpia and Seahawk share an episode where they vent about the treatment they’re getting from their special someones. Seahawk leaves that episode triumphantly proclaiming that, fuck it, he doesn’t care about what Mermista thinks of him. Scorpia left that episode . . . determined to devote herself to Catra’s bullshit no matter what?

Hordak also, weirdly, winds up bowing to Catra because she rips out a gem powering his new exoskeleton . . . but then gives it back to him? So, like, he’s in charge, but really she’s in charge? The thing is, I wouldn’t have even minded her just straight up becoming the leader of the Horde, but it was done in this weird way where she still gets to be angry about being subservient . . . while also calling the shots? Why didn’t she just kill Hordak? Why didn’t the show just shift her into Queen Catra mode and give her a dope new outfit?

In the end, I just got tired of it. She stopped being relatable, the drama between her and Adora stopped moving, and her drama with almost every other character stopped feeling logical.

3. The Rest of the Pacing Too, Actually / Why Did They Save the Good Part?

This is not my first rodeo when it comes to Netflix Originals from Dreamworks.They usually have pacing issues. And weird half-seasons. I get it.But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem that needs fixing.

Particularly because . . . the last season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is fucking awesome.

If you’re not aware, the last season is actually the season that most resembles the intense, desperate-rebellion energy of the original show. The stakes are insanely high and it absolutely rocks.

The fact that it’s only the last fifth of the show will always feel like a weird mistake to me. Especially because the middle seasons just spun wheels on a lore-based plot twist that just didn’t feel unique (basically a perfect example of the “mystery left for protagonist by an ancient race” plot line that’s already deep into trope town).

The Edit in Post

Okay. So, how would I have reorganized all of this?

  • Delete a lot of the plot mystery: I liked Mara and thought some of the lore episodes with her were amazing. But I would completely cut the Heart of Etheria plot line. By the end, it got super convoluted, and the plot twist that the Princess’s energy was meant to power a weapon that would destroy the planet was weirdly antithetical to the message of the entire show. Other details, like the planet being in another dimension, are such weird, late-game additions that it just felt like the writers were hitting points on a checklist of “Things We Have to Do Because the Original Show Did Them.”
  • Move up Horde Prime–and thus the stakes–by, like, 2 seasons.
  • Move up Catra being exiled from the Horde and make it permanent.
  • And I mean move her exile up to Season 2 so Catra and Scorpia take over the Crimson Wastes. Catra builds her gang by stealing Horde tech, or maybe finding a new character to enlist. This results in a new faction that fights both the Princesses and the Horde. Would actually be way cooler to see Catra build a stronger army than the Horde, come back, and beat Hordak.
  • Move up Double Trouble’s intro. Absolutely introduce her in Season 2, in the Crimson Wastes, and have her work for Catra. Give the audience a slower, better burn on the mystery of who she is among them and let her work more subtly on putting a wedge in the gang. It would be . . . such good drama.
  • Give us a full season at least of Entrapta and Hordak. Just bolster the idea that Entrapta would actually, logically decide to stay with the Horde because she and Hordak are the most adorable friends ever.
  • Pad out everything with new episodes of good filler that explore character relationships and drama (i.e. gimme that Bow and Glimmer flashback solo adventure!).

So, to be clear, my changes would’ve looked like this:

Season 1: Introduce main characters and setting. Establish stakes early early with Entrapta getting captured way sooner. Use remaining episodes to establish Entrapta / Hordak friendship via B plots. End season with Catra beating the gang, who narrowly escape, and then she takes over for Shadow Weaver.

Season 2: Establish early in the season that Catra is tired of Hordak. She miscalculates a first attempt to manipulate him (or maybe trying to fight him), gets banished to the Crimson Waste. Catra, Scorpia create a new faction via B plot, gaining power with Double Trouble’s help. Plot A remains the cast fighting the Horde, but maybe also getting infiltrated by Catra’s faction? Establish that there’s some super powerful Old One’s weapon (basically, the Heart of Etheria minus a bunch of lore episodes), and the season ends with all three factions fighting for it. Hordak is defeated by Catra, but he hints heavily at Horde Prime’s arrival.

Season 3: Catra as Queen of the Horde, fighting She-Ra for the season with Shadow Weaver drama and question of how to get the weapon to work. Full season of peak Catra / Adora drama via “Catra, why the fuck are you fighting us when Horde Prime is on his way!? Goddamn!” but worded differently. Also peak Entrapta drama as she joins Catra to “keep working on tech,” but is really trying to figure out how to free Hordak. Peak season for the drama. I imagine that right as Entrapta is freeing Hordak, Horde Prime shows up and handily defeats everybody. Hordak goes to Prime, his mind gets erased, and Horde Prime captures both Glimmer and Catra.

Season 4: Basically the same as the Season 5 we got, only with Catra ingratiating herself to Prime at the beginning. I’d love to write her being frustrated at having to be subservient to Hordak again. But, more than anything, I’d love to write the argument where Glimmer tells her, “If you had just helped us fight him, none of this would’ve happened.”

Again, this outcome would’ve been different (not necessarily better), but I can say that I absolutely would’ve loved to write it and watch it.

~~~

It was weird to write this out (this is usually just an exercise I perform in my head for a week after watching something), but I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please consider Following the House of Error; the field to do so is to the left side of your screen on desktop, or in the drop down menu (i.e. the hamburger icon) on the top right on mobile.

Next week is going to be a post about my writing process–the ways in which it’s similar to and differs from Brandon Sanderson’s. Until then, stay safe, everyone!

Drafts – Gwin, the Red Markison

The other wayfarers were eyeing Gwin, all of them shameless about it. Not just because he was the only Avian waiting in the mayor’s antechamber, but because he was a Red Markison.

There were over a hundred races of Avian across the world, with far more visual distinctions than human races. Dramatic differences in crests, wingspan, height, body composition, and–especially–color made it difficult for the average human to keep up, so many didn’t even try. Instead, they fell back on a handful of misconceptions. Ideas like dun-colored Avian being more intelligent than their bright-colored peers–possibly because of how common brown-feathered Dallings were. Or maybe because Dallings and other such birdpeople were closest to human skin colors.

Whatever the reason, there was a very real chance that, despite Gwin’s sharp eyes, and the Avian-altered armor he wore, the mayor of Greybrush would only see his bright red feathers. Or the inhuman shape of his torso. The bare talons of his feet. The mayor might, like the worst of humanity, just see an animal. A pretty beast, trained to follow Elise around and repeat what she said on command. Gwin would absolutely despise that . . . even though he called himself a “pretty beast” every single time he found a mirror.

Elise knew he wouldn’t do anything violent, but Avian were naturally prideful, and they held a completely different, entirely personal view of society. Gwin, no doubt, wouldn’t have spared a second for the mayor–or even the king himself–if Elise hadn’t convinced him they should.

She took it as a good sign that they made it to the mayor’s chamber without incident. But then they were ushered in, and the mayor was an old white man. The kind who used to chase Elise away from their shops in Albrook for the crime of looking at his wares while also being a dark-skinned child.

He was on his feet immediately, saying “Welcome, welcome,” offering a hand and gesturing to his seats. Elise shook his hand . . . and then watched the old man offer it to Gwin.

“He doesn’t have hands,” she said.

And the mayor chuckled a bashful, “Of course,” as he sat down without apologizing.

Gwin looked at her, sidelong, saying nothing, but walking away from his spot in front of the mayor’s desk, considering a nearby bookshelf instead; if there had been any chance the mayor would earn a spot on Gwin’s pecking order, it was already lost.

“I want to thank you for what you did the other day,” the old man said, just to her. “I don’t think Greybrush would’ve survived that rhind attack if not for your help.”

“We did what needed to be done,” Elise said. “We wouldn’t be wayfarers if we just watched the trouble.”

The mayor chuckled again. “Your bird was particularly impressive.”

Ugh. Gwin didn’t turn around, but his feathers bristled–a shudder that rushed over him.

“Did you train it to hunt?”

“His master trained him–to be a wayfarer.”

The old man smiled like it was a joke. “So you bought it then?”

My . . . god. “He’s my–” she started to say.

But the floorboards were shaking in rhythm to a chuckle. Gwin shook his head. “You are trying . . . so hard with this genuine idiot.”

The mayor was wide-eyed, mouth hanging open.

“He just doesn’t know better,” Elise said, still trying so hard to be patient, knowing that, somewhere in this meeting, there was a reward–or maybe a job offer. She could do with settling down in a small town for a few months.

But Red Markisons didn’t care about making homes, and Avian in general had zero tact for those they didn’t respect. That lack of care was always so liberating for Elise.

So she just watched Gwin chuckle. “Of course not. He doesn’t know anything. One look at that stupid fucking face, and it’s obvious.”

There was a moment where she tried to hold in the laughter . . . but she just couldn’t. Such an absurd, terrible thing to say that would solve absolutely none of their problems.

And the mayor, all balk and sputter. “Are you–is he–it–talking about me?”

She laughed harder, and Gwin joined her, his head rocking back.

When they were done, Gwin shook his head. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

A part of Elise wanted to turn, bow, thank the mayor for his audience. A much smaller part of her thought that she should apologize for laughing at him.

In the end, she just sighed. “Yeah, fuck it,” she said, and followed Gwin out of the chamber without looking back.

~~~

A few weeks back, on a snowy day here in New York, I took a walk with coworkers who are both bird enthusiasts. Idle chat about bird behaviors stoked the nerd fire in my fat soul, and I decided I wanted to try my hand at a fantasy bird race–if only because I’ve never seen a story that made them unapologetically inhuman.

In my experience, animal people in Fantasy are often just humanoid with animal heads. Worse, they’re very, very often presented as a replacement for existing human races and the social issues they face (i.e. the Khajiit and Argonians from Elder Scrolls standing in for human minorities, thus animalizing those minorities and devaluing their struggles).

Naturally, I fucking hate that. However, I thought it would be really interesting if a Fantasy animal-person race didn’t replace an existing race or shoulder their issues, but, instead, complimented them. Thus, this scene, which proposes a Fantasy race of bird people who were wildly, intentionally different from all human races, paired with a dark-skinned character who wasn’t.

If you enjoyed this experiment, and want to see more posts like this, or the other strange, manic writings of an adult man trying to get his life in order and get published at the same time, well, fuck, go ahead and hit that subscribe button on the sidebar to the left of this page. Or feel free to follow me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor.

Either way, thanks for reading, and, as always, write well.

A Writer Watching – Solo: A Star Wars Story

I made the mistake of watching Ant-Man and the Wasp a few weeks ago.

Which sucks, because, had I not watched it, that movie could still be whatever I’d imagined.

It could have, for example, been the awesome heist film I was imagining, heavily involving the Quantum Realm in an effort to rescue Janet Van Dyne. Not a full 2 hours with only 5 or so minutes spent there–no, it could’ve been a strange road trip into the void, reminiscent of a heist in the sense that the cast would have to manage a bunch of details, in both the normal world and Quantum Realm, to ensure their escape.

It could have also built on the narrative of the first film in interesting ways by advancing the cast’s relationships.

And it could’ve corrected the weird, casual racism of the first movie.

Watching Ant-Man and the Wasp, however, made it an inescapable truth that it was none of those things. It was, instead, a weird, boring mess that was massively disappointing even though I came in with low expectations.

At the end, I thought, “Man . . . I should’ve done a Writer Watching for this.”

And so, we have last Tuesday morning, when I was home, having thrown out my back, and thought, “Let me watch Solo, since my friends said it was good the other night.”

A minute . . . and thirty three seconds.

I got a minute and thirty three seconds in before I hit pause and said, “Yeah, I’ll do a Writer Watching on this shit for sure.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoy nerdy film crit, cause this one’s a heckin’ chonker. It’s A Writer Watching – Solo: A Star Wars Story:

  • (1:33) The inciting moment. Han Solo hangs up his stupid, golden dice on the rear view . . . of the . . . speeder he stole?
    . . .
    Does he do this with every vehicle he steals? Ya know, to make it incredibly clear that, “Hey, that one idiot kid who loves these stupid dice stole this one”?
    Sorry, but fan service that blatant and nonsensical infuriates me.
  • (3:45) Alien Thugs: “Han! You got our money!?”
    Han: “Uh . . .”
    Alien Thugs: “Whatever! This is a shake down! Search him!”
    They find nothing.
    “Hmmm. Okay! Whatever! Let’s go see Lady Proxima!”
    Logic: “You guys, uh . . . not gonna also shake down this other character who’s with Han?”
    Alien Thugs: “Lady Proxima, here we come!”
    Logic: “But, guys, like, that doesn’t make sense. That’s definitely not what–”
    Alien Thugs: “IT’S PROXIM-A’CLOCK, BABY!”
  • (5:54) Ah, yes. Finally. A good shot of Lady Proxima.
    . . .
    She looks terrible.
    Like, the idea of a sentient, aquatic alien crime boss is awesome . . .
    . . . but Proxima just looks terrible.
    And don’t @ me with that bullshit, Rogue One excuse of, “She’s supposed to be boring! She’s only in the movie for 5 minutes!” cause, just fucking no. Bad character design is never justified in any story.
  • (7:20) Wow. I actually have to say, this chase scene at least feels like a new scenario. I know we’ve seen people chase each other in speeders before, but this scene still feels unique. Like I’m actually watching a fun new Star Wars film.
  • (9:15) I’m a writer who focuses a lot on realism. Yes, I write fantasy, but within my fantasy stories, characters have to make choices that are realistic. When watching any movie, there’s usually a part where I say, “I could never write that,” about something that happened on-screen, because it makes absolutely no sense in the context of the world, scene, or characters.
    Han, with these dice, is a great example of something I could never, ever write.
    Because he’s attached to them, right? He clearly has a thing for them.
    Then why the fuck would he ever, in a million years, hang them up on a speeder he stole on a whim?
    Especially when that act results in him having to brave blaster fire to take them back not even ten minutes later?
    Realistically, the learned tendency would be to keep them in a pocket. Maybe to hang them up on his coat or something–not to proudly display them on a stolen vehicle that he abandons among his thieving peers moments later. Especially if doing so puts him in danger–even once.
    The idea that a criminal would treat an important momento the way Han is treating these dice . . . just doesn’t make sense.
  • (9:50) Am I the only person who’d like to see a Papers, Please-esque movie about the Empire’s strict immigration protocols?
    Or even just a movie about normal people living in the empire, trying to survive its corruption?
  • (10:39) When Han gives Qi’ra his lucky dice: I would give anything for Qi’ra to be like, “Ugh. Not your stupid fucking dice again.”
  • (11:51) When Qi’ra is being dragged away at the travel checkpoint, and we see that she still has Han’s dice: I would give anything for Han to be like, “No! Don’t take my dice!”
  • (12:16) “And for my next trick, I will pull a coat out of thin-fucking-air!”
    To be fair, I’m sure they filmed a moment when you saw him take whatever clothes off of a cart or something, but whichever editor decided to leave that on the cutting room floor made a bad choice.
  • (13:00) Wait . . . is the Imperial March actually playing on that in-universe propaganda?
    Really?
    It’s been the actual theme of the Empire this entire time?
    Well, shit, now I understand why people keep joining the Empire.
  • (14:00) Yeah, see, this whole stupid, terrible explanation for Han’s last name? You should’ve cut that instead.
    That was just high school fan-fiction levels of bad.
    If you ever have the opportunity to avoid a genuinely terrible explanation for something in your writing, stop to ask yourself, “Do I really need to explain this?” If the answer is “no” (i.e. “Han’s last name could just be ‘Solo’ for no special reason!”), then just don’t explain it.
  • (14:31) Han’s Commanding Officer: “Solo! Get up! We’re almost there!”
    Han: “Almost where? Where are we going?”
    Why is he screaming this like he genuinely has no idea? I understand that he might not have been briefed, but if that’s the case, three years of training as a soldier in the Empire would mean that he wouldn’t be at all indignant about not knowing where his platoon is headed. Either he would know where they were going, or he would know better than to question it.
    Instead, this moment is written like he just fell into this scene, experiencing the same cut the audience just saw. Because lol, what a funny, clueless rogue he is! That Han!
    Definitely dampens the idea that he served in the Empire for three years. And, if there’s some canon rule stating that Imperial recruits spend 2 years and 10 months training, then having him serve for only 3 years was an enormous mistake.
  • (16:48) Kinda weird how . . . Rebel-like all of these characters look.
    Like, for whatever reason, we’re getting a bunch of maskless characters fighting on foot . . . instead of Storm Troopers in high tech walkers, ships, etc., so it doesn’t actually feel like we’re watching characters in the Imperial Army.
    It’s disappointing, because I always thought it was really interesting that Han was in the Empire . . . But now it turns out that he was only in the Empire for three years and . . . wasn’t a Storm Trooper?
    I guess there’s a time paradox to look out for: Han can’t have crazy detailed knowledge of how the Empire operates because he never displayed that knowledge in the original trilogy. But eh . . .
    If only George Lucas were still in charge . . . He’d be able to add new, not at all glaring shots of a completely CGI Han saying things like, “Luke, at the Imperial Academy, we learned that the AT-AT’s armor is weak on it’s underside!” or whatever.
  • (18:40) Wait . . . He got kicked out of the Imperial Academy for having a mind of his own?
    . . . Then what the fuck is he doing in the Imperial Army?
    I don’t think that’s how the Empire’s supposed to work. I’m not sure that’s how any military works.
    “Well, he’s being super subversive, so we don’t want him flying ships . . . but eh, fuck it, give him a gun and put him on the front lines with our boys anyway.”
  • (21:41) I . . . hate this Han / Chewbacca fight.
    So . . . Han Solo . . . can speak Wookiee . . . and he knew that Chewbacca was a Wookiee when he came out of his mud hole to presumably eat Han . . . but, instead of immediately talking to this Wookiee . . . Han decided to . . . fight him?
    I . . . hate this.
    That entire fight was such a goddamn contrivance. No one in their right mind would ever decide to fight a giant monster before talking to it . . . if they knew it wasn’t just some brainless fucking monster.
    It’s the equivalent of a character from Star Trek being thrown into a pit with a Klingon, knowing about the Klingon, but . . . deciding to let the Klingon nearly kill them for a few minutes before talking to them.
    It’s just a classic case of plot twist fallacy.
    Writer A: “And ‘the monster’ is Chewbacca!”
    Writer B: “Genius! So Han and Chewie fight!?”
    Writer A: “Yes! Cause, like, Han doesn’t know Chewbacca; he just sees him as a monster!”
    Writer B: “OMG! So fun! How will he get out of the fight though?”
    Writer A: “Uh . . . Oh! Han can speak Wookiee!”
    Writer B: “Genius! No contradictions there! We can even have him call Chewbacca Kashyyykian, making it clear that he even knows the name of the planet Wookiees come from!”
  • (23:28) So . . . This new alien they’re introducing . . . is basically a talking monkey?
    Phew.
    Man . . . Yeah, the alien designs really do just suck in this movie.
    . . .
    WAIT.
    Hold on.
    Louis examines his star charts.
    Yes.
    Squints at an equation. “(Normal Animal + Human Voice) Pilot / Space =”
    Yep.
    He’s just a rip-off of Rocket Raccoon.
    This stupid monkey alien dude is pop culture’s first Rocket Raccoon rip-off.
    I would not be surprised if his early draft name was Missile Monkey.
    He’s even a pilot like Rocket. For fuck’s sake.
  • (23:48) Wait. Wait. So, this dude that Han tried to ingratiate himself with before . . . turns Han in . . . and Han runs back to him anyway?
    Why?
    That makes no–
    Okay. Ya know what? I need a break. At this point in the post, I’m stepping away, because I’m actually getting frustrated.
  • (24:10) Why the fuck does Missile Monkey keep pronouncing it as “WOO – ki”?
    It’s like if a new character showed up and started pronouncing it “jahDYE.”
    No. It’s “wook – ee.” It’s always been “wook -ee.”
  • (25:48) Originally, I had a rant here about Chewbacca not saying his name, creating a weird language paradox where there was a Kashyyykian word for “Chewbacca,” and how stupid that was.
    But then, I rewatched this moment . . . and Chewbacca literally says “Chewbacca” in Kashyykian. And it’s so well done that I genuinely didn’t realize it the first time.
    And, just like . . .
    . . . I understood Chewbacca.
    You guys, seriously . . . I know this is really, really stupid and probably one of the most fanboy emotions I’ve ever felt . . .
    But I’ve been listening to Chewbacca grunt for over 30 years without ever understanding what he said.
    But this time, I did understand. . . and I actually have feelings about it.
    Probably because there is no other experience I can compare it to.
    This movie is a mess, yes, but there’s something simple and wonderful about this one moment, when I finally, briefly understood this character I’ve loved my whole life.
  • (29:42) Woody Harrelson: “All you need to do is do what I say, when I say it . . .”
    Logic: “Oh, cool. Han has demonstrated that he’s really good at taking orders.”
    Also, what a lazy origin for Han’s blaster.
    It’s another thing that didn’t need an origin, but especially not when the origin is “Some dude gave it to me–cause I needed a gun, I guess.”
    Also . . . Could you, uh . . . give me the extra parts that make it a sweet sniper rifle, too?
    Kinda feel like those would be super useful.
  • (31:08) Woody Harrelson: “Or blow us all to Hell!”
    Hell exists in the Star Wars universe?
  • (31:21) I can’t wait for Missile Monkey to die. It literally can’t happen quickly enough. They tried so hard to pour so much charm into him that I can’t stand it.
  • (31:45) Okay. I gotta say . . . These action scenes are consistently good. Easily the best part of this movie.
  • (32:00) But this attempt at generating tension by showing Chewbacca in danger is funny.
    Oh no! <gasp> Will Chewbacca die, and then not be in all of the future movies he’s already in? The suspense!
    When you have a time paradox like this, you need to create tension in other ways. The audience knows Han and Chewie aren’t going to die, so you have to either create new characters who are likeable enough that the audience would care when you put them in danger (which this movie failed with, in my opinion), or, easier, you set up a villain the audience really hates, then create tension with the possibility that that villain will win. And, sure, they won’t, but, “Gah! It doesn’t fucking matter, ’cause, ugh, I just hate him/her so much!” This movie, at least to this point, has also failed in that respect unfortunately.
    You could relate everything to Han’s mission, or showcase a pre-established bit of lore in an interesting, enthralling way, but this movie dropped the ball in those regards as well.
  • (Sidebar) Okay . . . I took a day off, and something interesting happened.
    I’d paused during the heist scene, so when I hit “Play” today, I jumped right into the action . . .
    . . . and I just fucking loved it.
    That heist was fun, and pretty much all of the scenes after it were fun. There was even a moment where Alden Ehrenreich had such natural banter with Chewie . . . that I actually felt like I was watching a movie about a young Han Solo.
    At the moment, I’m enjoying this, which is great because I also have to cut down on the notes, or I’ll be writing this until April.
  • (Sidebar 2) Also, I was ready to hate whatever villain this movie threw at me, but I actually like Dryden Vos. He’s a great mix of normal and terrifying. He feels, at once, like an authentic, believable crime lord while also being a dude with weird scars on his face that get red when he gets angry because . . . the blood rushes to them first?
  • (51:04) Vos: “He is arrogant! And he is . . . hungry!”
    Me: Ugh.
    This is one of those lines you squint at after you’ve typed it. “Does that sound weird?”
    Yes.
  • (59:30) Okay. I also enjoyed the entire Sabacc game and every moment with Donald Glover’s Lando.
    But . . . here’s where things take a massive, massive dive.
    I’ve realized this weird tendency lately for issues of diversity to be pushed onto other races. Bright had orcs. Extinction (another meh Netflix original) had synths. Overwatch has omnics. And, while having these races and embroiling them in races issues isn’t a terrible thing, it leads to genuinely bad ideas and habits. For example, after I complained about Overwatch adding two new white characters last year instead of more ethnically diverse characters, some of my friends balked, “Yeah, and when are we going to get more representation for omnics!?” I remember blinking in that moment. I wanted to say, “Why the fuck does the race of robot people that doesn’t exist . . . need more representation that brown people like me?” There’s such a bizarre loss of priority there that my head is spinning.
    And I suspect that, no matter how innocent the intentions, it’s the fault of shit like this stupid fucking robot-rights character.
    Why the fuck is civil rights parodied in this movie? What is this fucking trend with trying to make racial tension a gag?
    I absolutely hate it. Like the Latin lover and the Hispanic drug dealer in every goddamn movie, this “goofy social justice warrior” bullshit makes me absolutely livid in its irresponsibility.
  • (1:01:57) This moment is so strange. We take a minute or so . . . for Lando to be upset that there’s a boot on his ship . . . Then Woody Harrelson says he’ll remove it, but reduce Lando’s cut . . . and Lando basically says, “Okay.”
    . . . That is prime cutting material right there. A solid 40 seconds that did not need to be in this story.
    [Edit: It’s weeks later, and I’m editing through one more time before posting this, and I have to say that, yeah, having finished the movie, there’s literally no payoff, whatsoever, for this scene. It’s a perfect example of a useless scene, and I will use it as such for the rest of my life.]
  • (1:14:18) Here, Qi’ra becomes every strong-female-character-in-a-male-driven-movie ever by exhibiting that she is not only hot but also a karate master.
    Seriously, they elected not to show her fight because either A) it was impossible to get anyone to move fluidly in that admittedly next-level-badass outfit she has on, or B) they did film it and realized it looked exactly like every other strong-female-character-in-a-male-driven-movie fight scene since the beginning of time.
    Seriously, if you’re worried you missed anything, here’s what happened:
    1. Qi’ra did a roundhouse kick.
    2. Qi’ra did a cartwheel.
    3. Qi’ra locked her legs around the alien’s head, leaned back, and threw him with her legs, striking a pose afterward. I have this reflex to link a YouTube video of the move I’m talking about, but you know exactly the move I mean, because you’ve seen it 40,000,000,000 times.
  • (1:20:26) Man, Wookiees look terrible without hair on their faces.
    Sure, I get that maybe this is some other race of Wookiee, or Chewie and his family have hair on their faces but not all Wookiees do.
    Still, these clean-shaven Wookiees . . . really just look like sasquatches. And it sucks.
  • (1:22:33) After Lando picks up L3, gets shot, and then get’s picked up by Chewie: I would give anything for Chewie to get shot in the leg so Han has to pick him up. But then Han gets shot in the shoulder so Qi’ra has to pick him up. Then Woody Harrelson picks her up, and so on, and so on, until we have a tower of Star Wars characters teetering toward the Millenium Falcon, with, like, Hoar at the very bottom, holding Baron Papanoida.
  • (1:24:03) Okay, I’ll say it.
    One of the things a lot of reviewers were really vocal about was their hatred for Lando’s romance with L3.
    And now, having watched it . . .
    . . . who cares?
    It wasn’t remotely obstructive or gross. It wasn’t played for gags. Hell, it wasn’t even definitively shown!
    Why were people so pissed about this?
    Also, L3’s a droid, Lando. You can just repair her.
  • (1:28:26) Man . . . They are just burning through all of the classic John Williams themes during this Kessel Run sequence.
    Seriously, there are samples of songs from the entire original trilogy in this one scene, and, for a soundtrack nerd like me, it’s incredibly distracting.
    And also a little shifty.
    They’re trying to work that nostalgia way, way too hard.
  • (1:38:53) Yeah, see, I would love a smaller Star Wars story that was just set in places like this weird, ocean-side, desert town.
  • (1:41:00) I’d heard this reveal of the marauder boss was weird . . . and it so is.
    The music swells like the reveal is going to be someone the audience knows. The staff made me think, “Wait, is this Darth Maul?”
    No. It’s a woman. For some weird reason, there was some huge build-up for the badass marauder captain being a woman.
    And, for a moment, I was seriously like, “Wait . . . Do I . . . know her? Is she a character from earlier in the movie . . . ?”
    No. Star Wars was seriously just like, “Look, fellas! He was really a dame the whole time!” and I was like, “Whoa, whoa–wait–why the fuck is that surprising? This movie came out in 2018, dude. The badass being a woman just isn’t a plot twist anymore! Women are badass!”
    It’s also just kind of weird that they went with the “still untouched” look for her. If I’d have designed this woman, she would’ve had the scar over one eye, grey hair. Maybe the eye with the scar would’ve been dead. I know those things are cliche, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a skilled fighter also being beautiful (see Qi’ra). But if I’d designed this character, I would’ve made her thicker, older, scarred, maybe all of the above because A) she just would’ve looked more badass, B) she would’ve been the first battle-hardened, scarred soldier lady in the entire Star Wars universe, and C) I probably would’ve loved her immediately.
    Don’t get me wrong–strength can absolutely coincide with perfectly permed hair.
    But it doesn’t have to.
  • (1:50:06) So, this reveal that . . . (fuck–I still don’t know his name) . . . Woody Harrelson is a traitor is very poorly composed. And it’s poorly composed in such a way that hints at different drafts crashing together at this point.
    He very easily could’ve come out and been like, “Kid, I’m sorry. I can’t run forever. There would’ve been no escape. I begged you not to betray Dryden,” etc. And his very first line when entering the room (“I am . . . sorry, kid.”) makes it sound a lot like that’s what he’s going to say.
    But then, he spouts the line, “You weren’t paying attention. I told you–don’t trust anybody,” which is a pretty cliche parlor scene line for a traitor . . . and which was also seeded earlier with a single line from Woody that didn’t fit at all with his previous actions (i.e. he’s working with two long-time partners at the beginning of the movie, one of whom he had an intimate relationship with, and then gets incredibly upset when they die–not the actions of someone who trusts no one).
    I would not be at all surprised if an early draft made Woody Harrelson’s character too redeemable, so whatever happens to him by the end seemed cruel, so, on a later draft, they went back, added the single, incongruous line from Becket (I googled it) about not trusting anyone, and then modded some dialogue here to make him easier to dislike.
    A little rough, yeah, but Star Wars has been using space nazis for over 40 years. The series just isn’t used to grey-area villains.
  • (1:54:30) I probably shouldn’t . . . but I love Dryden’s weird, stupid, goth rave daggers.
  • (1:55:04) Uh . . . guys?
    This, uh . . .
    This whole thing . . . with Qi’ra about to kill Han . . . and her mentor being like, “I know her well!” and her being like, “I’m now going to kill my enemy” or whatever . . .
    . . . Yeah, that’s the same thing they did in the throne room scene in The Last Jedi.
    Seriously, it is almost the exact same moment.
  • (1:57:00) Huh. Dryden’s corpse is all grey now. So he was an alien of some kind then?
    Also, seriously, Paul Bettany, baby, why does this keep happening to you? First in Infinity War, now here? Jeez. Greyscale Sean Bean over here.
  • (1:58:00) Okay.
    Okay.
    It is cool seeing Darth Maul again. Sure.
    However, what I actually love about this is the idea that there are former Sith out there, in the galaxy, being evil.
    If only this was what always happened with the Sith–canonically–the Star Wars universe would be way more interesting. Not like it isn’t already, but the idea of former (fallen?) Sith being left for dead–abandoned by their mentors–and so set loose on the galaxy, has so much potential.
    At the very least, it has more potential than the actual Sith rules (only two–a master and apprentice, the apprentice eventually killing the master to take his place and find an apprentice of his own), which we have only seen play out a single time, in The Last Jedi, the movie 50% of humanity hated anyway. I’d prefer having Count Dooku and General Grievous still out there. Not that I loved either of them, but there’s potential intrigue to be had.
  • (2:00:30) Oh yeah, Han shooting first would’ve just looked flat out evil if they didn’t make Becket look like a scummy, traitorous bastard, first.

And that–finally–is it.

I did not think this movie was two hours long, for some reason. I also didn’t think I’d have this much to write about it.

Overall, it’s a strange prequel story with some minor time paradox issues–still exciting if you let the moment and classic music sweep you up. Not the best movie I’ve ever seen, though.

From a writing standpoint, it’s a great case for opening in medias res; the exposition was mostly bad, giving a ton of set up that just didn’t need to happen–especially Han’s five seconds in the Empire. For a franchise like Star Wars, and a movie about young Han Solo, I’m sure they felt like they had to show every well-known bit of Han’s past, but this story would’ve been much tighter if it had just started with Han somehow falling in with Becket. Maybe Han could’ve been angrier and more sullen at the beginning, explaining his past with Qi’ra and Corellia to Becket and the others in their campfire scene, then changing when he met her again on Dryden’s ship.

Also, in the case of Becket and his “never trust anyone” line, it’s an interesting look at what quick, patchwork edits can do to a story. A reminder that if we ever decide to go back and make a minor change to a character’s tone, it’s always worth going back through the manuscript and making sure it fits.

And, finally, seriously, 1:01:57. If you have problems deciding what to cut out of stories–if you find you have a tendency to entertain every idea with no concern for their purpose–then jump to 1:01:57 in Solo: A Star Wars Story. This scene, which I’ve already dubbed “The Boot,” is the perfect example of a scene none of us should ever write.

~~~

Anyway, that’s it for me. If you read this far, thank you; I really appreciate it. Also, holy shit–you’re a trooper.

If you enjoyed this novel’s worth of film criticism, and you’d like to know when I post again, feel free to click the subscribe button on the left side of the screen. Or follow me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor.

Either way, take care, and write well.

Drafts – The Steelskins

Musa almost walked into them.

Coming out of Lucky’s, pulling his coat tight against the cloud-dimmed afternoon, he didn’t notice the steelskins until there were six of them, in varying degrees of contrapposto.

Only one of them eyed Musa–a stern look through a dented visor, promising there were no answers to be had here.

The others were fanned out, scuffed leather hands keeping other citizens back–away from two workers with a mop and brush. They shared a bucket between them, filled with water made frothy and pink by red bristles.

Musa knew he could ask what happened–anyone but the steelskins would be eager to gush about the person who had bled out front of Lucky’s.

But there would be significantly less heart in the asking. Someone had bled. Someone always did. If they were alive, good for them. If they were dead, Musa would rather not know.

Because it had happened so quietly–so quickly–that, if not for the steelskins, he would’ve walked past the blood without noticing.

“Alright, alright,” one of the workers said. “That’s enough.”

And one of the steelskins sighed. “The rain’ll get the rest.”

~~~

I like drafting short, throwaway scenes. It’s just practice on days when I feel like I haven’t written enough. I’ll be posting them here now, however, on an extremely loose, unreasonable schedule (Hi, 2AM!). I want to stay consistent with these . . . and I thought they might be interesting.

Thanks for reading. And, if you enjoyed and would like to know when I post again, feel free to click the subscribe button on the left side of the screen. You can also follow me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor.

Just Checking In: Welcome to 2019

It’s a new year. A new chance to finally get the life I want.

For me, 2019 feels almost like a last chance though; my internal gauge of Published Heat has officially dropped back down to 0, and if I get to 2020 without getting published again, it’s probably going to spin down further, into negative percentages. Which is supposed to be mathematically impossible . . .

. . . but not for a writer, baby! Ha ha!

Anyway, look–I’m so serious about this year that I’d already started a few initiatives and resolutions weeks before the ball dropped.

For one, I’ve stopped eating meat. Not a self-righteous decision there; I just want to make healthier food choices, and I found that being vegetarian–while not as difficult in 2019 as it was in 2008–also forces me to make better food choices.

I also drew up a Google Sheet of 52 places to apply to this year, shared with a few friends at work.

My point is, I need this year to be different, and I’m doing my best to make sure that it is.

And part of that effort means posting on here–if only to keep myself sane.

But, really, to keep myself on track creatively.

My Current WIP’s

  1. “Nurture Garden 5” – A sci-fi short story that I’ve submitted a few times. Originally, I was just happy that it was under 7,000 words. Currently, I’m in editing hell with it. Every time I go back, I comb over the same scenes, looking for things to improve, determined to do several rounds of edits in one go. It is looking promising, but it’s also very, very difficult to go back to. I’m just about in the middle of it, and the goal is to have it done–again–by February.
  2. The Hand & the Tempest – The YA fantasy novel I’ve been working on for over a year now. I learned a very, very important lesson with this one earlier in the year; I can never, ever push myself to write. If I don’t know what’s coming next in a novel, I just need to put it down and work on something else instead. Yes, that makes things horribly slow-going.

    But the alternative is writing a completely rushed chapter that takes everything in a stale direction.

    This was kind of a surprise, because, in 2016, when I finished the first draft of Memory–an fantasy action-adventure–I was absolutely sure that bolting out novels in a single month was the way to go.

    Nope.

    More on Memory later, but, for whatever reason, I just didn’t pay attention to the massive additions and edits I had to make with that novel. The endorphin rush of just finishing something quickly dwarfed the desire to make sure that something was as sound as possible. That is never the angle from which I want to tackle a project.

    Yes, I do need to finish projects. But if I don’t execute them well–the first time–they’ll be in edits forever.

    The goal with The Hand and the Tempest is to find a middle ground–a schedule that’s somewhere between belting out words every day (like I did with Memory), and wasting months on an outline that’s ultimately too rigid.

    Right now, I’m hoping the answer is meditation–or some other form of quiet thought-exercise. I haven’t tried yet, because my personal life is bad enough that I rely very heavily on distractions.
    But I will give it a shot this weekend. And maybe I’ll write about it too.

Of course, there are other projects I want to work on, and others that I’ve completed. Unfortunately, I’ve put one of those completed stories on the back burner, and retired another one completely.

  • “Lokisday” is the project that I retired. It was a fantasy short story that just had way too issues:
    • It’s incredibly long–I’m talkin’ novella length–so I ran out of places where I could submit it.
    • It was also a “working shit out” story. Not an exact mirror of a previous relationship I’ve had, but definitely a vehicle for me to work out emotions brought on by that relationship. Still, I’m too close to it to judge it honestly, which I’m so aware of that I’m just not sure I want it published anymore; I’d be giving that story side-eye for the rest of my life.
    • Anyway, because it was a working-shit-out story, it had a very, very stale theme. You can’t change the past. Love who you are. Some people genuinely aren’t worth it. Things we’ve all heard so many times from so many other stories.
    • It was also another story from me where a protagonist goes somewhere and talks with a super-powerful mythical creature. I already did that, to way better effect, in “Aixa the Hexcaster.” I don’t want to keep rehashing that experience. On to different things.
  • Memory: Shadow of the Lord Sun – I’ve put Memory on the back burner. Primarily–and I hate saying this–because I think it needs to be rewritten if I intend to submit it at all.

    As I said earlier, this was my NaNo 2016 novel, belted out quickly before I realized that wasn’t a good way for me to write a story.

    It is very much a creature of the time I wrote it (a Marvel Studios-esque fantasy adventure with a strong female lead–as a secret hook, for some reason). So much of that doesn’t really resonate anymore, and I’d rather be ahead of the curve than behind it.

    • I didn’t plan to make a plot twist out of the one character being a woman–I just wrote a hyper-intelligent, super-powered character without knowing what gender they would be, then realized that she was definitely a woman.

      Somehow, though, that character’s gender came off like a plot twist regardless.
      And I hate that. I think it became a twist because, at the time, I didn’t feel like there were enough leading ladies in nerddom (and also because I love Samus Aran–not gonna lie).

      But there are plenty of strong, female protagonists in nerddom now. Or, at least, there aren’t so few female protagonists out there that it would make sense, at all, to hide the character’s gender as a twist. We’re definitely at the point where you can just add momentum to the wave without being coy. I’d prefer to rewrite the story from that adjusted angle.

      Of course, hiding that character’s identity still makes a ton of sense plot-wise, but I’ll figure something out.

    • The other protagonist never had a strong, unique arc, which I can absolutely fix. I already know where I’m taking it, and that it would be more interesting. However, it’s not the kind of thing I can just drop into the existing MS.
    • I never showed the world in as much detail as it needed to be shown. The end result was a novel that made it seem like I did minimal world-building. Also something I can fix.
    • The weirdest thing: Memory was significantly under its appropriate word count. So, rather than struggle to add something to a flawed manuscript, starting over feels like a better bet.
    • And, finally, the Marvel-esque tone just bugs me. Not because I suddenly hate Marvel movies or like DCEU movies–because just fucking no.

      It’s because I don’t want to write any of my work with the tone of someone else’s. I want it to feel like my work. I want it to read like something I would write.

      I want the visuals to be weirder and more striking. I want the action to be more dangerous. Less punchy than Marvel’s.

      I guess, more than anything, I want to finally cultivate my own style, and stick with it, unabashedly. It’s going to take practice and focus.

      But, if there’s one thing I know in the vast, mysterious hellscape of writing, it’s that finding my own style–my own voice and cadence–will absolutely be worth it.

~~~

In the weeks to come, I’ll be posting a lot more about these projects–particularly “Nurture Garden 5,” which I’m hoping to make a ton of progress with tomorrow morning.

Anyway, thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post–and want to get a notification when I publish my next one–please hit the subscribe button to the left of your screen. You can also follow me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor!

Until next time, take care. And, if you have one, seriously reconsider that working-shit-out story.

A Writer Watching: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power – Episodes 1 & 2

She-Ra_TitleScreen

There were a bunch of times when I wanted to return–when I considered writing posts about whatever sparked my interest. But nothing really pushed me like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power did. Not because I’m an insane person who thinks the show is bad . . .

. . . but because the angry, trolling manlings of the internet really came out in full force for this show–a reboot of a cartoon from the 80’s that was never made for them in the first place. Seriously, the unbridled privilege in action there is astounding.

So I thought, “I watched the first two episodes, and I liked them. Why not make a whole viewing journal, written as I watch the rest of the season, so I can dish on the stupid incels who hate anything remotely progressive or feminist, while talking about what the show does right and wrong?” And here we are. Full disclosure, I originally planned to make this one huge post–for the entire series–but I quickly realized that would be insane, so, instead, I’m going episode by episode (or potentially arc by arc [I’m playing it by ear]).

*Disclaimer Though: Seriously, I criticize absolutely everything. It’s just what I do. I expect the incels to already be gone at this point, but if you don’t want to see this series honestly criticized for the things it genuinely does wrong, you should probably leave as well. I like it–I don’t watch TV shows I don’t like–but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of criticisms to make. Why make those criticisms at all, you ask? Because I’m a writer. Because maybe you are too. Why shouldn’t we be able to critique this show that’s great–but flawed–and aspire to make our own work better?

Anyway, enjoy!

Episode 1 – “The Sword Part 1”

  • (1:00) First thing–what I saw a bunch from the incels was that the animation was terrible. We’re ten seconds in, and, hey, incels what in the fat hell are you talking about? I get that there are some small animation errors here and there, but there are with every animated show. This is very obviously high-quality from the get-go.
  • (4:50) Goddammit, Shadow Weaver looks awesome. One of those times I wish I’d designed a character.
  • (4:51) Here’s where they revealed that Adora is a soldier for Hordak, something I absolutely fucking love, because it sets the show up to transcend the “one-a the guys” feminism of comics or other shows. Adora starts off the series being the no-nonsense, sparkle-free, princess-hating super soldier that most feminist characters are–characters who I’ve grown to think of as “one-a the guys.” Obviously, “one-a the guys” female characters are far better than hyper-sexualized, man-focused female characters, but there’s still room for improvement. “One-a the guys” are still geared to be relatable to men, and that’s always weird to me.
    Anyway, I digress. My original point: it’s interesting how Adora starts off this show as “one-a the guys” while she’s working for Hordak, who lies to her about who she is and what she’s supposed to want.
    I’m really hoping this show did that intentionally, and that it proceeds to promote being girly and being strong at the same time–as opposed to either being a woman who is tough, never acts girly, and has sex only with other women (ya know, things that are obviously not bad on their own, but that are very often bundled into the “strong female” archetype), or a woman who acts girly, and is either obsessed with a man, or needs to be saved by one.
    Again, I’m not sure that She-Ra is actually eschewing the “one-a the guys” thing, but it seems to be with this exposition, and I hope it is. Because we need
     strong, female characters who exist somewhere in the middle of the “girly damsel”-and-“perfect, man-like ultra-badass” spectrum.
  • (9:11) Kinda weird how these Dreamworks shows keep starting with protagonists–who are training in the military–stealing a speeder . . .
  • (10:43) . . . and then, while joyriding in it, finding the show’s macguffin by accident.
  • (12:20) Having watched a few episodes of the original show years ago, one of the things I was super curious about was whether or not Bow would still have giant red hearts on his outfit. I love that he still does.
  • (14:19) Oh no–no, no, no, no. I don’t like this weird, Catra sleeping at Adora’s feet, on her bed, thing, and it’s not–I repeat, it’s not–because I’m some kind of stupid homophobe. No, there’s just something really, really gross about it, from a friends-perspective.
    Never, ever be such a shitty friend that you let your bestie degrade themselves for you. Seriously, I know it’s small–I know that they were trying to do a cute thing with her being a cat–but this moment has the potential to foster really bad interpersonal habits. Seeing the protagonist sleeping while her friend sleeps at her feet, like an animal, probably gave a bunch of kids the wrong idea about how devoted a best friend could be.
  • (17:07) “Light Hope.” I . . . love how unapologetic they are about sticking to all of the original names.
  • (20:25) Okay. It’s about time to talk about it.
    This show . . . absolutely, 100% has White Savior Syndrome.
    That is the massive flaw of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. There are characters from different races, but they all play second-fiddle to a pretty, white protagonist who has shining, blonde hair and glowing, blue eyes when she uses her powers. She-Ra looks great, but she fosters a trend I’ve seen of empowering white women . . . at the expense of minorities–the result of creators saying, “Well, we want to be forward-thinking . . . but we don’t want to make the protagonist a minority!”
    This scene, with Adora being shown a town destroyed by Hordak’s forces, embodies that white savior vibe perfectly.
    The white protagonist is shown how these poor, othered minorities are losing their war. If only there was a strong white woman, privileged with the power to be better than all of them–by right of just being born–who could save them all!

    Maybe that trend sticks out to me because I am a minority, but this show will forever be an example of it. I’m sure it’s well-intentioned, but it’s weird that Catra, Glimmer, Bow–they’re all nice and tanned . . . while Adora and the queen, Angella, are fair-skinned.
  • (22:09-22:30) Light Hope: “Adora . . . will you fight for the honor of Grayskull?”
    Adora: “For the honor . . . of Grayskull!”
    The writers could’ve made that smoother.
    Look, I’m a fantasy writer. And a very, very intense self-editor. Things need to sound natural.
    That did not sound natural at all.
    Light Hope asks our protagonist a question, and she’s all, “Yes, I will! But I’m not going to actually say yes, even! I’m just going to say the catchphrase that I suddenly know! Or, like, I’m just gonna repeat the last part of that full question you just asked! For no particular reason, really! I’m not even gonna be like, ‘Wait, what’s Greyskull?’”

    Just sayin’, you get one chance to make a moment like that perfect. One chance to bring She-Ra back and make it absolutely seamless. But that one moment–which should have been flawless, even if the rest of the show wasn’t–was messy.
  • (22:44) She-Ra really does look so awesome though. She triggers such a child-like awe in me. I’m a man in my mid-30’s, watching her transformation like, “Whoa-a-a-a-a. Her hair is so pretty!”

 

Episode 2 – “The Sword Part 2”

  • (1:12) Such a good move making Adora unable to control her She-Ra powers. Giving protagonists a learning curve for their power set is always great when those powers are crazy.
  • (8:07) They’ve been mentioning it for a while, but I appreciate that Glimmer also has a learning curve with her powers. It gives her some obvious room to grow, and I assume that, like Adora, she’ll grow as a person as she gets more powerful.
  • (8:14) I sure hope that Bow, who seems to already be an expert with his bow, gets the same treatment. I sure hope that, in this show that’s trying to be progressive, we don’t have a male character who’s just static comedy relief. His growth wouldn’t need to be tied to his powers, of course, but it would be kind of shit if he was just there to make the funnies. Ju-u-u-u-ust sayin’.
  • (10:18) This scene . . . really annoyed me.
    Shadow Weaver: “Where is Adora!?”
    Catra: “For the last time, I don’t know! . . .”
    Shadow Weaver: “. . . Have it your way. I already know where she is. We’ve been tracking her.”
    Me: . . .
    Catra: “Uh, then why’d you ask me?”
    Me: Exactly.
    Shadow Weaver: “Because you’re going to get her back!”
    Me: That makes . . . zero sense.
    Don’t send some new, badass, genuinely threatening villain to capture Adora. Don’t create drama by having Catra intervene somehow.
    No, just send the one under-performing warrior-in-training, who has clear issues with authority, to do it.
    I always hate contrivances, but I especially hate them when they require characters to make incredibly stupid choices.
  • (11:04) Interesting how, even on this show, set in a really sparkly world with lots of pinks and purples, our magical girl protagonist hates pink flowers.
    Do ya . . . Do ya see what I was talking about earlier? Isn’t it weird that this show is designed to appeal to people who like bright colors and sparkly transformations, but the protagonist hates that shit cause writing trends dictate that she should?
    Maybe I was wrong about that “one-a the guys” thing, but I’m still hoping Adora changes as the series progresses. I’m hoping
    this is more of an “I was raised by Hordak to hate those things” kind of situation. I mean, Adora does lose it when she sees a horse for the first time, and loving horses is traditionally a girly girl thing.
  • (11:52) Ahhhh . . . C-Cool. The minority people in this town are, like, half-animals . . .
    . . . Cool.
    Yeah, ya know the way Catra, Adora’s best friend who has tanned skin and sleeps at her feet like a fucking animal, is, in fact, part animal?
    Yeah, these other tanned-skinned people are animals too.
    great
    just . . . just great
  • (16:30) I haven’t seen past this episode yet, so I have no idea how this Catra / Adora friendship thing plays out. She-Ra is a Dreamworks animation, and they are awesomely brazen with the sexual diversity of their characters, so I genuinely have no idea if they become a thing or not. Either way though, here’s how I feel about this:
    If Adora and Catra are friends, I like the friends angle, but I hope there’s some actual romance somewhere else in the story. Whether it’s with a male character or a female character, it would be cool to see the tough, boss-bitch character at least invest time into a romance.
    If Adora and Catra are more than friends, that would lean into the “one-a the guys” trend, but it would still be awesome if it got into the emotions of the relationship (instead of the comic book approach of showing the two hot chicks naked in bed together and that’s it–not like this show would do that anyway). If I got to see the relationship that was denied me with Korra and Asami (and which is still being denied me with Shiro and Keith [#keiro]), I’d be happy.
  • (19:26) Holy shit! There’s a magical girl transformation! A-a-a-and it’s legit as fuck!
  • (20:20) Yo, can we take a moment to acknowledge that Bow was straight-up just ready to die fighting the Horde right here? That’s . . . That’s fucking awesome. This dude was just ready to die saving people–in the second episode. Nobody gonna talk about that? . . . No? . . . It was just posed as comic relief? . . .
    great
  • (20:45) I’m sure the incels would whine about She-Ra being OP and immediately knowing how to use her powers, but she clearly dips into something like the Avatar State here, where she’s amazing and terrifying, and I love that. It does make things convenient for writers, yes, but there’s also something rad about your protagonist going mute, growing 4 feet taller, and having giant, golden hair that’s awesome (just fucking try to come at me about that last part when y’all motherfuckers know you love Dragonball).
    *I watched ahead a bit . . . More about this topic next time.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Thanks for dropping by! I don’t update on a regular schedule; I’m a man trying to get his life in order and get published at the same time, so posting on this site is limited to whenever I have time and really, really don’t want to write. Or just relax.

If you enjoyed this post, and want to get a notification when I post the next part of this series, please hit the subscribe button to the left of your screen. You can also follow me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor, or just pass by again in [INSERT RANDOM NUMERIC VALUE] [INSERT RANDOM UNIT OF TIME]! Thanks!

Let’s Talk About: The Emperor’s Pistol

I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past Wednesday.

It was the beginning of a new trend I’ve started of just getting out of the house. Maybe it’s in celebration of finishing the edit of Memory.

More likely, it’s just an intense desire to be out having fun when I have the freedom to do so. In particular, I’m trying to go out with friends more often — trying to work my life into a legitimate TV show with a full cast of characters.

Because of course I have to think of them as a cast of characters.

Whatever, the point is, I wanted to head to the Met . . . because, back in February, when I started posting on here every day, I mentioned wanting to go there and write about it.

Not just because it’s an awesome museum that I genuinely get lost in every time I visit.

But because it’s where I, as a kid, had an epiphany that made me the writer I am today.

And that epiphany centers on this:

TheEmperorsPistol

Yes, it’s a gun. Nothing could seem more crass, I know, but bear with me.

This is a pistol made for Emperor Charles V by Peter Peck, a maker of watches and guns, back in the 1500’s.

It is, as you can clearly see . . . absolutely insane with detail. The etchings. The detailing on its curved grip. I have no idea how functional this thing could’ve been.

But, when I was young, I didn’t care about that.

Because, when I first saw this gun, all it did was confuse me.

Much in the same way that it’s confusing the first time you find out that Batman didn’t start with Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, or even Adam West.

“Wait . . . There were guns before the guns I’ve seen my whole life?

“But . . . we have them now.”

For whatever reason, it felt like some kind of cosmic betrayal. Like the world was messing with me. Not only had we had them, but they were actually beautiful hundreds of years ago, “when they were way harder to make . . . How does that even work?”

The answer was something that stuck with me. Something that’s prevalent in all of my work, whether I want it to be or not.

It’s the knowledge that I don’t know everything. That I, as a human being, am inherently stupid and limited in my ability to perceive the world around me. The past — the eternal majority of human existence — is a thing I can only know snippets about if someone else I don’t know compiled information about it for everyone — before I was born.

My knowledge, I discovered that day, is the sum of the scattered things I can try to learn about the past . . . and my own stupid, human assumptions.

Like that there weren’t guns hundreds of years ago.

This is the reason why I think about what’s happening 10 feet below me sometimes. With no provocation, I sometimes try to imagine what’s happening 10 feet below me — at home, on the street, or wherever there’s solid ground — and I realize that I have no idea. There is, in fact, no way I can ever know exactly what’s happening 10 feet below me. Unless a) I’m falling, or b) I’m in one of those boats with a glass bottom, to which I argue, a) Oh shit! I’m falling!?, and b) Oooh. Are there sharks?

This 10 feet down talk also applies to you — right now. Apologies if you’re paranoid, but the caveat is that you don’t have to worry what’s going on down there. If you’re in an apartment, it’s someone else’s apartment 10 feet down — none of your business. If you’re in a private house, the cat’s down there, maybe, and that’s none of your business either — even if they’re clawing up the furniture. That’s their night and you’re not a part of it, because you’re up here, reading this post.

The point is . . . our thoughts aren’t unique. Our ideas aren’t original.

When I looked at that gun, I had the first spark of the realization that humanity had not started with me. And I wasn’t the pinnacle of it.

And, despite how all of this sounds . . . I thought that was amazing.

The idea that fantasy could be more complicated — that humanity hundreds of years ago had already been more complex than I thought — blew my mind.

And that freedom — to make things complicated — is at the center of everything I write.

And, of course, I use it to promote the notion that we, as humans, aren’t perfect and all-knowing. Because that idea is beautiful and fascinating to me. It’s humbling.

And it’s reassuring to know that I don’t know everything.

And I never, ever can.

~~~

It’s 2AM and I . . . really need to get to sleep, so I’m going to keep this short. Thank you again for reading. I know this one got here at the end of the week too, but I’m going to keep trying to balance work, writing, and my personal life in the non-stop Spider-Man dance that is my life. I’m actually considering taking a break from the blog again just to get my handful of projects into submissions, but we’ll see what happens.

Anyway, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Thank you just for passing by, and, as always, write well.