Just Watched #3 – Twin Peaks

“I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

There’s a very specific way that I say, “What the fuck, dude?”

In the TV show of my life, that would absolutely be my catchphrase.

And, as in real life, I’d sigh it when I’m watching, reading, or playing something that thoroughly fucks my mind. To the point that “What the fuck, dude?” takes on a new meaning.

I remove emphasis from everything but “fuck,” the “dude” shortened to a half syllable, as if, in that moment, saying the sentence clearly is too much to ask for. I’m just that tired. That ready for things to go back to normal.

Which is exactly why I muttered, “What the fuck, dude?” at the end of Twin Peaks.

No spoilers here, of course, but just . . . dude . . .

Twin Peaks is, at its heart, a soap opera. Which, of course, is immediately strange because, of all the things I expected Twin Peaks to be, a soap opera was not one of them.

It is also a mystery/thriller, for sure.

And a heavily supernatural, surrealist day dream/nightmare?

Side Note for Gamers: Twin Peaks is also completely responsible for Deadly Premonition. If you’ve ever played that game and thought, “This is so original!” Nope. It was heavily inspired by Twin Peaks. The two are different for sure, but the comparisons draw themselves.

But, whatever; my point is, at its heart, Twin Peaks is actually a soap opera.

And, in being a soap opera, it answered one creative question I’ve had since I was young: “What would happen if I wrote a thing and paid a ton of attention to every single character in that thing?”

The answer: that’s what a soap opera is. Obviously, there are other factors that make a soap opera a soap opera, but I don’t know another word for a huge ensemble piece that tries to captivate a large audience with a mix of relationship drama, intrigue, mystery, and popular fiction elements, regardless of genre.

It doesn’t matter if it’s set in a hospital.

It doesn’t matter if there are witches and little puppets who come to life.

It doesn’t matter if it centers around the mystery of a murdered girl.

Whatever it is–even if it’s a story with a cast full of dinosaurs–if you give each dinosaur their own subplot, what you wind up with is a soap opera. Even if you’re only trying to tell a bunch of individual stories based in one town, in order to do each story justice, you’ll have to add the relationship drama, the intrigue, the mystery, the popular fiction elements, and a bunch of other things anyway. Because, hey, the fact that the kids down the block are trying to save their buddy from the Underneath has nothing to do with Becky Terwilliger (I just made her up [I know, hard to believe]), but Stranger Things doesn’t show us what Becky’s up to, because it’s not a soap opera.

What I’m saying here is, giving a large cast of characters a lot of attention and complexity is what Twin Peaks does . . . and that’s why it’s basically a soap opera.

And, to be clear, I’m not saying that’s bad.

But watching Twin Peaks made me realize that unwittingly writing a soap opera . . . is something I never want to do.

Because, in the end, I’m not sure if I liked Twin Peaks or hated it.

I can tell you that I absolutely loved a lot of what it did. The main plot lines were intriguing, Dale Cooper and most of the characters were great. Some of the subplots were fun and exciting. Lots of the surreal imagery was bizarre . . . and awesome.

But I also just . . . hated some of the characters. Hated them to the extent that I didn’t care what happened to them.

But, unfortunately, the show really cared about all of its characters, including the ones that I didn’t like, which means–in true soap opera fashion–it refused to let them go. And, hey, I’m not saying Twin Peaks didn’t kill people off, but there were two cases of people just not dying when they should’ve. And one case of a character leaving the show . . . without actually leaving the show.

In one of the pretend-death cases, the writers did something new with a character, and it wound up being weird–and the best.

With the other . . . I mean, there was no reason for [REDACTED] to stay alive. I sensed hints of the ol’ Game of Thrones switcheroo, where we were supposed to start caring about a heel, but nope. It didn’t work. At least not for me.

In the last case, a character I genuinely disliked left the town of Twin Peaks, not sure when he’d come back . . . and Twin Peaks followed him. And started a new storyline just for him, with completely new characters. Yes, a spin-off of a show . . . in the show it’s spinning off.

. . . Why?

But, whatever. What matters is, I still enjoyed watching the weirdness of Twin Peaks. And I still learned a bunch from it:

  • Massive stories with large casts are guaranteed to have characters people don’t care about. Because that’s just a symptom of soap operas.
    You have to cast a wide net.
    You have to make the pirate man with the burned hand, because, hey, some people like pirates.
    In the same fashion, Twin Peaks had to make the robotic biker dude, because some people like robot bikers. Also (wow, I actually have to say this), disclaimer: there is no robot biker on Twin Peaks; I was being sarcastic. Just a really whiny biker who managed to super emote . . . while just staring blankly 90% of the time? Whatever–I hated him.
  • Charming characters can get really annoying if their subplots go on forever.
    One subplot involved one of my favorite characters deciding who the father of her child was.
    Twenty episodes later, when she still hadn’t made up her mind, I stopped caring really hard.
  • Incredibly annoying characters can become a ton of fun when they have drastic role reversals.
    The example Twin Peaks provides is really, really out there, but it worked. And, even though it was silly (even the reason for the personality change was pure camp, oddly born from tragedy), I absolutely loved it.
    It’s a thing that can work.
  • High-level character alchemy can backfire. It can backfire really hard.
    “Hmmm. I wonder what we’ll get if we combine a tough biker . . . with an incredibly fragile, emotionally-underdeveloped baby.”
    The answer: Literally the worst character ever.

~~~

A part of me feels like I should’ve watched the new season of Twin Peaks before writing this, but I think I’ll save that for another time.

At any rate, thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this one. But if this was lost on you because you haven’t watched Twin Peaks, I . . . recommend it? Ugh. I’m not sure of anything anymore. If you like being really weirded out, watch it; making you feel weird–especially by showing you strangely human moments–is the very root of what this show does.

Ladies and gentlemen, 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.

But, either way, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Let’s Talk About: The Everything’s Great Threshold

I started watching Parks and Recreation recently. As a man who’s genuinely terrible at keeping up with television, I’ve had this show on my Netflix list for as long as I’ve had Netflix.

Parks and Rec follows a familiar curve. Season 1 wasn’t great, very obviously lifting its joke climate from The Office. In season 2, the show finds its own identity and becomes way, way better.

But, by season 6 . . . it’s exhausting to watch.

Why? Well, that’s what I decided to make this post about. Because it’s exhausting for a reason that I’d never experienced before.

Everything . . . is just perfect.

In its earlier seasons, Parks and Rec had a lot of entertaining conflict. Budding romances that viewers wanted to see happen, goals that the department was trying to complete, setbacks for a cast of fun characters to figure out together.

By season 6, however, it’s a nonstop thrill ride of pretty much everything going well. There is one major set back for the protagonist, but, within two episodes, it’s like it never happened.

And, maybe I’m a pessimist . . . but that kind of optimism is just . . . so boring.

And it’s cloying; I’ve seen things go well for people in real life — long streaks of good times — and that’s fine, but I’ve never had to watch friends on TV, high-fiving and constantly talk about how much they love making out with each other.

I mean, sure, you can blame this on the fact that Parks and Rec wasn’t designed to be binge-watched on a streaming service. It was written to provide spaced-out doses of good vibes on NBC.

But it’s still tedious watching episode after episode of everything going great and being perfect for everyone. The cast is split up into neat, perfect pairings that fall in love very easily — sometimes unbelievably. The main characters are just rolling in job promotions — that they often turn down because they’re already so happy.

I mean . . . fuck’s sake. So far, there have been no normal weddings on this show; every wedding on Parks and Rec has been a cute, surprise wedding. Not “most of them” — literally all three of them have been surprise weddings. Every single one. Because every single couple that’s gotten married on this show loved each other so much that they just had to get married “tonight!”

Couples don’t fight; they disagree with each other, but the disagreements are always easily resolved. Which is weird because, in early seasons, relationship problems endured — as they do in real lie — instead of neatly fizzling out.

Near the end, babies start happening, and I actually sighed when one husband decided he really wanted babies . . . on the same day that his wife — in another part of Indiana and unable to reach him by phone — found out she was pregnant.

Wow. The magic of everything being unrealistically perfect.

It almost feels . . . contrived somehow.

I write this, and I think, “Well, they just wanted to write a really uplifting show by making it absurdly optimistic.”

But the question becomes . . . isn’t that just boring for everyone?

Because good stories revolve around good conflict.

And, I understand that there is still conflict and motivation in later seasons of Parks and Rec — because you can’t have a story without conflict — but, I guess what I’m trying to say here is . . . there is a ceiling to positivity in fiction. A point at which it becomes impossible to care about a group of characters, because they’re routinely handed victories.

I’m calling it the Everything’s Great Threshold, and it’s going in my personal, writing rulebook.

  • Too much positivity — to the extent of magically-timed solutions to your characters’ problems — kills any tension a story could possibly have.

Or, in other words, when everything is perfect, small problems become challenges — and challenges aren’t real problems.

When said by a character whose life is perfect, “We have to put together this benefit dinner on short notice!” is not a problem. It’s a challenge.

When said by a character who’s struggling to do their job well — someone who has already gotten a warning that they’re up for review, for example — “We have to put together this benefit dinner on short notice!” is pure hell. It’s intimidating, nerve-wracking, and, when it’s resolved, for better or worse, it yields a much better emotional pay-off.

At least that’s how I feel. Granted, I’m just an amateur who’s only had one short story published.

But, hey, life doesn’t just throw victories at you.

~~~

Keeping it short and sweet for today. It feels good to get back to writing theory though; this site has been more of a journal recently.

But, hey, for anyone who was enjoying the journaling, just know that I got through the first chapter of Memory this week, finally fixing the problems I’d had with it before. I’m going to continue editing the rest of the novel, making sure everything works with the new intro, but the point is, I’ll actually be submitting again really soon, and that feels awesome.

Anyway, thank you for reading. For anyone new to the site, 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.

Either way, thank you again just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

 

Fantasy Fandom: Steven Universe

Confession time: I still watch cartoons.

I’m a writer who believes he can learn good writing habits from absolutely anywhere, so I have no qualms about trying out new cartoons that friends recommend.

Or just . . . trying them out when they look awesome.

Adventure Time.

Rick and Morty.

And, especially–said with a heavy, nostalgic heart–Avatar: The Last Airbender, and its follow-up, The Legend of Korra.

The thing is, my ability to watch those shows turned out to be surprisingly rare when I suggested them to fellow writers.

Me: “Avatar–not the James Cameron one, the good one–is one of the best fantasy stories I’ve ever exper–”

Other Writer: “I’m not watching a cartoon show.”

Me: “–ienced . . .”

Another time:

Me: “You haven’t seen Rick and Morty?”

Another Writer: “No. People keep telling me watch it, but, ha, I just never get around to it.”

Me: ” . . . ”

Yet another time:

Yet Another Writer: “Oh, our [mutual friend] got [whatever article of clothing] because it’s supposed to look like the one character from some cartoon?”

Me: <looks at said article of clothing> “Oh! Lumpy Space Princess? Adventure Time?” <inhales to shout, “I love Adventure Time!”>

Yet Another Writer: “Right–that’s it. Sorry. Didn’t know because I’m an adult and I don’t watch cartoons.” <actually rolls her eyes>

Me: “. . .” <sigh>

So, look, everyone has their reasons, so I don’t want to judge.

But, man what a shitty, boring life.

Cartoons are amazing. They have the ability to convey incredible love and support very real diversity.

And, when it comes to the range of cartoons I watch, no show does love and diversity better . . . than Steven Universe.

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For a short summary, a group of aliens called Crystal Gems live in a town called Beach City. There, they defend the world from attacks from their own people–homeworld gems who want to turn earth into a colony for a giant space empire, or corrupted gems, made animalistic and insane after a war with humanity ages ago. Among the Crystal Gems, there’s Steven, the half-human son of the Gems’ former leader, Rose Quartz.

Why I Love It

The show is as much about the Gems and their adventures as it is about Steven, and his growth as a kid. Not simply a rapid loss of innocence, but a sapping of faith that Steven counters with a determination to love and accept everyone.

To not fight, which is, in and of itself, beautiful. It’s a concept that I’ve been working with and one that I think the world needs more of.

But the show’s passive, loving male protagonist is only the beginning of its press for diversity and acceptance.

For starters, Steven is also, obviously, a fat kid. The show embraces that immediately, unabashedly focusing its first episode on Steven’s love for Cookie Cat Ice Cream Sandwiches (which he begins to believe are the source of his budding gem powers). Rather than doing the usual song and dance of fat-kid-loves-food-and-that’s-all-he/she-loves, the episode eventually pushes Cookie Cat aside in favor of showing our overweight protagonist . . .

. . . helping save the day.

Wow. Whodathunk it, right? An overweight kid being some kind of hero? Also, please apply the appropriate amount of bitter sarcasm from a guy who’s struggled with his weight for his entire life. I would’ve loved to have this show when I was 10. Especially because it never slims Steven down to convey character growth; there’s no shitty diet and work-out montage that makes “thinner” synonymous with “better” or “stronger.”

Seasons later, Steven is still fat, and still a hero.

That initiative is followed up with the rest of the 95% female cast. Because, you see, all Crystal Gems are women.

So, our young protagonist is surrounded by incredibly strong, loving, women with a ton of depth.

There’s Amethyst, who’s short, heavy, and loves fighting as much as a good gag.

There’s Garnet, who’s strong and stoic (the old go-to for strong female characters), but she’s also . . . a spoiler I refuse to give away.

Last, there’s Pearl, a comical take on typical thin-equals-best character design–a gangly ballerina who obsesses about perfection. And also hates Steven’s father, because she was in love with Steven’s mother.

Because, of course, all Crystal Gems are lesbians, a concept that the show completely embraces.

But that’s still only scratching the surface of this wildly progressive cartoon for kids. There are episodes where you find out male characters are gay–without gasps or ostracization. There’s Connie Maheswaran, Steven’s best friend, who’s Indian-American.

And there are episodes where side characters are made extremely human and flawed by their conflicts. There are episodes where main characters struggle with the consequences of war and toxic relationships. And, to all of these problems, the solution isn’t just the usual, comic book-ish “Punch it real hard!” Sometimes, it is, because it needs to be.

But just as often, the answer is love. The answer is taking pain in and dealing with it constructively, instead of just dishing it back out.

There’s just . . . so much that Steven Universe does that I genuinely can’t explain here.

So, rather than continuing to rant, I’m going to finish up with . . .

What I’ve Learned from It

Here are the three major things the series has taught me so far:

  1. Do not be afraid of diversity. We’re clearly living in an America that still fears it, but it doesn’t change the fact that everyone is beautiful. Write for everyone, without holding back. If you feel you don’t know enough about a marginalized group, do research and write them anyway.
    On that note, yes, write heavy characters. Ones who are smart, ones who are beautiful. Because, as a heavy man, I know for a fact that there’s more to us than how much we enjoy eating. We aren’t a bunch of maladjusted, bumbling jackasses, but the majority of media will always portray us that way–unless we provide a different dialogue. That dialogue being that not every hero is a 20-something-year-old model.
  2. Punching isn’t always the solution. Despite what fight-heavy America wants you to think, fighting often just makes a bad situation worse. Stories that embrace combat as a problem, rather than a solution, are just as engrossing–and often richer in real emotion.
  3. It is always possible to explore a range of side characters. They’re a wealth of stories just waiting to happen. All you need to do is allow those characters to have their stories that exist completely (and realistically) outside of the protagonist’s world. Have a protagonist who’s a hero? The Asian woman who works in the cafe down the block has an awesome story to tell–because she’s a real person–but that story might not have anything to do with your hero.

~~~

Well, I did it again. Another 1000+er.

Thank you for reading this one. And, if I’ve piqued your interest in any way, I’d suggest giving Steven Universe a chance. And, for that matter, if you have the adult friend who recommends cartoons . . . maybe check them out on occasion. Because, even though it might not seem like it, there’s a ton a cartoon can still teach a grown adult.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–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.

Regardless though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

Fantasy Spotlight: Home Base

Hey there. We’ve almost made it to Friday, and I thought I’d write something a bit positive after a few days of disappointment and criticism (excluding that Muse Tuesday about Jadha Swayne, which got so much love [and, man, just thank you guys for that, btw]).

In the vein of being positive though, I thought I’d create a new series to do just that. Where Let’s Talk About is more critical, Fantasy Spotlight will be a place for me to highlight tropes that I absolutely love.

And for this very first installment, I thought I’d have a happy rant . . . about home base.

On the first seasons of Buffy, they had the library at Sunnydale High.

On Cowboy Bebop, they had the Bebop.

On Daredevil, they had the offices of Nelson and Murdock.

I could go on forever, but I’ll reign it in and explain. Home base is a common ground among protagonists in any story. A hub where our characters rendezvous, make plans, and take refuge. Not every story has such a place . . .

But I’m realizing that many of my favorite stories do.

Giving it some thought, I assume it’s because of the versatility and relative subtlety of the home base narrative device. Protagonists–particularly in ensemble pieces–naturally gravitate to a common ground where they feel safe. Or a story naturally centers around one place out of necessity; spaceships like the Bebop and the Firefly often serve as the home base of sci-fi stories, because characters can’t just teleport from one planet to another.

Either way, the fact that we get to experience our characters finding these places, making them their second homes . . . makes them second homes for us as well. Places where we grow with our characters as we read along for years. Or places where we watch them mature during one crazy weekend binge on Netflix. No matter how we experience them though, those second homes remain as close to our hearts as the characters we watched grow up in them.

In the end, Lost Girl went way off the rails, but I still loved a large portion of that show. And, if I walked onto the set for the Dal, or Bo’s apartment, I’d probably get teary-eyed. Put me on the Millenium Falcon and play the Force Theme–or, my God, put me on the Highwind and play Aeris’ Theme–and I am 100% bawling my eyes out.

Because those places . . . were my home. As cheesy as it sounds, games, shows, and novels that feature home bases have to make them awesome by nature of the medium. Entertainment is all about escapism, so home bases have to be somewhere you want to return to. Some place you would absolutely love to visit.

Only . . . you can’t. Ever.

It’s an idea so simple and beautiful . . . that it hurts.

Making it all the more beautiful when you remember that you have that place regardless. That it will always be there, warm and waiting, in your heart. Beautiful and breathtakingly real in your memories.

Like I said, not every series that I love features a home base. Classically, fantasy novels are migratory; someone’s going on a big quest, leaving their awesome hobbit-hole behind.

But I will always love the countless homes I’ve had through the years. Beautiful, familiar places that will never truly exist.

~~~

Phew. The feels! Thanks for indulging me, and I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did. It’s probably obvious, but I don’t think I can die a happy writer until I make a home base of my own. A place for people to escape to and feel safe in. As a man who’s often needed to escape over the course of his life, it feels like the least I can do.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–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.

Regardless though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

Just Watched #1 – Iron Fist

Welcome back for another rip roarin’ week of talking about fantasy. And writing. And probably cute animals at some point.

We’re starting off with a super reactionary piece that I’m going to tie into one of my greatest fears as a writer–losing the ability to be objective.

Before getting to that though, let me explain that this is Just Watched, a series where I get to react to a fantasy-based movie or show that I just watched.

And, for this first one, I just finished Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix.

Now, I’m not just going to review it here, because I hate doing reviews for anything.

But . . . I wanna have a relevant rant! So, let’s jump right in!

~~~

A few weeks ago, the media received a preview of Iron Fist–the first six episodes. And reviews of those episodes were . . . universally negative.

Me, being a fan of anything Marvel since I was a kid, was worried. But I also . . . wasn’t surprised. I was there for Ben Affleck’s Daredevil. I remember the prism covers of the 90’s, Spider-Man 3, the first X-Men movie.

That is to say that I remember when Marvel was terrible. Just, non-stop garbage.

And I’ve been waiting for the first major crap fest to spoil Marvel’s streak of movies and shows.

Not because I want them to tank . . . but because I want to be sure that, when that time comes, I can see that crap fest for what it is.

Because, as a writer, I have to stay objective. About everything.

I know Iron Man 2 wasn’t great, and I know people hate Iron Man 3, but I didn’t mind the former and actually liked the latter.

That . . . has worried me to no end. Because, if I can’t be objective about franchises I love . . . how can I be objective about my own writing?

I’m also terrified of becoming the guy who forgives Batman V Superman, a movie that double abbreviates “versus” in the title. There are a bunch of Marvel movies that I didn’t like (Ant Man, for example, and I still think Thor: The Dark World was the absolute worst of the bunch [it’s boring, goofy in the worst ways, and has the premiere example of a horrible, toothless MCU villain]), but I’ve been thoroughly terrified of how blind BVS fans are. I’ve met writers who liked it.

The idea of being that blind of a writer actually fills me with dread.

I’ve listened to people balk, “Well, the fight between Batman and Superman was actually pretty good.”

Me: “No, it wasn’t.”

Them: “I mean, with those characters, that was the best they could do, really.”

Me: “No, it wasn’t.”

Them: “Well, I thought it was pretty good.”

Just the idea of having that little quality control . . . Fuck’s sake.

As I’ve told friends in the past, my intake, as a writer, matters–across all media. Being discerning of that intake is incredibly important. I have to watch and read things that I can learn from.

At the very least, I need to avoid things that are going to instill terrible habits in me.

I can’t excuse BVS having a terrible plot, because that would make it easier for me to write a terrible plot in the future.

Which is why I was immediately worried when I finished the first episode of Iron Fist . . . and liked it.

But then, relieved when I got to the end of the sixth episode and clearly saw (as with Iron Man 3) what it was doing wrong. By the end of the second to last episode, I was genuinely bored.

Thank . . . God.

Iron Fist is a show that does not understand what it’s supposed to be about. Danny Rand, the protagonist, is a sweet, loving guy who has the power of the Iron Fist–which basically means he’s the best fighter in the world.

This is not a show about that.

It’s first about him returning to New York and getting his company back, because, like countless other super heroes, he’s the incredibly rich son of an incredibly rich (and dead) businessman. Slowly, the plot builds momentum, but it always does so with regular cuts back to boardroom meetings and moments of character drama that would be great if they didn’t happen so often.

Sprinkled in, there are a few decent fight scenes, but they afford very little use of the actual Iron Fist.

It’s a strange thing to watch. I’m not adverse to the business drama side of the show–two of my favorite characters are exclusive to that side–but it’s not what anyone signed up for when they sat down for a fun, combat-oriented show based on a comic.

Especially because none of the combat delivers in a way that Daredevil didn’t. In fact, every time a fight starts in Iron Fist, I think, “Man, the hallway fight in Daredevil was so awesome. I wish I was watching that.” In part because Iron Fist returns to the highly choreographed fighting that Daredevil abandoned.

Oddly, the show also backpedals in the diversity department. And, yes, sure, I mean that the protagonist is another rich white guy. But, removing race from the equation altogether, he’s a rich male super hero who likes to listen to classic jams. Marvel’s Netflix shows were awesome because they were so different from Hollywood’s superhero formula. Iron Fist goes all-in on that formula and it just feels . . . samey.

“Why is Danny listening to Outkast?” I wondered as episode one started.

The answer: because this is a Marvel anything.

“Why am I watching a kung-fu master, trained in heaven, attending a board meeting?”

The answer: I don’t know. I really don’t.

All of that said, I don’t hate the show. Danny being a nice, naive guy at least makes for a . . . unique MCU protagonist.

But I am still really glad that I can be objective enough to see the massive flaws in Iron Fist. Its pacing. Its manic plot, incapable of deciding where it’s taking us until the very end. Its totally nonsensical moments (there’s a lot of “No, we can’t call the cops!” on this show, along with too much, “Just call Daredevil!” shouted by me, at my TV).

My point is, even though it went about it in the worst ways, Iron Fist still taught me some things:

  • Sudden changes of setting and circumstances happen in real life. They also fall into the Stranger Than Fiction trap, and make for a choppy, unsatisfying plot.
  • Don’t shy away from a crazy premise. Make it believable. If you avoid it, the reader/viewer will know.
  • When it comes to superheroes, never, ever write a white, male orphan/heir to a multi-million dollar company. Especially if it’s a company with his last name on it. It has been done. So done.

~~~

Well, that took . . . way longer than I expected. I hope this one was interesting, and I promise that next time, I won’t go over 1000 words (ugh–why is it 1AM?). Regardless, I absolutely appreciate the read and I hope your week started off well.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–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.

But, regardless, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

What I Learned from Binge-Watching Buffy

I had six days off in a row last week.

It’s just the nature of my job. Most weeks, I work almost every day. But other weeks, nothing’s going on at work, and my supervisors decide to clump my days together (four at the beginning of one week, four at the end of the next). The result: a weird, mini-vacation that I didn’t ask for, suddenly heaped into my lap.

I usually come up with a game plan; “Monday, I hang out with _____  Tuesday I go and write at _____, Wednesday it’s drinks with _____,” etc.

Last week was supposed to be no different. Last week, I was supposed to go walking around the city, write at Kinokuniya, do a lot of things.

But then I got home from work on the eve of my mini-vacation, and decided to give the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer another shot. It’d been a struggle so far; the first season was extremely dated, but I was holding on because I’d been told–repeatedly, by everyone I’ve ever known–that the show eventually got amazing. That there would be a moment when the stars aligned and the show would suddenly be amazing. Slogging through Season 1, I wasn’t convinced.

But then, Spike and Drusilla showed up.

It was their introduction–that was the moment that hooked me. Spike’s oddly level-headed approach to mayhem, Drusilla’s… being Drusilla, and the way they oozed chemistry and charisma in their first scene together absolutely blew me away. I had to see more.

And then Angel turned evil. And Faith showed up. Then Glory. Then Dawn. I was hooked. Like, “Oh… Hey… I have work tomorr–OH MY GOD I JUST WATCHED BUFFY FOR SIX DAYS!” hooked. Like, “Oh, thank God there’s a canon Season 8 in comic form” hooked.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a fantastic show. My favorite kind, building a cast of fun characters who genuinely grow together–who suffer and sin and face tragedy together. Painfully real tragedy, at times.

I justified the binging by reminding myself that my NaNo project for this year is an ensemble piece, purposefully written like a TV series. I have to watch Cowboy Bebop (again) later this year anyway, so why not experience a classic ensemble piece of nerdom and see what I could learn from it?

Turns out, I could learn a bunch.

So, I thought I’d share the three major things I took from the experience (rather than the full list of 16 items [this post was turning into a treatise on the show]):

  1. Your Good Guys Aren’t Family Until They’ve Made Terrible Mistakes and Forgiven Each Other:
    Season 6 is kind of a nightmare. Absolutely everyone messes up in a major, terrible way. It’s depressing, it’s real, and it makes the cast feel more like a family than inside jokes ever could.
    It’s something that I’ve never seen used to such an intense degree. Usually, betrayals among good guys are accidental–misunderstandings–but, in Buffy, they’re bad decisions, made consciously, almost every time. And illustrated with such balance that you often can’t blame either side.
    But, in all of those cases, when the smoke clears, the good guys forgive each other and move on. They help each other manage whatever problems caused the fallout.
    That is what family is supposed to be. Sure, making your good guys genuinely try to kill each other won’t… really work for most stories, but the healing that comes afterward is something powerful, and I want to see more of it in fiction (definitely my own).
  2. Major Life Changes Are Sad, Beautiful, and Essential:
    Sometimes, shows don’t run in real time. They don’t have to. And, often, for something formulaic, it’s better that they don’t. Having eight seasons with the same settings, same characters, and same emotions can be comforting, and it can allow a writer to wring every possibility out of a set of characters.
    But moving those characters along, putting them in completely new settings, and letting their emotions change, is exciting, and elegant in its honesty; things change. People change. Places you love go away, or you have to leave. Life happens. Denying that feels somehow… wrong. I love fiction’s ability to capture microcosms from a character’s life–to feed our own need to have back certain, perfect elements from our pasts (that one awesome apartment, the one jacket, the people you’ve lost, etc.)–but that just isn’t what life is. And, I know that, personally, that’s not what I want my fiction to be.
  3. Sometimes, Stories are at Their Absolute Best When They Step Outside of Themselves:
    “Hush.” “The Body.” “Normal Again.” These are episodes that I’ve thrown onto a personal list, which was formally dominated by Doctor Who’s “Blink,” and The Legend of Korra’s “Beginnings” two parter. I don’t know if it’s just me, but something incredible happens when a story completely defies the sum of its parts. The Doctor is only in “Blink” for a few seconds. “Beginnings” focuses almost entirely on a different character and has a different art style. “Hush,” is almost completely lacking dialogue (and has the most Whovian, Gaiman-ish nightmare gentlemen this side of hell). “Normal Again,” made me question my life, and I can’t even think about “The Body,” without getting upset. Sometimes, the whole of a story transcends itself and becomes something terrible. And beautiful. And amazing.
    And it’s something I’d be a fool not to try with my own stories.

Well, that’s all for now. Next up is 30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2, although it’s going to have to be different from part 1, unfortunately (I had a much more flexible, less time consuming job two years ago). I’m not 100% sure how it’ll be different, but I’ll still be posting for the month, about NaNoWriMo, so stay tuned.

For now, thanks for reading. And, as always, write well.