The Mandalorian & the Exciting Use of Danger

Last week, I wrote a giant post that was highly critical of one writing habit.

And I did so . . . after endeavoring to be more positive on this blog.

I definitely don’t want to delete that post, cause it’s full of criticisms I stand by (I will always think it’s bad when logic takes center stage in any Rule of Cool story, not just Anime [although popular Anime is usually fueled by the Rule], because the resulting logic is often terrible).

However, I will balance the criticism by talking about a writing habit I absolutely love in another hammy, Rule of Cool story.

Today we’re talking about making your protagonist vulnerable . . . with The Mandalorian!

The Paradox of Realistic Danger

A big hurdle for popular fiction writers is presenting believable danger to their audience.

To be clear, I don’t think it’s something any particular writer struggles with; it’s just an issue for the entire genre. People watching a show will see a protagonist flung into extreme danger, a-a-a-and commercial break.

Eyes usually go half-lidded. “Uh huh. I’m sure Batwoman is going to die in Season 1, Episode 4.”

Unless you’re a kid (or reading / watching Game of Thrones), the excitement doesn’t come from the belief that your protagonist could actually die. The excitement comes from wondering, “How are they gonna get outta this one?”

But, naturally, excitement only really comes from that question . . . if the audience can’t easily predict the answer.

In modern entertainment there’s an extreme bent toward the untouchable badass. The perfect hero who kick flips off a rocket or dodges the giant sword by sliding under it, only the very end of a single lock of their hair cut by the blade (in slow motion). There are IP’s that do this intentionally to great effect (One Punch Man is a fun example), but more often than not the goal of the perfect badass is to sate power fantasy.

The thing is, whenever danger is concerned, perfect badass stories are extremely predictable. If an invincible superhero walks into a warehouse full of thugs, danger doesn’t come into play at all; the enjoyment in that scene is derived from watching the hero kick ass. But, at this point, there are only so many new, inventive ways for that hero to kick ass. I’m sure an argument can be made that there are actually a ton.

But even if there are, the end result of that warehouse scene is always the same. The perfect hero beats the shit out of everyone without breaking a sweat. End scene.

But . . . what if it wasn’t always that easy?

What if a story staring a badass protagonist . . . showed that, at the very least, that protagonist had to struggle to get by?

In my opinion, that wouldn’t just make the story way better, it would force the writer to be more creative.

The Vulnerable Mandalorian

I expected The Mandalorian to be a non-stop montage of slow-motion dodging, tacticool trick shots, and shaky cam.

I thought it was going to be a massively boring, masturbatory look at a fan-favorite character (because I assumed the Mandalorian in question was Boba Fett).

I’m so glad I was surprised.

In episode 1 of The Mandalorian, the Mandalorian is [not a spoiler] searching for a bounty. Naturally [also not a spoiler], there are complications. You know that there’s no way the protagonist is going to die in episode 1 . . . but the danger he finds himself in is so intense that you might actually blink. You might actually say, “I really have no idea how the hell he’s getting out of this.”

And that’s probably because, 10 minutes previous, your badass, strong-silent-type protagonist . . . [minor spoiler] almost died.

Yeah–in the pilot, the writers included a scene where the Mandalorian absolutely would’ve been killed had someone else not intervened. And, to be clear, he didn’t just nearly die; he nearly died in a way that would’ve been extremely embarrassing for a perfect badass. Was that the show suggesting its protagonist might actually die? Hell no.

But it was the show saying, loud and clear, “This perfect badass ain’t perfect.”

With that one scene, a balance was struck. The Mandalorian is great at killing things and tracking bounties. He looks really cool and his armor is super strong.

But he is not invincible.

In fact, even in moments when the Mandalorian does survive a confrontation, he’s lost his armor as a result, or has gone out of his way to say, “My armor only protected me from this range,” making it clear that it’s extremely dangerous to be a bounty hunter in the Outer Rim.

And that not only makes the show more exciting and interesting (the Mandalorian has been defeated a few times now and almost died maybe thrice?), but it establishes rules that force its writing team to be more creative, which is always a good thing in my opinion.

See, if the Mandalorian was invincible, then they’d be stuck writing scenes where he just walks into a room, lets people shoot at him, and then headshots all of them. There would be zero danger, and the writing team would fall into the same pitfall as others writing perfect badasses: trying to make them kill or beat up all 18 thugs in a way that’s actually new and interesting.

As is, with the Mandalorian being vulnerable, the writers definitely have more rules to stick to (i.e. “the Mandalorian can’t survive a point blank shot from a sniper rifle”), but that forces them to get more creative, which makes for a more unique, interesting story.

How? Prime example: in one episode, the Mandalorian’s armor gets completely destroyed. It’s a trade off from another confrontation where definitely he would’ve died. If the writers had just gone the easiest route possible, he would’ve killed his opponent with no problem and come out without a scratch. A level below that (but still totally unrealistic): He would’ve had a hard time with that opponent, getting knocked around, but the damage would’ve been limited to typical, Hollywood “fight dirt,” as I call it; his armor would’ve looked dirty to convey that he was beaten up, but a few minutes later, he would be functionally back to tip-top shape. As it was presented, however, with him losing his armor, following the rule that it couldn’t protect him from anything, the writers were forced to create some way he gets that armor back.

Thus the scenes at the Mandalorian Forge. Which, ya know, if you haven’t seen the show, just know that they’re cool worldbuilding moments, used to convey things about Mandalorian culture but also the social setting of the story.

Now, I can’t pretend that the writing team thought of all of this in the order I’ve presented, but I do think that, had the Mandalorian just been another perfect badass, the likelihood that we would’ve gotten those forge scenes would’ve been significantly less.

And, to me, that trade off wouldn’t have been worth it at all.

In fact, blanket statement here: trading creativity to appease power fantasy is never, ever worth it in my book.

All I Can Really Say Is Give It a Shot

This is another one of those points when I have to stop and clarify that, hey, I’m not a published author. Full disclaimer (again): I’ve only been published once. The ideas stated here are just my ideas about writing, which I at least try to do every day. I cannot say “perfect badasses suck and no one likes them” because that isn’t true. Full disclosure: I’ve absolutely written a perfect badass character before and they’re one of my favorites.

But I can and will say, hey, if you’re struggling to write a story with a super powerful protagonist–if you don’t feel like the danger in their adventure is ever really palpable, and the end product feels silly–why not try dialing back that protagonist’s powers? You don’t have to make them all-the-way vulnerable, but maybe you can establish rules for what their armor / powers / knowledge can and can’t handle.

To be clear, I’m not saying to give them kryptonite, cause that is an easy solution used so often that it’s also wildly predictable. I’m saying . . . maybe don’t make them impervious to bullets, and don’t make them perfectly, unrealistically able to dodge them either.

At the very least, I promise it’ll make it easier for you to create genuine suspense in your WIP.

~~~

Well, that’s it for this one. Excited to be putting out two in a row. I have a backlog of posts to write, some of which I was extremely excited for, but never got around to. I’m hoping to circumnavigate the persistent end-of-year depression I always go through, so I’ll keep working posts into my schedule.

Still waiting on replies for short stories I sent out, but I did start writing a new Sci-Fi short as well. Of course, it’s another dark one (Black Mirror really opened up the floodgates for me). I’ll do an update post next week to share what the year has been like and lay down plans for 2020.

Anyway, thank you for passing by and giving this post a read. If you’d like to see more, you can give me a follow with the button to the left side of the screen, and if you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Anime Logic – A Warning

A kid arrives at the top of a mountain to take an exam.

Not a pencil and paper exam, of course, cause this is anime.

No, our protagonist is taking an    [insert made-up anime profession here]    exam. Ninja? Hunter? Pokemon Master? Doesn’t matter.

All that matters: it’s an exam designed to be harder than any other exam ever. Cause, of course it is.

Without a doubt, there will be a physical portion to the exam. It’s going to be ridiculous, but that’s fine; it’s anime, so you have to expect the kid to pass the test by roundhouse kicking a crab monster into the stratosphere. Sure.

However . . . there’s also going to be a mental side of the exam–some kind of insane logic problem–and that’s where things get dicey. Not for the general public–there’s no danger in most people enjoying it.

But for writers . . . eh. We can be extremely impressionable when we’re young. I’m sure there’s the odd writer out there who wasn’t, but most of us decide we want to write and then spend years aping our favorite stories and writers–the beginnings of developing our own voices. Not a bad thing . . .

. . . unless our favorite stories and writers employee really, really bad writing habits that we pick up from them. Habits that ruin our writing for years.

Habits . . . like writing a mental test for a young boy’s Spelunker Exam (it’s probably been done) and filling it with as much completely backwards, nonsense anime logic as you can because . . . you grew up with anime logic and genuinely think it’s cool.

I’m not here to roast you. I’m just here to warn you.

What is anime logic and why shouldn’t anyone write it ever?

To break it down as simply as I can, anime logic is the Rule of Cool applied to human rationale.

The Rule of Cool, if you’re not familiar, is the rule dictating that any elements of a story (characters, settings, etc.) need to be cool first and foremost.

When the Rule of Cool is applied to anime action, it’s absolutely ridiculous, but enjoyable to watch for a lot of people.

But when the Rule of Cool is applied to logic . . . it’s hell.

Example: Two protagonists are in a killer’s dungeon. The killer has sent them through a series of rooms that test different abilities, like strength, speed, endurance. Now, they’re up to the intelligence test, which is a man holding up a piece of paper. The challenge: they have to predict what’s written on the side of the paper that they can’t see.

Whoa-a-a-a-a-a. There’s no fucking way they could ever do that.

The characters spend an entire episode fretting to each other (and in internal monologue) about what’s on the far side of that piece of paper. There’s a bunch of anime gasping when they realize there’s no mirror on the back wall, that the paper is totally opaque, and that, even if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be enough light in the dungeon to see through it anyway.

Maybe you think, “Literally just run up to the fucking guy, take the piece of paper, and read it. Who fucking cares? This is a stupid test.”

But, ah-ha! The writer thought of that too! And pretty much at the same moment in this scene that you thought of it, because now the killer is on the loud speaker saying, “And don’t even think about running up and taking that piece of paper, because,” and you can almost hear the writer stammering, “uh, because there’s a fucking bomb on this guy’s back! Ha! If you move even an inch closer, it’ll set off the detonator!”

And, maybe now you think, “The paper’s blank. It doesn’t say anything on the back of it, and there’s no bomb.” It probably popped into your mind super lazily.

But, if it’s a really bad anime, the same solution will have occurred to the writer–again, at the same time it occurred to you–only the writer thought it was the coolest, most genius thing ever, and they’re going with it.

Now the writer’s concern is getting the characters to figure it out. Only the writer is convinced that the paper being blank is genius-level logic that a normal person couldn’t possibly fathom, so you get a monologue like this:

“There can’t possibly be anything on the other side of the piece of paper, because the killer knows that there’s absolutely no way for us to see it. The killer just wants to make us afraid, because, when people experience fear, they make random choices. Fight or flight dictates that we scramble to escape a dangerous situation, but if we master our fear, and calmly assess our surroundings, then we’re able to think outside of the box. To see the game the way he sees it. To understand that he just wants us to think we can’t win . . . Isn’t that right?”

And, of-fucking-course, the loud speaker crackles on. “Hmph. How very astute of you,” the killer says, cause the writer is either totally gassed about this genius puzzle he made, or he/she is literally trying to tell you, “Wow. That character is smart,” or, “That puzzle really did make sense.” Characters say shit like that all the time in anime; I watched the anime where one character’s accidental catchphrase was, “That makes sense,” because he was the brainy character and the writer used him to sell faulty logic constantly.

I mean, you literally just described an anime scene. Seriously, what was wrong with it?

Man, so many things.

First, the logic is completely backwards. The writer sat down with the intent to write a cool, impossible puzzle without considering what its solution would be, or even why the killer would present this puzzle. The solution came after, and, just like the puzzle, the solution also had to be really cool. With cool puzzle and cool solution in hand, the writer then had to retrofit everyone’s logic–and parts of the situation itself–to work with what was already there.

It is . . . the worst way to write a human logic puzzle, because human logic is not involved at all.

Second, as often happens with anime logic, the bullshit solution is 100% interchangeable with other bullshit solutions.

“There’s nothing written on the back of the paper . . . because there’s a drawing on it. When I was studying this killer’s file, I read that he used to make drawings in the psychiatric ward–one for every one of his victims.” I mean, sure. “It stands to reason that for this test, when he was so sure we’d fail, he’d kill us . . . with a drawing of our own. Isn’t that right?”

“Hmph. How very astute of you.”

Or . . .

“There’s . . . the number 43. Back when I was in a mental institution with the killer,” ?, “all of the inmates wore numbered straight jackets.” And, because it’s anime, “Those numbers were a warning of how dangerous each inmate was. Our killer . . . was number 99.” This anime is probably called BloodGeiss:99, btw. “It was a badge of honor for him, and he used to lord it over the rest of us. Used to call me number 43 to taunt me, but blah blah blah, I wanted to become the very best Killer Hunter, blah blah, he’s taunting us, blah blah, you get it.”

And, just to clarify here, the problem isn’t that the solution is unpredictable. Again, it’s that the puzzle makes so little sense, and was crafted with so little consideration for the logic behind it, that its solution is completely interchangeable with other solutions. Which means . . .

Third, it has nothing to do with the person presenting the logic test. I wrote up that puzzle and its three potential solutions in ten minutes. It was so easy because, from the start, it had nothing to do with the killer’s character beyond some surface-level, tag-number bullshit; with bad anime logic, the puzzle-provider’s character is never, ever the starting point. The Rule of Cool always dictates that the starting point is “What would be really cool here?”

Fourth, that makes it . . . completely pointless to engage with anime logic puzzles, because they ultimately mean and say nothing. They often are, at best, a way to extend a plot as easily as possible.

But, fifth–and most important, by far–anime logic is bad, because, if you use it in your manuscript . . . there’s a really good chance it’s just going to make you look like an idiot to other writers, agents, and editors. Again, it’s fine to enjoy anime logic if you aren’t a writer.

But, if you are, anime logic is a fucking death sentence. It’s embarrassing, it cheapens your work, and it’s going to make you look lazy and pompous at the same time.

Wow. Someone just vented.

Yeah. No kidding. I’ll totally own that. I just really hate this writing habit. I hate a lot of them, but I was just sick for four days straight, stuck inside with anime logic for hours.

Actually, let me explain–and get out of the frame of some bullshit dungeon puzzle scene I made up.

Hunter X Hunter is terrible. I usually don’t call out a specific writer or piece of media on here anymore, but while I was sick, I decided to give it a watch because a friend recommended it months ago.

And I absolutely despise that show, because it is almost exclusively anime logic mindfucks so pointless that, after binging a few episodes, nothing mattered anymore.

The Show: The protagonists have to run really far because a butler with no mouth told them to, but it’s actually a really smart test, cause, like, how far they gotta run though?

Me: Uh . . . Whatever. Continue.

Show: Omfg, dude, how they gonna get down from this tower?

Me: I dunno. Run down?

Show: There’re man-eating demon babies though.

Me: Oh, for fuck’s–I don’t know. Catch one of the babies?

Show: There’s a trap door.

Me: Wha–That’s the laziest . . . Whatever. Fucking–I don’t care. Good.

Show: Oh shit. There’s a scary Frankenstein-man they gotta fight.

Me: Aren’t they all ridiculously strong except for the comic relief? Why is this even a–

Show: Frankenstein-man ain’t strong though–he lyin’.

Me: I– . . . Oh my God! Holy shit, dude, I don’t care!

Show: Oh shit though; here comes a man with candles. Should the protagonist take the long one, or the short–

Me: AHHH!! Just . . . Why are you so determined to gotcha me with total fucking nonsense!? Why is this exam so goddamn long!? just want to see what the writer does after it’s done! Wait–the entire first season is the exam? Well then, how many episodes are there in this seas–52!?

. . . Yeah, I completely gave up on Hunter X Hunter about two hours ago. I started this post two days ago though, after I started watching it, because I could not get over the thought that there’s a writer out there who grew up on a show like this. A writer . . . who still hasn’t shaken anime logic.

That idea made me really, really upset, because I grew up on video games and wasted . . . –ugh, I just did the math–I wasted . . . eleven years drafting and redrafting a novel that was so heavily steeped in stupid video game ideas that I didn’t pay attention to the emotional heart of the story at all. The novel, War of Exiles (which even sounds like the title of a bad mobile game), said nothing. It made no arguments, presented no emotional challenges to the characters, the reader, or anyone else, because I didn’t think about any of that; I didn’t even consider that it could say or do something important, cause all I cared about was making my characters look cool.

I’m not saying that making your characters look cool is bad–I’m not even saying that the Rule of Cool is bad (the entire anime genre is built around it, and there’s some anime that I absolutely love.) However, I’m pretty confident in saying that when logic takes center stage in anime . . . it is almost always bad.

And when that anime logic appears in other places, it’s worse. I’ve read another writer’s work that was full of anime logic. I’ve even seen it in published works; my favorite example was from a horrible Romance novel, in which the protagonist avoided being kidnapped in a store . . . by stabbing herself with her kidnapper’s knife, to which the kidnapper said, “Hmph. Pretty clever,” cause of course.

I am not a pro by any means. I’ve only been published once, and I’m neither an agent nor an editor. I am on the same level as any aspiring writer out there.

But, as a writer, I know that the most valuable thing any of us can get is honest feedback.

And I’m telling you, with absolute honesty, that if you’ve used anime logic in anything you’ve written, getting rid of it–replacing it with genuine, human, character-motivated logic–will only make your work stronger.

~~~

Thanks for reading this absolute rant.

I’m currently trying to work my way out of the end-of-year funk I always fall into (starts in October and runs all the way to the start of the new year).

I’m in a strange position where I have a ton of projects I’m working on at the same time, meaning none of them are progressing quickly enough. On one hand, I’m grateful to have so many ideas that I feel deserve attention, but on the other, I’m massively stressed out about how slowly things are moving.

Contributing to that is the fact that I sent out one story in April and the magazine I sent it to still has not replied about it, even after I queried them two months ago, and they answered saying I would get a verdict “very soon.” I mean, you know things are bad when you’re genuinely like, “A rejection would be nice right now.”

Anyway, as always, thank you for passing by. If you like what you read here, feel free to give me a follow. I always want to post more frequently on here, but I’m a single man in his late 30’s who currently has two jobs, 8 WIP’s, and a board game he’s juggling; I’ll be completely honest this time and say I probably won’t be posting here again for another month or two.

And that’s why I extra appreciate everyone who sticks around. Thank you guys for the continued support! I hope you have a good holiday season, and, until next time, take care!

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . We Have Fan Art

This is going to be a short one.

But an extremely essential one.

A month or so ago, a friend of a friend asked to read “Aixa the Hexcaster.” It’s a request I get pretty rarely, and I understand why: nothing is worse for a non-writer than reading a writer’s work, finding out that it’s terrible, and having no idea how to tell them that.

So, when this friend of a friend texted me–pulling my number from the group chain we’d both been a part of during trips to PAX–I was surprised. The last time we’d hung out (during the previously-mentioned XenoPAX), we’d chatted over the massive set he’d made for Frostgrave, and laughed at a genuinely chaotic game of Gaslands, but that had all been in March.

Still, cool. Always nice to be asked, so I sent over a link.

About a month later, he wrote back and said that he really enjoyed it–that the mythics reminded him of monsters from Kingdom Death, which is an incredible compliment if you’ve ever seen the miniatures from that game (they’re often weird, sometimes beautiful, but always amazing).

He also asked if I had plans for more, expressed excitement for what he’d want to see . . .

. . . and dropped this on me:

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This . . . is . . . the unnamed asphalt mythic from “Aixa the Hexcaster,” rendered by Jesse Smolover, whose work can be found at his site, JesseDraws. And, although Jesse is a friend, this is still technically the first piece of fan art I’ve ever gotten.

I cannot express how badly I freaked out when I saw this. This was not a commission; I didn’t even joke about him doing art for the story, because he’s a professional artist and I never even considered being coy about the value of his time. Still, this man, who probably has a ton of other projects he’s working on, made this piece because, in his words, my story inspired it.

I can’t put into words how grateful I was to hear that. Every little bit of encouragement counts, and this is a whole other, totally new level of it for me.

To paint a picture of how badly I freaked out:

  1. This is the wallpaper for my phone.
  2. This is the lock screen for my phone.
  3. Now that it’s on my computer, it’s probably going to be the wallpaper for my computer.
  4. When I first downloaded it, my phone asked me if I wanted to replace it with an image of the same name . . . meaning I had already downloaded it, out of sheer, lightning-fast reflex, and didn’t remember. I still saved it again, just to be sure.
  5. I have told almost everyone about it–even people who didn’t know I’m a writer and clearly didn’t understand how big of a deal it was for me.
  6. And, of course, I have been writing like an absolute mad man lately.

Finished a new short story and submitted it. Also building a plot for another short story, while doing essential research to finish up a third.

And, of course, I’m working out a plot for more “Aixa.” I always intended to, but it was always on the back burner, behind other, huge novels that I keep struggling with. The plan now: write a novella for “Aixa.” It’s going to take a while because that world is really important to me (part of the fear has always been fucking it up), but the challenge of doing something that’s consistently resonant–a story that can’t survive without really strong, complicated emotions–wound up feeling essential to my writing. Why would I shy away from a really intense, emotional story . . . when that’s what I should always be writing?

Anyway, thank you for stopping by and joining me for this insanely uplifting landmark in my writing career. I’ll try to be a little more consistent with updates, maybe working them into the new schedule.

But, regardless, until next time, take care and write well.

The Bailey Vow

Status Update: I have successfully moved.

I’m still settling into my new home–trying, as I’ve been advised, to slow down and celebrate victories.

But also trying to settle back into being productive. The Movepocalypse sidelined all of my creative endeavors for over a month.

Well . . . except for this one post, which felt so important that I started it on July 15th. I’ve followed through and published it here because, for me, this marked an important evolution in my priorities as a writer of color. If I did not publish this, and take the ensuing vow on this site, I’d be doing my platform a massive disservice.

So, please enjoy what I’ve come to call “the Bailey Vow.”

~~~

A weird thing happened last week.

While packing, I decided to put on Deadpool 2, a movie that happened to be on Hulu–the last hurrah of an HBO subscription I bought for Game of Thrones and would never, ever renew.  The goal was “something I feel I should watch, but don’t actually need to pay attention to.” Essentially, voices in the background while I packed.

I came away from that movie with a few thoughts:

  1. Wait–Josh Brolin was Thanos and Cable?
  2. Deadpool can be funny, but when he dips into Family Guy-esque celebrity humor, he isn’t, at all.
  3. And, most importantly: wow, I love Zazie Beetz’ Domino.

They didn’t give her any development (because of course they didn’t), but she is an extremely fun imagining of a character I didn’t care about at all in the comics.

Deadpool 2-Domino just looks great. The FoX-Men movies often interpret characters to look way worse than their comic counterparts, but Domino is actually the opposite; she doesn’t look anything like her comic counterpart, but her big hair and simpler, less comic booky outfit pair really well with her character. When Domino is falling out of a moving truck but sees a giant parade float under her, she just turns her back, putting her arms behind her head, lounging, mid-air, through the wreckage and landing without a scratch; and, seeing that, we know exactly who she is–the chill, carefree vibe she puts out–and it’s awesome.

“Let me hop onto Twitter and talk about that,” I thought to myself.

And, well . . . Cue that infamous part of “Requiem in D Minor.”

“The little mermaid was written as white, was white in the film, is based in Denmark and based on a European fairytale, but is cast as black . . . How is this not racist and cultural appropriation?”

“Ariel must be a cute girl with white skin and red hair singing sweet and crisp!!”

“Ariel must be white because she is a white girl and that’s it . . .”

“Disney, you made a huge mistake by hiring Halle Bailey . . .”

“. . . This is going in the TRASH.”

Wow. Especially that second quote. She must be “singing sweet and crisp”? . . . What the fuck? It’s like a soda ad became sentient and took racism for a spin on Twitter.

For me, the “black Ariel” conversation continued immediately the next day at work.

With a Hispanic coworker. This happens sometimes, of course; a coworker who’s a fellow minority will out themselves as a fan of Ben Shapiro, or maybe an accidental supporter of the continued, often racist casting standards of Hollywood. Among the points made were . . .

  1. So, what? Is Poseidon gonna be black now?
    My Answer: Holy shit–that would be rad. I didn’t even think of that.
  2. It’s a Swedish fairy tale!
    My Answer: Keywords: fairy tale.
  3. I’d sooner believe a mermaid would be pale-skinned.
    My Answer: I’d sooner believe a mermaid had green skin, giant gills, and an unhinging jaw, actually.
  4. What if Black Panther had been White Panther instead?
    Answer: So, you mean what if Black Panther had been like every other goddamn film in the franchise?

We went back and forth for a while, my coworker making unreasonable points, me thinking, “Why . . . the fuck am I even having this debate? With a fellow Latino, no less.” Why this instead of both of us talking about how cool it is and musing, “Wow. Maybe someday, we’ll finally get a Hispanic Disney Princess”?

Instead, I was enduring the same arguments from Twitter, winding down with the same major point I’d seen on there: “Why don’t they just make a new movie with a new black main character?”

The thing is . . . I don’t completely disagree with that idea.

As I’ve said before in previous articles about All New Marvel’s weird penchant for swapping out white characters with ethnic characters and boys with girls, I don’t actually think that’s the best move for diversity (with the exception of Miles and Carol, who are genuinely just killin’ it). Sure, at this point, replacing white characters with minority characters is the best we can really hope for . . .

. . . but what would be far superior . . . is a bunch of new stories headlined by minorities. Stories like Brian Michael Bendis’ Naomi. Naomi is an amazing title because the title isn’t “Iron Man,” or “Thor” (and, of course, in the eyes of the rabid, sexist and racist masses, “Black Iron Man” or “Female Thor)–it’s just fucking Naomi. No argument, no bullshit, no looming shadow of a white predecessor.

But, to that coworker, I said, “Well, dude, no shit it would be better to have a new movie about black merpeople. But Hollywood would never do that. And people don’t–“

And I know I kept talking, but I don’t remember exactly what I said.

I had been saying, “And people don’t write their best stories with ethnic characters, because they’re usually afraid to.

“Because everyone’s been told, time and time again, that IP’s with ethnic characters won’t sell, which is bullshit.”

To which I asked myself, “Then why the fuck is Kole Buchanon white?”

Since seeing The Force Awakens, I’d imagined the protagonist of one of my own novels, Kole Buchanon, as John Boyega, but I’d never actually gone back and changed his original description–a vague set of visual guidelines that allowed readers to infer whatever skin color they wanted for the character. After all, I didn’t want to upset anyone–I wanted everyone to feel welcome. And, sure, I still do . . .

. . . but, as I said on Twitter, the reaction to Halle Bailey, like the reaction to Amandla Stenberg’s Rue before it, has made it clear that we don’t live in a world where that’s possible.

I can make my characters as welcoming to all races as I want, only for society to assume their whiteness and Hollywood to bolster that assumption, while I ultimately stand up for no one.

Or . . . I can make every single one of my protagonists a minority. Not a careful handful. Not one or two, experimentally.

All of them.

So, here, now, I’m taking what I call the Bailey Vow, so named because I don’t want to live in a world where this insane, racist reaction to Halle Bailey being cast as a mermaid, ever happens again.

I don’t claim that everyone should take this vow; I’m not trying to overturn all of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and get rid of all white protagonists, because that would be bad too. But I do want to contribute to a world where protagonists being brown is no big deal. As a brown man writing for a predominately white genre, I have to contribute to that effort.

Thus, my vow:

  1. To always write stories where the protagonists are minorities.
  2. However–eternally inb4 the white-blind raging that’s sure to come if I’m successful–these stories will not always focus on the protagonist being a minority.
  3. I will always go out of my way to make it undeniably clear that my protagonists are minorities. We’re talking full descriptions of skin color, hair texture, etc., so that no one in their right mind could ever utter the words, “He / She was black / brown / Asian / etc.!?”
  4. Finally, I will always keep the film rights to all of my projects, so if any of my work ever gets optioned by a studio, I can make sure my characters are never white-washed.

It may never matter that I took this vow here; I may never be so successful of  a writer that this makes any difference.

But I took it regardless.

Now I just have to add “Redo Kole Buchanon descriptions” to my To-Do list on the Memory rewrite.

~~~

And, of course, I need to get back on the other projects I’ve been neglecting, now all backed by the Bailey Vow, which makes them more exciting–as if this is the mindset with which I always should’ve approached my projects (because it is).

Thank you for reading, and, if you’d like to be here the next time I decide to post something wildly polarizing, you can subscribe with the button on the left hand side of the screen.

Until then, take care, and write well.

Remembering

I don’t do well without distractions.

At this point in my life, being in a quiet room, without anything to do, ends horribly for me. Like characters in some of my older stories (vehicles for me to express the phenomenon), I start thinking of the many, many things that are going wrong in my life. Projects that aren’t finished, relationships that ended poorly, mistakes I’ve made. Anything that pulls me down into the silent, tight hole of depression.

It was happening at work the other day, because last week was especially bad for me; the news that an emotionally abusive and physically violent person from my past was–surprise!–living in my apartment again did wonders for my sense of dread, even before the difficulty of finding a legitimate apartment or room settled in. So, sitting at work, unable to focus on anything creative, the progression went something like this:

It’s going to take forever to find a decent room.

I’d be able to find one faster if I had a better job, but just getting an interview seems impossible.

I could get back to working on fonts, but that probably wouldn’t yield big gains.

And, besides, I can’t even focus on creative projects.

What if I’ll never be able to again?

What if I just die without being able to finish anything again?

What if “Aixa the Hexcaster” is the only story that I ever get published, because [and I can’t stress how honest and legitimate this fear is] I get murdered in my sleep?

At that point, I realized I needed any distraction whatsoever, because, for me, depression is always at its most debilitating when I fall into the pit of “I’m going to die.” I can keep myself from falling into it–settle back into a place where I’m just trying to be productive–but if I get stuck, I’ll be stuck for hours. And, of course I would, because, contrary to the word “sadness” being used interchangeably with “depression,” depression is a very different beast. Getting stuck and losing time is part of what that beast actually is.

For whatever reason–maybe because I just couldn’t think beyond the fears–I decided to pull up Google on the work computer. I fully expected it to be blocked, but I blindly typed in “Aixa the Hexcaster” anyway. I think I was trying to get to a review I’d seen on a message board: just one line talking about how, out of all the stories released in that Autumn’s issue of Mirror Dance, “Aixa” was their favorite.

But I was on image search, somehow–maybe an idle click while I was trying to stop thinking about depressing things.

I wound up pausing though–blinking. “Aixa the Hexcaster” is a pretty unique name, I’ve discovered, so if you google it, the top results are always the story itself, me talking about it, or images relating to it.

So, it was surprising when this popped up:

anime-paradise-anime-world-of-books

The very first thing I noted, for my own benefit, was that this was not fan art. I glanced at it, and in that first heartbeat, I made sure the first thing I admitted to myself was, “No, seriously, it’s impossible that this is fan art. Like, calm down. That’s not real–you ain’t there yet.” The woman in this picture? Clearly not Aixa Silva.

But what was it then? I followed through, clicking on “View Page,” hoping the resulting site wouldn’t be blocked by IT (‘Seriously, I never browse–just this once, IT, be cool’).

I found a post on the blog of Michael Matheson, a writer, editor, and reviewer. The post was a reading list they’d put together for 2016.

The list was a monster–Michael had put in a ton of time, even listing comics they’d enjoyed.

But, still, the same self-checking reflex that made me realize the feature image wasn’t fan art told me that this page must’ve been linked in error. To make sure, I hit Ctrl + F, typed in “Aixa,” hit Enter.

The page jumped down to “2016 Recommendations (Short Form)”:

  • Louis Santiago – Aixa the Hexcaster (Mirror Dance, Fall 2016) – Writer’s first publication. Still somewhat raw, as one would expect from a first sale, but Santiago’s a writer to watch.

The screen blurred. I only barely managed not to cry, but the effort meant I just sat there for a moment, looking at those words.

The gratitude I feel for those two sentences–seen at such a terrible, terrible time in my life–cannot be expressed. I cannot overstate how much it mattered for me–how much it still matters. It suddenly clicked again that, “Hey, man, you finished another story that you feel good about, and you’ve already started submitting it.”

“Yo, you almost finished the rule set for your own game; it’s almost ready to be tested.”

“Dude, you come up with new fonts really quickly. And, like, yeah, there’s still no way to tell if that will be profitable at all, in any way, but, hey, it’s still something you’re awesome at.”

I was getting somewhere. It was taking forever, and it always would, but progress was still being made. Ground was still being gained.

At the best of times, you barely even notice that kind of progress.

At the worst of times, remembering it can save your life.

~~~

I need to sincerely thank Michael Matheson for single-handedly pulling me out of a really bad place a few days ago–for helping me keep going. Michael, even if you never see this, or maybe if you see it three years from now, thank you so much.

To everyone here, thank you too. I have always appreciated everyone who stops in to read this blog. Creators say this kind of thing all the time, but, genuinely, without the support, I would not be able to justify doing any of the things I love doing, and I don’t even want to know where I would be if that was the case.

As a quick update, I have been delving into two other modes of creativity:

  • Game design, which is something I’ve always kicked around, but only recently got serious about. After a weekend of board gaming, which my friends and I called XenoPAX, I suddenly understood how to make sense of an old, problematic rule set I cooked up. Since then, I’ve been working out its kinks to make a functional game, and I’m surprisingly close to getting it into game-testing shape.
  • Font design. Long story short: a friend started a video production firm, which resulted in me dusting off graphic design skills I haven’t used since my Infinite Ammo days. I made a few logos for him, which required a custom font, and that led to the strange realization that font design just inherently makes sense to me. It’s slow going, but the goal is to use some extra time here and there to put together fonts I can sell on fontspring.

Writing-wise, I keep working on new ideas for shorts, looking for new places to publish them. I’m also getting started on rewriting an older novel. It means putting a newer one on hiatus, but I honestly haven’t done enough worldbuilding for the new one anyway, so that hiatus was happening regardless.

All of that said, I have to get back to packing and looking for apartments. Thank you again for passing by.

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.

Or 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 would kill for 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 are.
    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 “You have to fire that E11 from the hip, Wicket!”
  • (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, and saying, “Oh no! Better fight this monster now!”
    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 knows the name of the planet Wookiees come from too!”
  • (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 =”
    Yes, yes–almost got it.
    Puts a blonde wig over a picture of a raccoo–
    He’s just a rip-off of Rocket Raccoon.
    This stupid monkey alien dude is the world’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’m seriously emotional 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 loving 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 love 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. So, I also loved 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 CGI Tarkin.
  • (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, but a lot of people seem to have a reflex for making female characters visually appealing, no matter what. For my part, A) she just would’ve looked more badass, B) she would’ve been the very first battle-hardened, old warrior 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, but significantly better than Rogue One.

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.

I’m Back

Hey, everyone.

Like Castlevania’s Dracula, I have returned–once every 500 years to post for a month or two, until the urge to once again devote all of my time to my WIP’s, like a Belmont, whips me in the face.

That metaphor just kept going. I apologize.

Seriously, I’ve wanted to get back to my blog for a while, but life has been a bit crazy. Trying to keep things in order and advance professionally, combined with working on several WIP’s (i.e. securing a steady flow of rejection letters) has meant I had to stay away from the blog, even though–as you may have noticed–I gave it a face lift. Seriously, I changed themes for this site months ago, intending to start writing here again all the way back then. But, of course, life got in the way.

Regardless, though, I am back, and I’ll be posting very, very casually across the next year. If you’re still here, I appreciate you! If you’re not, I mean, A) I don’t really blame you, and B) you’re not here anyway, so why did I even write this part?

Anyway, I’ll write a proper post about what I’ve been working on soon, but, for now, I’ll publish a new post within the hour. If you like cartoons, celebrating social justice stuff, and criticizing social justice stuff, you’ll love it.

TL;DR: What I’m about to post will appeal to literally no one.

Enjoy!

Back on Hiatus

Hey, everyone. I’m going to keep this one short.

First thing’s first . . . I hated last week’s post. I rushed through something I’d intended to be important and beautiful. While at the Met, I’d taken a bunch of pictures I intended to use in “The Emperor’s Gun,” explaining how much inspiration museums provide for worldbuilding. Here’s one of those pics:

LS-BackonHiatus1

And here’s another:

LS-BackonHiatus2

The idea was to talk about how limited our understanding of the world would be without help. Without the desire to learn — particularly to do research — we’re left to assume how cultures work, and how our past happened. And, yeah, knowing that is important for us as human beings, of course, but, in terms of writing, we wind up grasping at straws and deviating into ridiculous, nonsense plots if we don’t make an effort to understand our own history and that of others.

Unfortunately, all of this fell to the wayside because I was burnt out from work, trying to post at 2AM. I wound up settling for a short, confused post about a gun. And, sure, back when I was a kid, that gun had blown my mind, and started me down the road to an important lesson . . .

. . . but I would’ve preferred to take my time. Write something that actually felt poignant. It upsets me that I didn’t.

It also upsets me that, in about two hours, it will be August — just one month until September 1st.

At which point it will be a year since I was published for the first time. My entire goal for this year had been to get another short story published.

Instead, I got a promotion — a good thing, for sure — and then spent the majority of the year struggling through the first chapters of a new book. I finished a final edit of Memory as well — also good — but I should’ve planned better. Should’ve known my limits.

What I’m saying is, I don’t regret writing here more — my stint of posting every day was a bunch of fun — but I genuinely need to dial it back. I said this exact thing a few months ago when I stopped posting every day, but that was a half-measure. I’m a man who’s only had one piece published, posting on his blog every week about writing theory.

It just feels ridiculous. And, maybe it’s taken this long for the glow of “Aixa the Hexcaster” to die down, but, once again, it feels like I have no right to talk about my process here.

It feels like the part of me that wants to keep posting is the last bit of young douchebag Louis. The guy who started this blog and almost immediately wrote that a classic fantasy series was lacking because one edition’s cover was bad.

No. No, I refuse to be that wildly bling guy anymore.

What I’m saying is, I’m not an amazing writer. And I’m not going to post on here every day until I become an amazing writing. I’m going to dial this blog back to “one post when I have something important to say,” because, otherwise, I’m just rambling on here. Or I just feel like I’m rambling, and that’s all the same.

I have many, many goals, and I have to start working on those without distractions, set up to pamper me.

This blog is one of those distractions.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported me here over the past year. You guys have absolutely kept me going. I’ve never had this steady of an audience, and it’s been every bit as validating as getting my work published. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who’s commented, everyone who’s subscribed, everyone who’s Liked a post. I will, without a doubt, write you again.

But, for now, I have to pick up my big boy pen and become the writer I’ve always wanted to be.

~~~

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx, trying to become a professional before it’s too late for me. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster” was published in 2016 at Mirror Dance Fantasy, and I’m currently preparing three more pieces for submission. I no longer post here on a set schedule, but if you’d like an email notification when I do — my words delivered right to your inbox — then please subscribe at the bottom of this page. All I get from posting on this blog is support from readers, but that support means the world to me.

Until next time, thank you again. And, as always, write well.