Showing posts with label geekery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label geekery. Show all posts

Twitter Horror

So I'm out of First Impact subs. I will continue to accept submissions as they come in (because, hey, one less post to think up), and September will still have a prize because I said it would, but I might not continue the prizes after that. We'll see.

In the meantime, I present to you this true story, told in tweets.

Connecting With a Character (and Dr. Horrible)

One of the most important things we need to do as writers is help the reader connect with the character. But what the heck does that mean?

It means the character is sympathetic. We like them and want them to succeed. They don't even have to be a good guy. They can be a villian, like Dr. Horrible.

Dr. Horrible is one of the most sympathetic villains I've ever seen (and I won't spoil the series except to say he gets even more sympathetic). What makes us root for him can work for any character, good or bad.

Dr. Horrible: "Ok, dude, you are not my nemesis.... I'm just trying to change the world, ok? I don't have time for a grudge match with every poser in a parka. Besides, there's kids in that park..."

The traits we like in real people work just as well for our characters. They're honest, nice, noble, brave, humble, funny. They play fair and sacrifice for others.

Dr. Horrible isn't all of these things, but he strives not to kill. He's self-deprecating. He really is working for the people (even if he sees those people as sheep, sometimes).

Dr. Horrible: "I got a letter from Bad Horse."
Moist: "That's so hard core. Bad Horse is legend. He rules the League with an iron hoof."

They might be pathetic or ignorant or victims of everything. They might not even succeed, but a character that excels at something is a character worth rooting for. Even if Dr. Horrible's inventions don't work perfectly, the fact is he has a (mostly) working transmatter ray, freeze ray, and he can remotely hijack an armored van. That's pretty awesome, if you ask me.

Dr. Horrible: "It's not about making money, it's about taking money. Destroying the status quo because the status is not . . . quo. The world is a mess and I just . . . need to rule it."

If we're going to root for the character, we need to know what they're striving for. It's hard to cheer from the sidelines if you have no idea how one scores a goal.

And it needs to be a goal we agree with. Ruling the world may not be the most sympathetic vision, but Dr. Horrible's motivation certainly is.

Dr. Horrible: "[reading fan mail] 'Where are the gold bars you were supposed to pull out of that bank vault with your Transmatter Ray? Obviously, it failed or it would be in the papers.' Well, no. They're not gonna say anything in the press, but behold! Transported from there to here! [pokes a bag of gold liquid] The molecules tend to . . . shift during the transmatter, uh, event. But they were transported in bar form..."

Once we're rooting for them, we feel every failure, and every step back makes the victory that much more awesome.

No, I'm not going to tell you whether Dr. Horrible succeeds. You have to watch it.

Seriously, go watch it.

A Tale of Two Johns


This is an old story from the computer game world, but there are lessons here for everyone, even writers.

In 1990, id Software was formed by two men: John Carmack and John Romero. Over the next 6 years, id redefined PC gaming and the first-person shooter genre with games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. Romero is even credited with coining the term "deathmatch."

(If you have no idea what I'm talking about to this point, here's the summary: Carmack and Romero made really good games; they were kind of a big deal).

The PC gaming world was theirs. Carmack licensed the Quake engine to multiple game developers -- including Valve, who used it to make the even more groundbreaking Half Life. Professional gaming took off with QuakeCon. Everyone wanted to be id.

(Translation: They made lots of money).

But after Quake hit the shelves in 1996, Romero quit (actually he was fired, but he was going to quit anyway). His plans were ambitious, and he felt Carmack and the others were stifling him. Carmack, meanwhile, felt that Romero wasn't realistic.

(The two Johns parted ways).

Carmack -- the technical powerhouse of id -- pushed the envelope with Quake II and Quake III: Arena. Good games, well-received, and very, very pretty. But where they pushed things technically, their general design stayed the same. To the point where Quake III was little more than a deathmatch arena with no substance.

(Carmack's games were technically beautiful, but not very compelling).

Photo Credit: Michael Heilemann
Romero's company released this ad
months before Christmas.
Romero, meanwhile, now had the freedom to be as ambitious as he wanted. He proudly announced his masterpiece, Daikatana, would hit the shelves by Christmas the next year. They would use the Quake engine, so the technical aspect would be taken care of, leaving him and his designers only to design.

(Romero thought he didn't need Carmack's technical expertise).

Christmas came and went with no Daikatana. Carmack had released Quake II by then, and Romero realized his masterpiece looked dated. He grabbed the new engine, not realizing it was so different from the one he knew it would require an entire rewrite of his precious game.

(Romero realized technology mattered. He tried to catch up and failed, badly).

Three years later, Daikatana had become a joke. It was made worse when the game was released with outdated graphics, crappy AI, and unforgivable loading times.

(Romero's game was super late, ugly, and impossible to play).

Carmack thought that technical expertise made a game. Romero thought it was creativity and design. The truth is both are necessary to make a quality game.

It's the same in writing (told you there was a lesson). Technical expertise -- your skill with prose, structure, and grammar -- can make for a well-written story, but one that is thoroughly boring to read.

Creative design -- compelling plot, characters, and conflict -- can create a brilliant story, but if the technical aspects aren't there, it will be an unreadable mess.

Don't sacrifice one for the other. You need both to succeed.

Avenger Pigeons

These guys came out of a very odd conversation between me and Susan Quinn. Something about a way to get paper copies of her books past Thailand's Swiss cheese postal system -- like armored carrier pigeons.

You've seen Avengers, right? If not, why the heck not?

And if you have, can you please tell Authoress why she needs to see it? (And whether she really needs to see all the movies leading up to it. I vote no, provided she gives me twenty minutes to explain the origins of the four main characters.)

Why Are Movies Based on Video Games SO BAD?

This is not a rant. This is SCIENCE.

First, all the data (culled, of course, from my beloved Wikipedia). Click to embiggen.

Some facts:
  • Movies based on video games have an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 18 out of 100. None of them got higher than 42.
  • Most (72%) had a budget of $50 million or less.
  • Most (68%) made less than $100 million at the box office.
  • It should be no surprise then that half of these movies did not make a profit.
So that's pretty bad (relatively; I mean I wouldn't mind making $100 million), but why? Is there something inherent in video games that makes them un-movieable (totally a word). Or is it the way they're handled? I have my own ideas, but let's look at the data.

Looking at the list of movies, my first thought was they were poorly chosen. There do exist games with solid, character-based stories (I helped make one of them), but Doom, for example, is not one of them. So it might be that producers are choosing games from the wrong genres:

84% of these titles are in action genres. And while RPGs (for example) are known for their stories, action and fighting games aren't so much.

Unfortunately, when I grouped review scores by genre, there didn't appear to be much correlation. Every genre is spread pretty evenly between hits and misses:

Apologies for not labeling the genres. Excel was mean to me.
Maybe it has to do with where the games come from (a heck of a lot of these games come from Capcom, for example), but I found no correlation there either:

At this point, I wondered if there was any answer at all. Is it just dumb luck? Is there even a correlation between review score and profit?

Thank goodness there is. It's not a huge correlation (and my heart goes out to the Final Fantasy movie, which got the highest score yet lost the most money -- clearly there is no justice in this world), but the trendline definitely goes up.

Finally, I had the idea to look at the directors. It turns out there is one man who has directed almost a quarter of these movies -- twice as many as any other single person.

He has directed movies from four different game genres. The highest score he received was 24 out of 100, and it was an outlier. Only one of his games-based movies ever made a profit (a whole two million dollars). In short, this man has never directed a video-game-based movie worth seeing.

His name is Uwe Boll.

I'm just looking at the numbers here, but it seems to me that this man should never be allowed near a video game again.

It's science.

Embarrassed AT-AT

Oops...hope nobody got hurt.

Cross-posted from Anthdrawlogy's Hoth week (part of a whole Star Wars month). If you want to see a much cooler AT-AT, check out fellow Anthdrawlogian Charles Eubanks' take on Eadward Muybridge.

So what's your favorite Star Wars quote? Mine is when Han Solo calls Leia, "Your highness-ness."

Okay, go.

"I now pronounce you Doctor and, well...Kaylee."

"Now kiss the gorram bride."

So what's your favorite Firefly episode? Mine's the one where this happened or, if we're being serious, "Objects in Space."

Sketch from Anthdrawlogy's weddings' week.

(Note: If you follow me in other places, you probably know something's going on with our family. I've decided to let the posts I've already scheduled continue as planned (largely because I don't have the time/inclination to change them), but if I'm slow or unresponsive with the comments, this is why.)

You Know That Fantasy Novel is Really the Author's D&D Game When...

  1. It starts in a tavern.
  2. There is one protagonist and his 3 or 4 friends, who are different from him in every way.
  3. The protagonist is awesome, because every other character tells us so. He also seems the only one capable of making decisions.
  4. Dark-skinned elves are always evil, and always dual-wielding.
  5. The only limitation on magic is that wizards must sleep before they can cast more spells.
  6. Character names contain apostrophes in unneces'sary and inexplicab'le pl'aces.
  7. The villain is immensely more powerful than the main characters, but despite their obvious bent on stopping him, he doesn't face them until they are strong enough to defeat him.
  8. The main characters are referred to as a "party."
  9. The "party" consists of a fighter, a thief, a cleric, and a wizard (alternatively: warrior/rogue/healer/mage, barbarian/burglar/priest/sorcerer, etc).
  10. They take on a quest to either save the world or aid the village, for no other reason than that it's right.
  11. Despite the fact that there are many characters more powerful than the protagonists, no one else is willing or able to take on the quest.
  12. Anyone, anywhere, uses "adventure" as a verb.
Got more?

An Open Love Letter to Joss Whedon

Dear Mr. Whedon,

Thank you, thank you for the Avengers movie. And thank you for doing everything right. There are so many ways this movie could've been screwed up, and you did none of them.

You could have unbalanced the cast. I mean, shoot, there were like seven heroes, five of whom have (or deserve) their own movies. By all normal screenplay calculations, the cast should have been unbalanced! Ironman should've stolen the show, or Thor should've been relegated to some kind of adviser role, or at the VERY LEAST Black Widow and Hawkeye should've been ignored entirely (I would even forgive you for that last one).

But they weren't! Everyone had their moments. Every character was believably, realistically involved. Thor and Loki had brother issues. Black Widow and Hawkeye had a freaking non-romantic relationship. Captain America was still dealing with the fallout from his last movie (heck, they all were). I love them all!

You could have revealed something lame that demeaned or flat out broke the original movies. You wouldn't have been the first. I mean, how do you explain why there are billionaires and WW2 super soldiers fighting alongside gods? To save the planet from alien invasion?

Dang, man, you actually made the prequels better at some points. The Thor movie didn't make me stand up and cheer, but you made Thor and Loki's characters deeper. You gave Captain America a reason for his ridiculously patriotic uniform. Thor quipped about how Asgardians always seem to beat each other up when they come to Earth (even though they're supposed to be more civilized).

You took the holes in the character's backstories and said, "Ha! Hey guys, look! A hole!" and then moved on. I love you for that.

You could have made Black Widow into an object. Every other screenwriter would've done it, and nobody would've blamed you. Heck, it's what they did with her character in Ironman 2.

And yet, in this movie, Natasha acted sexy or weak only twice, and both times she was totally messing with someone to get what she needed. So. Awesome.

You could have written cheesy, cliche dialog. I mean you couldn't have, Joss, because you're not like that. But Hollywood could've put someone in there who left the "This is just like Budapest" line as is, or who didn't understand how Tony Stark's ultra-clever Disregard for Everything works.

You could have made the Hulk into a dumb tank. It would've worked. I mean, that's what he is. And you did make him into a tank, but a super awesome one.

We didn't even see the big guy until halfway through the film, but two minutes into Mark Ruffalo's first scene (who, by the way, I might have to write another love letter to; he is now my favorite Bruce Banner of all time) you made sure we knew how scary the Hulk is. Not by telling us, not even with dialog, but by showing it on Black Widow's face when she was too afraid to put her gun down.

You could have done any of this. It's what's Hollywood has done with most superhero movies. And I forgive them, because the stories are fun and the heroes are awesome. But you? You made me fall in love with Thor and Hawkeye, characters I used to make fun of.

You have already had a significant influence over the novel that got me an agent. But now I'm going to watch everything of yours I can get my hands on. Thank you for influencing everything.

Another Fan

Santa and the Siege of Barad-dûr

From Anthdrawlogy's Elves week. As far as I'm concerned there is only one kind of elf, though I'm more flexible with who their boss is.

In Which I (Yet Again) Discover Why I Don't Self-Publish

[Some of the links below go to TV Tropes. You have been warned.]

These days, there is no end of people who say, "Why are you still putting yourself through the misery of traditional publishing?" Some folks say it nicer. Some are meaner and use words like "broken," "obsolete," and "dinosaur". I've talked about my reasons before, but I've come to realize that the thing behind it all is an illogical personality quirk.

I am trying to get the best ending.

Before I go on, understand that I don't think either path -- self-publishing or traditional -- is better than the other. They are both means to reach readers, and to that end, both sometimes work and sometimes don't.

I'm talking about video games. The RPGs and graphic adventures that form the core of my childhood often gave you multiple paths to complete the game, and often different endings. Sometimes there was a "best" ending; sometimes the endings were just different.

The thing about me is, whether there was a "best" ending or not, I always tried to get it. I'm the kind of guy who will spend hours leveling up the most useless Pokemon in existence, trusting he'll become something awesome (spoiler: he does). I'll choose the Smash Bros. character everyone hates and spend weeks figuring out how to beat the crap out of people with him. I once stopped playing Riven for 5 years because I refused to look up the solution to the puzzle I was stuck on.

The point is I'm stubborn, and I've been conditioned to believe that the path of most resistance will yield the best rewards.

Again, before all you self-pubbers stab me with your pitchforks: I don't believe traditional publishing is better, not in a money-and-success way. It's only my subconscious that's convinced me there's some kind of unlockable bonus item.

But if my intellect says both paths are viable, why am I still doing the hard one?

Because the other part of my personality quirk is this: even if the ending is the same, I want to be able to say I finished the game on the hardest setting. To say I beat Super Mario Bros. without warping (I did), I caught all 151 Pokemon (I didn't), I finished Contra without losing a single life (did).

For me, getting traditionally published isn't about making more money or even reaching more readers. Neither path outdoes the other in that sense. Getting traditionally published is about being able to say I did it.

What about you? What's your path and why?

Who's Your Favorite Villain?

I am a huge fan of sympathetic and redemptive villains. So my favorite villain of all time is . . .


Honestly, he had me at Agni-Kai.

Runner-up villains include:
  • Darth Vader
  • The Operative
  • Lord Ruler 
  • And climbing the charts for me is Jaime Lannister, but it remains to be seen how sympathetic he will become (before George Martin kills him).

So who's your favorite villain?

Uncle Iroh on Revision

When I talked about why I don't hate synopses, some of you were disappointed. I talked about how I got myself to actually write one, but you wanted to know how to write one well, to which my completely useless solution was "Make it sound good."

It's good advice, but not very practical. Drafting is (for me) the hardest part of writing, but revision is where real novels are made. It's something you have to be good at to make it in this business. Unfortunately, it's not something I can give an algorithm for (not yet). But I do have some tips to share with the help of my favorite uncle.

Remember Your Basics
You know all those rules you learned? About commas and semicolons and spelling and grammar? About description and metaphor and not starting a story with the MC waking up? Revision is where you apply them.

Feel the Flow
When you read your story, you see everything you've ever dreamed or imagined. When someone else reads it, they only see what you tell them. As you're revising, you have to empty your mind and think, "Does this actually flow? Or do I just think it does because of all the extra stuff in my head?"

Kill It With Fire
You might not be able to predict when your reader will be bored, but you can tell when you are. If some part of the story (query, synopsis, etc.) is boring to you, it will bore someone else. Insert some voice, connect us with the character through emotions or goals, or just kill the whole thing. You'd be surprised what doesn't have to be there.

Credit: Dark Kenjie
Work Your Belly Off
Revision is hard, and like all hard things, it takes practice. You have to develop a feel for how a new reader will interpret things, an eye for where things slow down, an ear for voice. You can practice by getting critiques and fixing your own stuff, but you can only do that for so long before you run out of material.

If you really want to practice hard, the trick is to critique other people's stuff. You don't even have to network to do it. Just hit up Miss Snark's First Victim or Evil Editor or Work those critting muscles like a fat fire-bender stuck in prison!

Yeah, I know I just said to work your belly off, but you need to relax too. Partly because you need a break from the story to even hope to read it like a new reader, but also because writing is hard, and you need to take care of yourself. A man (or woman) needs his rest.

What are your tips for revision?

Legend of Korra

Apparently the follow-up series to the greatest thing ever airs tomorrow. I'm going to have to ask the entire internet to not talk about it until they make DVDs and ship a set to Thailand.

Man, being a commodore sucks.

My Favorite Anime

I can't believe this blog has been going for nearly 4 years, and I have barely scratched the subject of anime. Well that ends now! Here are my top 5 anime series of all time.

(If you don't know what anime is, start here, though odds are you've already seen it. Apparently, I was watching it as a kid and didn't even realize it.)

(For my top anime movies, please see the entire collected works of Hayao Miyazaki.)

#5 Samurai Champloo
Genre: Hip-hop historical fiction, samurais
Premise: Two rival master swordsmen are rescued from execution by a teahouse waitress, who makes them vow to help her find "the samurai who smells of sunflowers."
Why I like it: Awesome fight scenes, unique liberties taken with the Edo period, and hilarious banter between the two swordsmen.

#4 The Vision of Escaflowne
Genre: Science fantasy, mechas, dragons, steampunk future-telling devices
Premise: A girl gets transported to the magical world of Gaea, where she must use her psychic gifts to help a dispossessed prince fight off an evil empire.
Why I like it: Mechas, dragons, and clever questions on what it means to know and change the future.

#3 Neon Genesis: Evangelion
Genre: Science fiction, mechas, metaphysics
Premise: A teenager is recruited as an elite mecha pilot by his estranged father, to protect the Earth from a series of increasingly-deadly "angels."
Why I like it: Mechas and clandestine gov't organizations
Why it's not #1: Cuz the ending is weird, man. Really weird.

#2 Naruto
Genre: Fantasy, ninjas
Premise: A ninja orphan, shunned because of the monster that was sealed inside him at birth, is determined to become the greatest ninja in his village.
Why I like it: Ninjas, clever tactics and strategies, ninjas, like a hundred characters with backgrounds and motivations that matter, ninjas, ninjas, ninjas
Why it's not #1: Because it's at 477 episodes (and counting). About a third of those are filler.

#1 Cowboy Bebop
Genre: Science fiction
Premise: Spike and Jet travel the solar system, scraping a living as bounty hunters.
Why I like it: Witty banter, smart characters, mysterious pasts, a tight storyline from beginning to end, and one really smart corgi.

Keep in mind there are lots of series I haven't seen (Fullmetal Alchemist, for example, would probably be on this list, but I've still got over 20 episodes to go!).

What's your favorite anime? And if you don't have one, why aren't you watching Cowboy Bebop right now?

Things I Always Forget When I'm Plotting

I seem to always get stuck in the same places when I'm plotting. I'm good at figuring out my world and my set pieces, who fights whom, and who wins. But I often get stuck on the why. Why does any of this matter?

At the recommendation of Susan Quinn and others, I've been reading this book by Peter Dunne called Emotional Structure. And while Dunne exudes some arrogance, and crushes my geekery like so much broken glass,* he did remind me of some very important things to cover when plotting.

* He knocked down The Terminator because Arny's character never worried about the families of all the people he killed (Hi, um... Arny's a ROBOT . His amorality is kind of the point). He also said Superman lived in Gotham City, at which point I nearly threw the book away.

Yes, I know how childish that is. Shut up.

What does the protagonist WANT?
Without a goal, the novel is just a bunch of random stuff that happens, and nobody wants that.

What is the protagonist AFRAID OF?
Not like "spiders" or "heights" or "face-huggers." I mean, what is their deep secret that must not be exposed?

Of course, once you know these two, it's easy to play them against each other. Hiccup wants to learn the truth about dragons, but he's afraid his father will be ashamed of him. Po wants to learn kung fu, but he's afraid he doesn't have what it takes. Flint wants the town to like him, but he's afraid he's a failure as an inventor.

Those are simplifications, but you get the idea.

What does the character HAVE TO LEARN ABOUT THEMSELVES in order to overcome their fears and get what they want?
And this is the key, the one I always forget. Dunne makes an important distinction between plot (what happens) and story (the emotional context behind what happens). This is the MC's character arc.

When we talk about formulas like the hero's journey, we talk about the obstacles the protagonist fails against. But these aren't obstacles like 4 random skeletons. I mean, they could be, but only if those skeletons expose the MC's greatest fear at the same time.

See, when the MC fails, it's not because they lose a fight or get captured. It's because their weakness -- the thing they are most afraid of having exposed -- is what caused them to lose. Hiccup fails to tell his father the truth about his dragon. Po fails at every training exercise his master puts him through. Flint fails to turn his invention off before it destroys the town.

Until finally these failures lead to the climax, where things are as bad as they can get because of the MC's fears. And now the MC has to overcome their fear to make things right again.

Not that every story has this same formula, but it's one that works really well for me. How about you? What do you think?

Writer's Reference: Distance to the Horizon

[You've entered the Giveaway in Support of YA Asian Book Covers, right? Today might be your last chance! (Boy, I should've thought of a better name).]

How far is it to the horizon? How far away can you see an approaching object? This is something I come across in Air Pirates a lot, but it always takes multiple clicks and conversions to get at the simple formula I want. So, fully expecting mathematics to drive away half my audience, here it is (in both kilometers and miles):

So someone 5 and a half feet tall (1.7 meters) would see the horizon disappear about 3.1 miles (4.7 km) away.

Keep in mind:
  1. These are approximations. Don't be doing science with these numbers.
  2. These numbers only apply in clear weather.
  3. You could still see tall objects peeking over the horizon. More info on that below.

Measuring the distance to something over the horizon only requires one extra variable. When the top of the object first peeks over the horizon, you can figure out how far away it is like this:

Now if you wanted to figure out how far away an object is based on how much of it is peeking over the horizon . . . well, you're on your own. I love math and all, but I'd lose the other half of my audience if I did any more of it in public.

Boy, I hope at least one of you cares about this.