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.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2 – Day 19: No Escape

I managed to write today, although it was my first taste of getting home at 10PM.

Yes, unfortunately, the Doubles Experiment is going to have to wait; the busy season has already reared its ugly head at work, and my schedule is already suffering.

I only got to write for maybe 15 minutes on the job (and then another 30 or so at home, just now). Unfortunately, the work writing session ended with a problem I was hoping I’d figure out when I got home. Only, getting home turned into walking through a rainstorm for a cumulative 20 minutes, with no umbrella. I don’t want to complain (it’s starting to feel like that’s all I do in these posts), but what I’m saying is, getting home around 11, soaked and knowing I’m back at work at 8AM, so I only have about an hour to write, transcribe the day’s words, and write this post  . . . it sucks.

I just didn’t solve the story problem when I got home. I didn’t solve it, and, despite thinking that I’d drop in a placeholder for it, I didn’t.

Because this isn’t a problem that can be placeheld; it isn’t a name, easily switched–it’s Modis’ power. In H&T, everyone has powers, which are called Talents. In today’s scene, Modis is trapped in a cell and he needs to use his Talent, which is pretty weird, to escape–without making noise. It’s a scene I’ve been excited to write for a long time . . . but newly added, logical caveats of his Talent are making it a huge pain in the ass. Maybe it’s the rain, or the writing-this-at-12AM, but the solution just isn’t coming.

Ugh. I hate this. I hate that I’m using this as a forum to complain. Here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to go to sleep, I’m going to wake up, spend the first half of my shift tomorrow considering a solution to this problem.

And then, on lunch, I’m going to write my ass off.

Words for the Day: 267

NaNoWriMo Total: 8,161

30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2 – Day 18: The Problem with Indulgence

I had a strange moment earlier, when I felt a spot of charming dialogue coming on . . . and I narrowed my eyes.

The clouds had parted and, after a few hours of work, I actually got a moment to sit down with my notebook and work out a scene. I got a few hundred words in, when Sydney met a fellow Annex Hunter, Taurean–the sidiest of side characters.

The exchange, meant to be something quick as Sydney entered the scene, slowed down suddenly . . . because it seemed like Taurean had something to say.

And, “Waaaait a minute,” I thought. “Is this Hunter about to talk to Sydney about his feelings?”

But . . . that couldn’t be right, could it? Taurean is a tough dude, first of all. Second, he’s not an important character.

And, third, I’d already had a bunch of scenes where characters let emotions out. So far, this chapter had been all about the protagonists being vulnerable.

So, why the hell was I going in on Taurean’s feels?

Because I wanted to.

Not that I wanted him to be vulnerable, but because I already wanted him to be a bigger part of the story. The selfish writer in me was all, “Eh? Eh? Why not add a whole exchange between him and Sydney, huh? Maybe he becomes a major part of the adventure? Eh? I mean, it’s what you want.” Before catching myself, I almost acted on that want.

But . . . ages and ages ago, when I forced a barbarian character into my first, worst novel–just because I loved him and I didn’t care that his presence made no sense–I learned that, sometimes, my wants as a writer can completely derail and/or muddle a story.

In that first novel, about undead monsters, there was this giant barbarian dude who served exclusively as comic relief (ugh, it hurts even to explain it). He rarely spoke (because I often forgot he was there), and when he did, it was to deliver lines on par with Zangief’s, “Quick! Change the channel!” from the 90’s Street Fighter movie. When I rewrote that novel (which still wound up being bad), he was the first major cut I made . . . before thinking that I should replace him with a new character–a bizarre ghost-ninja who I also loved. To my credit, I never wound up adding that ghost-ninja either.

Because, with that rewrite, I learned the strange, hollow feeling of writing something really selfish. There’s something cold about it, like the sensation of being watched, only the total opposite–as if I was walking with a friend only to realize, without looking, that they aren’t there anymore.

In no way would Taurean’s feelings help the plot. I’d be detracting from the action that ends this chapter, adding a bit of drag right before it starts, for no purpose other than humoring myself.

So, today, I just stopped writing that scene, tore those pages out of my notebook, and tossed them.

Oddly, it still feels like progress.

Words for the Day: 0

NaNoWriMo Total: 7,887

30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2 – Day 17: Writing a Kid

I wound up just sticking to one writing session for today, because that session was a pain in the ass. For reasons that I now totally understand: Yesterday, I got to write the intense nightmare Sydney Tempest was having. Today, I had to write Modis being super positive.

But it wasn’t so much the positivity that made today rough–it was Modis’ age.

I remember certain things about being a kid, but I have no idea how old I was when I felt those things. I know everybody’s different, but I also know that being young means being subject to a universal suite of things–being much more heavily swayed by what everyone else is doing, for example. So . . . when I was 10-ish . . . was I trying to be cool already? Did I care if other kids liked what I liked? Was I smart enough to get myself out of trouble? Was I still naive enough to think my mother could solve any problem?

Of course, so much of this is case-sensitive; Modis is a smart kid, so, regardless of the intelligence of other kids his age, he’s able to get himself out of harm’s way. He’s had a really solid upbringing, so he’d probably be extra naive about his dad being able to solve any problem. A bunch of this I’m pretty sure about.

But, around it all, there’s the question of, “Is he believable?” Do I make him sound too much like a grown up? But wouldn’t it be really annoying if I gave him the speaking ticks kids have (“Hey! Hey! HEY! Um…,” “Whoathatssocool,” etc.)?

Questions like these made today’s scene super slow-going, especially because it involved Modis interacting with his familiar. In the end, I’m satisfied with what I got, but I can’t help thinking he sounds older than he should. 11? 12? Eh–I’m not sure.

But what I am sure of, at the very least, is that I’m not locked into making him 10; when the novel is done, whatever age he reads like is the age he is.

And, in the meantime, I should just be thankful. This is a new problem; I’ve never had to worry about a character sounding the right age in my work. At the very least, I know that I’m doing something I’ve never done before, and that feels awesome.

Words for the Day: 649

NaNoWriMo Total: 7,887

30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2 – Day 16: So Tired

Hi there. Sorry if this post is super short, but I’m… what’s the title of this post again?

How writing went: the first half of it–the writing at work half–went really, really well. However, I completely acknowledge… that was only because I was stuck at another post where I could write and it was another super quiet day. Work won’t always be this kind. In fast… today was probably the last day where it will be anywhere near this kind.

But still, point is, full, detailed scene at work. I’m not sure how many words exactly though, because…

… I passed out so hard when I got home.

I had a second scene in mind and knew how it started. I was super excited to write it, but I just had zero energy. Zero energy like, “Holy shit, I actually just passed out in a seat, watching something, then woke up just now, at 12:50 AM,” tired. Tired like, “I’m sorry, but I don’t even want to type up what I wrote so I know how many words I got,” tired (I’ll update my numbers tomorrow morning).

So, a solid answer for the Doubles experiment: it isn’t a thing on work days. On work days, I’ll just be grateful to get one scene done.

That said… tomorrow’s a day off, so I’m tryin’ again!

Yaaaaaay.

Words for the Day: 603

NaNoWriMo Total: 7,212

30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2 – Day 15: The Double

So, today went alright. Not as awesomely as I was hoping though.

Because, while getting ready to go out and get breakfast (instead of the jacket I previously mentioned because it was raining and the water wasn’t running in my apartment)… I suddenly had an idea.

When it comes to daily writing, I’m learning that my MO is this: I write scenes. I don’t beat myself up too much about word count (at least at the moment). Instead, I try to finish up an entire scene, regardless of whether it’s short or long, as long as it’s strong. I’m okay with that right now… but I want it change.

And today turned into an attempt to make that change.

Only… not by pushing myself to write more than the one scene at a time. Because I realize that I need time to recoup after a writing session; I need time to think about the next scene, feel it out, and find a starting point.

So then . . . how can I reliably double the amount I write in one day?

By doing two scenes a day.

Now… maybe this is a complete no-brainer for some writers, but, for me… it feels like a revolution. Genuinely, the idea blew my mind. Just the simplicity of it… If I really like having a solid writing session that’s a few hours long, during which I complete one scene… why not just do that more instead of trying to write past the one scene in one sitting, at which point I always feel like I’m forcing it? This year’s NaNoWriMo is teaching me that I can just write pretty much any time of the day, anywhere, in any medium… so why not use that flexibility to do two sessions a day, no matter where I am? It didn’t just feel like an idea, it felt like a solution.

So, today turned into a hybrid experiment.

Step 1) Write early in the morning/after getting home (left over from the experiment I was originally going to run today).

Step 2) Do anything else.

Step 3) Write again much, much later, after taking time to think about my next scene.

How did it go?

Well, the first step turned out to be super, duper easy; as I’ve learned, doing what I always assumed was bad–thinking of writing as work–is just the solution for my motivation problem. Sit down. Just do it. Treat it like a job; you love the process enough to avoid feeling like it’s a job once you start.

On top of that, I had my first scene with post-conflict Modis, so the writing itself is still coming very easily. Almost too easily; I got to the point where I had to decide if I was actually giving Modis a familiar, something I’d been really unsure about. When I first outlined this scene, he had a bunch of them, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about it–if it was total overkill and too campy. But then, through the sheer, beautiful magic of writing, an answer came from a simple concept I fleshed out earlier in the manuscript. The process just handed me a simple, charming answer (he does have a familiar, but just the one, and it doesn’t talk). It was a pretty gratifying writing session.

Step 2 was also easy. I mean, of course it was. But it’s also where my experiment ran off the road. I got so wrapped up in doing other things–reading training material for work, reading not training material for work, doing maintenance, playing video games, etc.–that I wound up…

… not really thinking about what the next scene would be.

Of course, the real danger is in the shrug. “Well, I already wrote today, so whatever.” Which I did. LOL Not going to lie about it; I 100% shrugged and actually said that to myself.

But I’m aware how completely that could put a cork in the Doubles idea. So, I’m posting this, then hopping in bed, waking up early to get my first scene for the day out of the way, before work… And then seeing how well a second scene during lunch/when I get home goes.

I’m not sure how many words I’ll be able to get at work, but upward and onward, right?

Words for the Day: 545

NaNoWriMo Total: 6,607

30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2 – Day 14: Before the Storm

Today was another easy writing session. Mind you, I left it for the absolute worst time of the day, when I’m least likely to write–in the evening, around bedtime. Not an ideal time to aim for, of course, but alright for training. Important for training actually . . .

Because that busy season I mentioned, coming up at work . . . it starts in two days.

And once it starts, writing around 8-10PM while totally exhausted, is going to become the norm.

So, even though part of me thinks, “Take the luxury of not having to deal with that immediately!” the other party of me is like, “Figure it out now.”

Of course, the solution continues to be, “Just think of it as work and force yourself to start,” but the real test is going to be coming home at 11PM after working an 8:30AM-10PM shift, which is totally a thing at my job.

Part of me is all, “OMFG, go out tomorrow and walk around Manhattan for 13.5 hours, then try to write at 11! Figure it out!” But the other half of me is all, “Ughaslkhjaiwawuiaoeuhwua . . . I just want to sleep.”

I’m going to go buy a jacket tomorrow. Going to at least do that and then train myself to write first thing when I walk in (instead of relaxing).

If that doesn’t work . . . it’s going to just be hiding during lunch breaks at work, trying to knock out a few hundred words in my tiny notepad.

Uahodaojkmflkwaooqajdklajapfjcxzkjf . . .

Words for the Day: 798

NaNoWriMo Total: 6,062

30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2 – Day 13: Back in the Comfort Zone

So, I want to talk about something I realized yesterday. Could’ve talked about it then, but I felt like it deserved its own post.

After my toaster refused to work, after narrowing my eyes at birds ripping leaves off of the tree by my window, I decided to head out and buy actual food–a wholesome breakfast of literally-just-bread wasn’t going to cut it.

On the walk, I found myself wondering why I was struggling so much with the start of the book. Why I couldn’t quite figure out how to write this happy kid’s exposition.

And then it hit me. While walking outside, I smiled and chuckled at myself.

“I’m having a hard time writing this happy kid’s exposition . . . because he’s happy.”

Before it sounds like I’m being a bitter, emotional asshole, let me explain. What I’m definitely not trying to say is, “Meeeeh! This character’s happy and I’m not, so fuck him!”

What I am trying to say is . . . emotionally compromised, fucked up characters are really, really my comfort zone.

Aixa Silva is this complicated, traumatized mess. Kole Buchanan is a massively beat down guy who has spent his whole life trying to survive, a reflex he’s forced to fight. Eli Brunner, from a short story I’m still tweaking, man, he is all kinds of damaged. Lethe Dega is probably insane. Edin Attenborough is . . . ugh; I don’t even know where to begin with her.

And that’s the part that I laughed at. “All of my protagonists are fucked up! Modis is the first ever who doesn’t start off damaged! Of course!

“But he eventually becomes damaged, so phew!”

Cause, ya know, that’s a thing to celebrate.

Sarcasm aside, I finished the exposition yesterday and presented Modis with the major conflict of the story. Today, I followed up with a scene full of upset people. Both sessions were incredibly easy–even today’s, which I intentionally left for late at night, wanting to write in the midst of just-got-home-from-work-wanna-relax time.

I know that, when I edit, I’ll need to have prep for the exposition by meditating on the good parts of my childhood, trying to remember what it was like to be an energetic 10-ish year old. Because, of course, getting that feeling right is another challenge I can’t turn down.

But for right now, I’m just glad to have two sessions go really well with minimal stress.

Words for the Day: 892

NaNoWriMo Total: 5,249

30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2 – Day 12: It Didn’t Work

Words for the Day: 1,492

Weird thing about that word total; my plan from yesterday (establish a work space at home, make coffee, write early in the morning, save a line as an easy starting point for the next day) absolutely didn’t work.

My experience with the attempt:

  • I woke up to find that my cat wasn’t on my bed, ready to be pet. Always an ill omen.
  • I put on coffee, decided that the best spot would be next to my window, to at least simulate being outside. That’ll totally help get the writing mojo going, I thought.
  • While putting together my coffee, I attempted to make toast, only to find my toaster was broken. Alright. Just . . . bread. Bread and coffee . . . Sure.
  • I sat down at my window, looked out, and realized I have no view from my room. Or, well, there is a view . . . but it’s of branches. The tree in front of my building hasn’t always blocked my window, but it definitely does now.
  • And in that tree, on those branches, there are cute birds. Adorable warblers fluttering around and . . . ripping leaves off of the trees? And trying to eat them? What the . . . What?
  • I watched them for a bit, confused, determinedly eating my breakfast. Of bread. My breakfast of only bread. With coffee.
  • And, sitting there, in the quiet room, with the bland bread, watching birds tear into nature feet away from my window made me feel impossibly, comically trapped. Tired, sipping decaf, watching birds chirp and hop around on branches that bobbed on the wind, I found myself thinking, “Man . . . I so wish I was one those bird.” Because times are better for me (way better than they were in 2013 or 2014), but they’re still insanely rough.

So, basically, yesterday’s plan of attack turned out to be the worst possible attempt at getting in the writing mood. Despite all logic, it actually shoved me hard in the opposite direction. So far in the opposite direction that I felt silly afterward. Why would I think sitting at a window, looking outside, would be a good idea when the last few years have been all about getting out of my apartment–a place that I hate? It would be like throwing a writer in prison and then setting up their writing desk by the front door.

The point is, I rolled my eyes and left the window. I decided to watch something for a bit and try to unwind. I considered going outside to write . . .

But I was determined to figure out how to write from home. Because I have to–not figuring it out is a luxury I can’t afford.

So, what did I wind up doing?

Absolutely nothing special. Like yesterday, I hit a point when I realized I should write. Only, when I had that thought today, I just did it. No romance. No majesty. It felt like work.

And maybe that’s the lesson here? When I actually started writing, I fell into it. It wasn’t hard–it was just as fun as it always is.

So, maybe don’t hammer down an exact time and perfect beverage to have? Don’t wait until you’re outside. And don’t count on toast.

Just sit down. Open your manuscript, and write.

But still save one line for your next writing session, because that bit actually helped a ton.

Words for the Day: 1,492

NaNoWriMo Total: 4,329

30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2 – Day 11: The Old, Old Ways Then, I Guess

The notebook trick didn’t work today. Actually . . . I didn’t write at all.

And, I don’t know why.

Actually, I do know why–I just didn’t write. I just, on multiple occasions, hit the point where I could’ve written, and instead of doing that, I just didn’t. Not my proudest confession, but I’ll own it at least.

What I need to do . . . is find my rhythm. Find it . . . and keep it. Figure out a way to settle myself into writing every day.

Because, NaNoWriMo is awesome, but it’s also just training. Writing is an art, and a skill. You only get better if you do it every day.

I have no idea how many words are good for each day (and I imagine that’s the kind of thing that would be different for everyone–the same way some writers can only belt out chapters on a typewriter while others need a computer), but I feel that, no matter who you are, it’s undeniably good to write every day. Sure, when I’m writing all the time, consistently, I can establish break days.

But, right now . . . I need to figure out a methodology.

What is it that makes me want to write? What can I rely on to keep me consistently productive?

I know that going out absolutely helps, but I know that I can’t go out every single day. So, how do I convince myself to write when I can’t go out?

Eh. “Convince.” Wrong word. Motivate. How do I motivate myself to write?

What I’m sure about:

  1. Being outside motivates me. Why? Possibly because it’s the closest I can come to having an office? I step out of my home, set up shop somewhere else, ready to get to work?
  2. Having coffee, tea, any staple, hot beverage motivates me too. Why? Because it’s just . . . the writer’s way? Both an incentive of and compliment to the writing process?
  3. Having a starting scene–an anticipated line of dialogue–also motivates me. And this one’s easy; it’s just always great to sit down with a clear idea of what to write first.
  4. I like writing in the morning. Why? Because, as the day goes on, I go into Just Got Home From Work, Time to Relax mode. Also because, if I wait until night, the chances that I’m going to feel like I already wasted the day skyrocket.

So, looking at all of this . . . I’m thinking, establish a small workplace at home. Have coffee, my tablet. Start in the early morning, beginning with a line I already have in mind . . . but stop when I still know what’s coming next–try my best to leave an exciting, clear line to begin with the next day.

We’ll see how it goes.