Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

Status of the Update

For those of you who don't read every single one of my Facebook posts (it's cool; even my wife doesn't read them), here's a quick rundown of what's going on and where.

I sent Ninjas off to my agent. You probably know this. She's still reading it, but I'm naively hoping she likes it and wants to start submitting like really, really soon. Cuz getting published (and paid) would be rad.

I went to California. I spoke at my church, had meals with a quarter bazillion people, played and occasionally acquired new games, and then spent a week at inXile HQ where...

I got promoted to Torment's Design Lead. That does not mean I'm in charge of the whole thing (thank God; Colin's still Creative Lead (making sure the story, characters, writing, etc. are awesome) and Kevin's still the Project Lead (making sure the game actually gets done)). It does mean I'm in charge of the game's rules, systems, interfaces, and other designy tidbits. It's pretty much the same stuff I was doing before, except with higher expectations and less ability to blame others when things go wrong. Should be fun.

I watched like 8 movies/shows on the plane trip back. And I have determined that Disney's The Lone Ranger is stupid. BBC's Sherlock, however, is intelligently awesome.

I got home. Wherein I've played a bunch of games with the boys, given out cheap American candy, seen Catching Fire with the wife, and done very little work (except the work of getting over jet lag, which is ongoing).

Tomorrow I plan to play Wasteland 2, write >= 500 words (I've lowered my standards, for reasons), and entertain a 3-year-old tyrant. Among other things.

What have you been up to?


7 More Things You Never Wanted to Know

A follow-up to this post.

8)
Cardboard people freak me out.

9)
Most days, I sit down at the piano to plunk out the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. Also, I cannot pull out my guitar without playing "The Ballad of Serenity" at least once.

10)
When I count things slowly, I always end up saying "two-WHOOO" like that owl from the Tootsie Roll commercial.

11)
In 6th grade, I spent an entire church service drawing the map of Bowser's Castle from Super Mario Bros 3.

12)
I have seen every single episode of So You Think You Can Dance.

13)
Surf Ninjas is awesome, and you cannot convince me otherwise.

14)
I am pathetic when I get sick. If my wife is to be believed (and she's very smart, so I do), I am so pathetic that it makes the times I wasn't sick seem even more pathetic than they were at the time. So basically, my patheticness transcends the space-time continuum.

Tell me something about you.

8 Things That Are True

1. There is only one flavor of Pop Tart.

2. Firefly is still on the air. Wash is fine.

3. No one's ever made a live-action version of Avatar. Also I am an Earth Bender.

4. Bacon is good for me.

5. Eventually, my logical, well-supported arguments will convince people I am right.

6. There are only three Star Wars movies, but they might be making a fourth (WE'LL SEE, ABRAMS).

7. Rivendell is real. It looks exactly like this. It's in New Zealand, and I will visit Elrond there someday.

8. All comments that deny these truths will be deleted.

What else is true?

When Is Piracy Okay?

It's been a while since we talked about piracy. I don't have anything new to say on the subject, but I thought we could have a little discussion starter. So first, a poll: When is it okay to pirate something?

The question is about ethics, not legality. The legality answer is easy and objective (for most countries, the answer is "never").


ANSWER DESCRIPTIONS:
1) Never. Self-explanatory, I think.

2) When there is no way to get it, even with money. For example, your favorite TV show is geo-blocked and is not available on iTunes. Netflix and Hulu are likewise geo-blocked. You couldn't pay for a copy even if you wanted to.

3) When there is no way to get it, except with a lot of money. The publisher of a book you want refuses to release an e-book version. You could get a paper copy, but within shipping it'll cost like $40. For one book.

4) When you've already paid for one version of it, but you want another version as well. You bought that TV show you want on iTunes, but you want a DVD so the kids can watch without tying up your computer.

5) When you could get a version of it, but it's not what you want. You don't actually want it on iTunes, since iTunes sucks on Windows and you'd rather watch it on your TV.

6) When you could get what you want, but the owner of the property is a money-grubbing corporate tool. Why pay for it when you can stick it to the man?

7) Whenever the heck you want. It's a free country. Also self-explanatory.

Feel free to elaborate your answer in the comments. It's a sticky issue, after all.

I'll be honest: I answered (2). We try very hard to lean toward NEVER (seeing as we are not, in fact, poor mountain villagers that eat only rice and chilis), but we also have a So You Think You Can Dance addiction that Fox won't let us feed :-(

The Reality of Time Travel

"Time travel is theoretically impossible, but I wouldn't want to give it up as a plot gimmick."

— Isaac Asimov


So. Back to the Future. You know, the scene in the third movie where Marty complains they can't get the time machine to 88 mph because they'll run into a movie theater, and Doc says, "You're not thinking 4th dimensionally, Marty! When you go back to 1885, none of this will be here."

It's clever, cuz see, even though you're traveling to a different time, you're still in the same place. So while there's a movie theater in 1955, it's all prairieland in 1885. Where a bridge is under construction, 100 years later it'll be finished and you can just sail across.

But if you think about it, that's ridiculously Earth-centric.

See, during the time you skip, the Earth will have moved. For one thing, it rotates constantly. California (where the movies take place) moves through space at about 700 mph. So unless you are arriving at the exact same time of day as you left, the Earth will have shifted underneath you.

Pic by JasonParis, cc
In the DeLorean's inaugural voyage, Ein would've crashed into a house 12 miles west of the mall.
Also the Earth is traveling around the sun at about 67,000 mph. So not only would you have to arrive at the exact same time of day, but also the exact same time of year (we won't talk about that quarter of a day that makes Leap Day). So Einstein would have appeared somewhere past the International Space Station.

"Was that . . . a DeLorean?"

But that's assuming the sun is our central reference point, which is just as arbitrary. Why not use the galactic center? Or the (impossible to define) center of the universe? By some measurements, Earth is shooting through the universe at over 1 million miles per hour.

Poor Ein would end up a tenth of the way to the moon. And that's just for traveling one minute in to the future. Marty's first jump would land him somewhere past Neptune. His final 100-year trip would shoot him out of the solar system entirely.

Don't get me wrong, I love time travel stories. But writing them gives me a headache.

Who's not thinking 4th dimensionally now, Doc?

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.

When Characters Are Too Safe

(Remix)

So, you're watching The Incredibles. You get to the part of the climax where the giant robot knocks Violet out and is about to crush her. Is it tense? Are you afraid Violet might die? Well, a little, but deep down you know that something will happen at the last second to save her. Why? Because she's safe. She's a major character -- and a child at that -- in a movie in which nobody has yet died on-screen.

For The Incredibles, that's no big deal. We don't need the added tension of "somebody might die." It's enough to wonder if they'll win, and how. But what if you want your reader to truly believe that anybody could die at any time, even the protagonist?

If you want the reader to believe that anything could happen, that the stakes are real, you need to build a reputation. Some authors spend multiple books building that reputation and carry it with them in every book they write, but you don't have to be a multi-published author to let the reader know that nobody is safe. All you have to do is kill safe characters in this book.

What makes a character safe? There are many contributing factors. How important are they? How likable? How innocent? The safer the reader believes them to be, the more tension is added when they die. Kill enough safe characters, and by the time the climax hits the reader will believe that nobody is safe.

A great example is Joss Whedon's Serenity (SPOILER WARNING; if you haven't seen it, skip to the last paragraph). Coming off a well-loved TV series, and with serious sequel potential, it was easy for me to believe that none of the main cast would die. Normally this would result in a final battle that -- like The Incredibles -- is totally fun but not very tense because I know everyone will be okay in the end. Then Joss goes and kills my favorite character.

When he did this -- in such a way that it was clear Wash was really, for real dead -- it made the rest of the battle more intense than any adventure film I can think of. Zoe gets slashed in the back, Kaylee gets hit by poison needles, Simon gets shot, and the whole time I really believe they could all die. And while I still think Mal is going to accomplish their goal, I'm fairly certain he's going to die in the process too. If Wash had lived, I wouldn't have felt any of that. (END SPOILER)


Today's tip, then: If you want the reader to believe the main character could die, kill a safe character or two before the climax. The safer, the better. Your reader might not like it, but maybe it's for their own good.

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.

Sincerely,
Another Fan

A Lesson on Color

Okay, I know I said we weren't supposed to hate on the haters about the whole Rue and racism thing. And I don't intend to hate, but there was one tweet in particular that, two months later, still nags at me:


So I guess "dark brown skin" is not the same as "all the way black." I'm not entirely certain what color palette they were using, but in the interest of teaching instead of hating, I'm going to give a color lesson.*

Presented here are people with varying skin color. For each image, I have taken both a light and dark average of their skin and placed it next to the colors implied by traditional skin color terms.


This is white:
These are the color averages of this girl's skin:


This is yellow:
These are the color averages of this guy's skin:


This is red:
These are the color averages of this guy's skin:


This is black:
These are the color averages of this girl's skin:

I know I'm not the first person to point out that "black" does not, cannot, literally mean black (shoot, even Drizzt is basically gray). But let's go back to the comment in question.

Rue's description in Hunger Games was "dark brown skin," which a number of people interpreted as meaning "brown but not black," and so were upset when Rue appeared in the movie as "black." Let's compare:


This is dark brown:
These are the color averages of Rue's skin:

So . . . Hollywood actually lightened Rue from her description in the book. Weird.

* If the person who tweeted that actually reads this, I do apologize for the semi-snarky way this is presented. Feel free to chew me out for hypocrisy.

A Common Query Problem (also Kung Fu Panda)

Disclaimer: The only query slush I read is on the internet, but there's a lot out here, and I read most of it. So don't knock it.

THE PROBLEM
Every query letter is different, but I've seen a lot lately with the same problems. It looks kinda like this:

Paragraph 1: Hook.
Paragraph 2: Innocent World.
Paragraph 3: Inciting Incident (often repeating the Hook).
All his life, Po wishes he could be a kung fu master, but he gets more than he bargained for when he's mistakenly named the legendary Dragon Warrior.

Po has spent his whole life in his father's noodle shop. Blah blah [his father's a goose] blah blah blah [Po plays with kung fu action figures] blah blah [he doesn't actually want to cook noodles] blah blah, etc.

Until the day it is announced that Master Oogway will decide who is to become the Dragon Warrior. [Po tries to get in to see it. Can't.] When Po crashes a slapped-together rocket chair in front of Master Oogway just in time to find the master's finger is pointing at him, his life is changed forever.
A few reasons why this doesn't work:
  1. The hook is repeated and redundant.*
  2. The reader is forced back in time at the beginning of paragraph 2.
  3. Paragraph 2 is setup and backstory. There is no plot.
  4. The query stops before it tells us the meat of the story.
  5. There is no difficult choice for the MC and, therefore, no stakes.

A BETTER WAY
What you want to do with your query is more like this:

Paragraph 1: Hook, Innocent World, AND Inciting Incident.
Paragraph 2: The struggles that occur as a result, leading up to...
Paragraph 3: The Sadistic Choice

Obviously the three paragraphs are just a guideline (mine had four; your story might do it in two). The point is to start with your inciting incident and end with your sadistic choice. A compelling choice is what will make agents want to read more.

Let's look at Po again:
All his life, Po wishes he could be a kung fu master instead of making noodles, but he gets more than he bargained for when Master Oogway names him the legendary Dragon Warrior by mistake.
(See? The inciting incident IS your hook, and you don't need to spend more than a few words on the innocent world. Now the rest of the query is free to talk about what agents really want to know: the story. Moving on.)
Unfortunately, Po suffers from weight and incompetence problems. The Furious Five mock him, and Master Shifu is trying to get rid of him. Even so, Po is determined to learn everything he can, and his refusal to give up eventually earns the respect of the Five, even if his kung fu skills do not.

Master Shifu receives word that the powerful Tai Lung has escaped from prison and is on his way to seek his revenge. He runs to Master Oogway, the only master who has ever beaten Tai Lung, but Oogway insists Po is the one who will defeat Tai Lung. When Oogway passes away, Po must decide if he will risk his life based on the ramblings of an old man, or if he should run away, risking the destruction of the entire valley.
It still needs work of course (query letters are hard, guys), but hopefully you get the idea. Start with the inciting incident, end with the sadistic choice, then connect the dots (all the while being specific and skipping everything that isn't necessary for the agent to understand the weight of the choice -- hey, I said it was hard).

What do you think? Is this helpful? How would you handle things differently?

* The concept of a "hook" paragraph comes from query help sites like this one. It's a sound idea, but often misunderstood.

Who's Your Favorite Villain?

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

FIRE PRINCE ZUKO

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?

Why Book-to-Movie Adaptations Are So Freaking Hard

  1. Because you're squishing a whole novel -- which, if adapted scene-for-scene would be about 4-8 hours -- into a tiny, tiny 2-hour box.
  2. Because you're turning words that can describe anything into pure sight and sound. If the characters don't say it or do it on-screen, it never happened.
  3. Because you're taking the individual interpretations of thousands of readers and saying, "No, actually, this is what it was like."
All of which guarantees somebody will be unhappy. Honestly, I'm shocked whenever an adaptation is actually good.

Although admittedly, sometimes even a really bad adaptation can get me to read the book.

What's your favorite book-to-movie adaptation? What's your least favorite?

Other than Lord of the Rings (which was nigh-PERFECT), I thought they did a good job with Watchmen. Yeah, they took away Adrian's self-doubt at the end, but I liked how Adrian framed Manhattan instead of a random alien. It was the first time I thought an adaptation actually improved on the source.

How Pirates Are Born

(Again, because I actually write about pirates, I have to specify that I'm talking about the lame kind of piracy today, not the swashbuckling kind. I will, however, use the swashbuckling kind to make my point.)

Before I get into this, understand I am generally against piracy. This is not a post about why piracy is okay. This is a post about why it happens, and what can (and cannot) be done about it.

So, say media producers -- Random House, NBC, Nickelodeon, Blizzard Entertainment, etc. -- are the governor, and their media is their smart, beautiful, confident daughter. Like any father, the governor wants his daughter to marry the right man, and he'd rather not have to pay a pirate's ransom to do it.

Consumers, then, generally fall into three categories: pirates, commodores, and Will Turner.


THE PIRATES
Real pirates don't actually care about the governor's daughter. They just want the ransom. The governor goes to great lengths to protect his daughter from these ruffians -- sometimes even making life more difficult for law-abiding citizens -- but in the end, if Captain Jack Sparrow really wants to kidnap and ransom her, he will.

These are the guys who will always rip off your media and distribute it for free (sometimes even if it's free already!). It doesn't matter what DRM or geo-blocking you put up, or where you release it, they can and will get their hands on it. These are the guys that make DRM almost worthless.

Fortunately, they represent a very small percentage of Actual People. Also fortunate: because they're never going to pay for your stuff anyway, they don't count as lost sales. That means media producers can effectively ignore them. Seriously, your daughter is fine, just pay the ransom and move on.


THE COMMODORES
Of course the governor wants his daughter to marry the commodore. He's wealthy, has a good title, and most importantly, he always obeys the law.

It's the same in the media world; the commodores will always obey the law and terms of service you provide. They don't know what torrents or VPN services are, and they don't want to know.

Unfortunately, like real pirates, commodores represent a very small percentage of the population.


WILL TURNER
Will is a really nice guy. He's honest, strong, he works hard, and he hates pirates.

At least, he used to hate pirates, until the governor's daughter disappeared. When he asked the governor about it, the governor just shrugged and shook his head. So Will did the only thing he could do: he turned to the real pirates for help.

I think media producers would like to believe that most people are either pirates or commodores. Unfortunately, that's not true. Most people -- I'm thinking 80% or more -- are Will Turner. We don't like pirates. We don't want to be pirates. But at the same time, we really, really love the governor's daughter, and we'll do anything to see her.

If the media Will wants is available for a reasonable price, then he doesn't have a problem. But when his favorite TV show is geo-blocked, or the eBook costs more than the paperback, or the movie isn't released in his country, it forces Will to choose between the governor's daughter and the obscure ethics of copyright infringment.

And since Will is just a humble blacksmith, and there are a lot of fancy words in those terms of service, he usually ends up infringing.


SOLUTIONS
Once someone pirates one thing, the ethics get fuzzier. The software is still on his computer, and downloading twenty movies is as easy as one. Will's unlikely to turn into a full-blown pirate (since that requires some savvy), but he probably won't see things the same as the commodore again.

What can media producers do? Provide the same service as the pirates, or better.

One of the most common reasons for digital media to be blocked from certain countries is a fear of piracy. "You can't release in Russia! You're just asking to be pirated!"

As game developer Gabe Newell discovered, that is ridiculous. The real pirates are masters of distribution. What you geo-blocked for US only, they have released to the world. Yesterday. When you don't release something in a foreign territory, you are only removing the pirates' competition.

But the pirates are not hurting your sales. What hurts sales is when Will Turner goes to your website or walks into the store looking for a legal copy and is told he can't have it because he lives in Russia or Thailand or Canada (seriously, guys, you're geo-blocking Canada?).

Will Turner (points at self) is your fan. He's willing to sit through commercials or pay a small fee to consume your work legally. Will wants to support you, but you have to give him the option!

When you force people to choose between pirating a show or not watching it at all, many will choose piracy. Your terms of service just aren't as attractive.

The Thing about Rue and Racism

So, a little background. The Hunger Games movie came out. In it, Rue was black. Some people were shocked, confused, and even upset.

Others, understandably so, were shocked and upset at the people who didn't realize Rue was black. It says so on pp. 45 and 98 of the hardcover edition:
[p. 45] ...a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she's very like Prim in size and demeanor.
[p. 98] ...the twelve-year-old, the one who reminded me so of Prim in stature. ...She has bright, dark eyes, and satiny brown skin...
So, clearly, the first group was wrong. Rue is black in the book, and rightly so in the movie. To be upset about it (or to say it "ruined the movie," as at least one tweeter said) is not only ridiculous, but wholly and completely racist.

I have a confession, though: When I read the books, I thought Rue was white too.

Is that racist? It's certainly indicative of the white, privileged way I was brought up. People tend to visualize characters as like themselves, and none more than the privileged classes.*

Maybe I'm a bad reader. I do tend to skim descriptions a lot, especially if they aren't critical to the plot (e.g. Rue's skin color never affects plots events or Katniss' feelings for her, as opposed to say White Cat, in which the MC's skin color is part of a minor con toward the end).

But racist or not, when I saw that Rue was black, I didn't go, "What? That's ridiculous!" Instead, I thought, "Oh. How did I miss that in the book?"

This is part of how racism is solved, I think. I went back to the book and discovered I had skimmed over the "brown skin" part in favor of the part where Rue was "like Prim," thus making her like Prim in my head. Whether that was racist or not, I know to pay more attention in the future.

I learned.

And here's the thing, all those people who tweeted their racist anger can learn too. Even though I understand how they missed the cue, I was pissed at the horrible things they said. But getting pissed doesn't solve anything.

At the end of the article, it mentions that most of those people have shut down their Twitter accounts or made them private. I assume I wasn't the only one pissed at them. I do hope they can see past the hate they received and learn from it, but I fear they won't.

Because people don't listen to words spat in hate. They just don't. If we want to fix racism, we do need to point these things out, but we need to keep our anger in check. If we don't, then we're as much a part of the problem as they are.

Racism isn't killing us. Hate is.

What do you think? How does this make you feel, and what can we do about it?

* For the record, I think the fact I missed Rue's skin color is racist in the subtle, subconscious sense. While I hope we solve that level of racism someday, I'm more interested in solving the part where people turn into seething rageballs of hate.

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?

5 Things I Love About Chiang Mai

Moving out here wasn't easy. There are a lot of things I miss like the ocean, TV shows I can understand, average temperatures below 80 degrees . . .

But this is about the things I love.

1. The Old City
Chiang Mai has a moat, guys. I mean, yeah, it's got fountains in it, and it's basically one giant traffic circle now, but still. A. MOAT. The remains of the wall are pretty freaking cool too.



2. Rainy Season
You may recall that I love rainy days. Well the rainy season here lasts for like 7-8 months. LOVE!



3. Motorbikes
Best way to travel (except when it's raining of course). And you'd be surprised how much you can fit on one of these.



4. High Volume, Late Night Karaoke Bars

4. Loi Kratong (and other assorted holidays)
You know those lanterns from Tangled? Disney stole them (granted, so did I). The real things (a) don't float a few feet above the water (they keep going up -- basic physics, guys) and (b) are way more awe-inspiring.


We also have Songkran, the Thai New Year, in which 65 million people engage in a three-day long, nationwide water fight.



5. Western Stuff
Chiang Mai is among Thailand's major tourist destinations and is also home to a surprisingly large number of Western missionaries. Consequently, there's a lot of Western stuff here, for which I am grateful. Hamburgers, pasta, pizza, even good Mexican food can be found if you know where to look. (Not that I don't love Thai food, but sometimes I get a little sick of rice, aye?).

And thank God Thailand has a taste for Western sci-fi/action movies! It means that although I haven't heard of a single non-animated Oscar nominee, I still get to see Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and all the Marvel movies. Even better, the lines for tickets are short and, because you choose your seat when you buy your ticket, there are no lines to get in the theater at all.

 These people are not in Thailand (actually I think they're in Rome, but you get the idea).

Seriously, American Movie Theaters. Lines. What's up with that?

Prequels, Problems With

Prequels are not always bad. Just want to throw that out there. But in general, when I hear a new book or movie is a prequel, I'm immediately less interested than I could be. Why?
  1. Because sometimes the prequel is not the story I want to know more about. The original was. Example: Phantom Menace. (I really, really, really don't care that Anakin built C-3P0, even if you could solve all the plot holes that represents.)
  2. Because sometimes the questions raised in the original are best left unanswered. Example: Phantom Menace. (Midi-chlorians. Nuff said.)
  3. Because the prequel's story often ends near the inciting incident of the original -- usually an unsatisfying place to end. Example: Phantom Menace. (I know Anakin is Obi-Wan's apprentice. I know he becomes a great Jedi then betrays Obi-Wan. I know he's corrupted by the Emperor. This is not the cliffhanger you're looking for.)
Maybe the prequel's should've started here instead.


I don't intend to ever write a prequel, but if I did, I would ask myself the following questions:
  • Is this a story I would want to tell, even if I'd never made the original? Example: X-Men: First Class. I don't know about you, but for me, the relationship between Magneto and Xavier has always been one of the main draws to the X-Men story.
  • Does this story answer questions that need to be answered? Better yet, is it about separate events entirely? Example: Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom. Yes, this was a prequel (having occurred before the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark). It might not have been as good as the other two, but it didn't try to answer stupid questions like: "Where did Indiana get his whip and fedora?" *
  • Could this story stand alone without the original? Would it be satisfying? Example: Captain America. Technically a prequel (having occurred before the events of Iron Man and directly leading to the upcoming Avengers movie), but pretty dang satisfying on its own. (Except for the fact that he probably could've avoided getting frozen in ice).

So, prequels. What do you think makes a good one? What else is wrong with Phantom Menace?

* The Last Crusade did answer those questions, but because it was a flashback, and related to the rest of the story, I was cool with it. What I didn't want was an entire movie with River Phoenix Indy.

What Are Your 5 Worst Movies?

Disclaimer the First, when I say worst movies, I don't mean B-movies or movies that are so bad they're good. For example: Army of Darkness, B-movie that revels in its B-ness. Surf Ninjas, so bad it's hilarious (my family still watches it). My "worst movies," on the other hand, are those I would rather didn't exist.

Disclaimer the Second, I can only talk about movies I've seen. There are a lot of movies I've heard are bad, but if I haven't seen them, I can't rank them. I guess my life is richer for that?

Disclaimer the Third, this is just my opinion. Get over it.


#5) Dungeons & Dragons

I don't remember much about this movie (which already says something), but I do remember thinking the story was confusing, the acting was weird, and Beholders -- one of the most terrifying creatures in the D&D world -- were leashed and used like watchdogs. Lame.


#4) On Deadly Ground

With the exception of Under Siege, I am not a fan of Steven Seagal. He's his own Mary Sue. In On Deadly Ground, in particular, he never takes a single hit or is in danger of losing at any time. He's awesome in a pretentious, cocky way (so: not awesome). Combine that with an Eskimo peyote trip, a super-preachy message, and the fact that he "saves" the environment by blowing up an oil rig, and you can see why this made my list.


#3) Battlefield: Earth

I like John Travolta, and I really wanted to like this. But the costumes were weird, the acting ridiculous, and the plot filled with more holes than my socks (the cavemen beat the world-dominating aliens with Harrier jets, that they found lying around in a base and learned to fly in a week).


#2) Avatar: The Last Airbender

It's really hard for me to judge this apart from the series. I know that's unfair to the movie, but then the movie was unfair to me, so I guess we're even. I've talked about what's wrong with this movie before. Now let's never speak of it again.


#1) Highlander II: The Quickening

This movie is so bad it actually makes its prequel (which I liked) worse by its very existence. It took a decent premise (there are immortals who wander the Earth trying to kill each other) and destroyed it (the immortals are alien exiles from another planet; the winner gets to choose whether to live their life out on Earth or return to "Zeist"). Then they punched holes in the plot they just revealed (the winner already chose to live out his life on Earth, but the ruler of Zeist was scared of him still so he sent people to kill him) and invalidated their already laughable premise (the winner kills those sent after him and . . . becomes immortal again?).

As if that weren't enough, they inexplicably brought back Sean Connery's character. That should be okay (it is Sean Connery), but they brought him back and then killed him again for no reason. (Which, by the way, is also something we've talked about).

All right, your turn. What are some of the worst movies you've ever seen?

Patching e-books

Apparently, Amazon has been wirelessly updating error-ridden books, and it raises the obvious question: Should e-book patching even be a thing?

I'm torn. I mean, technology-wise, I think this is great, though I can see the potential abuses all too clearly.

Patching is not a new thing. Computer games have been doing it even longer than George Lucas.* Even print books get the occasional story-tweaking revision. So let's not pretend this is some new, infuriating thing that Big Publishing is doing to us. The difference now, though, is that eBooks can be patched immediately -- even automatically without the user's consent.

I'm going to say auto-patching is a Bad Idea because of Potential Abuse #1: Tweaking the story. Imagine a writer with Lucas Syndrome, endlessly fiddling with his masterpiece. You're halfway through his novel when a character references something that never happened -- except it did happen, in the revised version that got pushed to your device after you started reading.

Even without auto-patching, I fear this abuse. We'd all be arguing over whether Han or Greedo shot first, only to find out we were reading different versions.

Computer games show us Potential Abuse #2: Publishing the novel before it's done. In November, 1999, me and my fellow game developers were working 80+ hours/week to get our game finished before Christmas. We were close, but it was buggy -- critical cutscenes didn't play, others crashed the game, memory leaks made the game unplayable after an hour or so, important characters would kill the player for no reason, etc.

It sounds unplayable, and for some people it was, but they released it anyway. If we brought up a bug at status meetings, we were invariably told, "We'll fix that in the patch."

Don't get me wrong, we made a dang good game, but if you play it without that patch, I pity you. And I fear a world where authors release rough drafts of a novel for quick sales, knowing they can always "fix it in a patch."

That said, I think abuse would be the exception. I think most authors, if they updated their novels at all, would only make small changes. I say that because most film directors don't make controversial changes every time a new video format is released. Most game developers release playable games, using patches for bugs they couldn't have foreseen.

If it actually works that way, it could give e-books more value. We all know the things e-books can't do (can't loan, can't resell, DRM, etc), but print books can't be updated to make themselves better. You'd have to buy another copy for that. Mostly, I think this would be a good thing.

What do you think?


* Apparently, the term 'patching' is from the old punch-card days of computers, when a bug fix had to be literally patched onto the cards.

On Endings

(Remix)

While writing your story, you are making certain promises to your reader. Some of those promises are inherent in the genre you're writing: if you're writing a murder mystery, you promise the reader will learn who did it and why; if it's a romance, you promise the right people will get together in the end. (Mostly. You can break these rules, but you should know what you're doing first).

But genre aside, every story makes promises, and it's your job to give the reader what they want. That doesn't mean you have to be predictable, but throw in the wrong kind of twist and your reader will toss your book across the room in frustration.

Let's look at an example. Halfway through Back to the Future, everything's set up for a big climax. The two major conflicts (will Marty get back to the future? can he get his parents together so he still exists when he gets there?) are set up so that Marty's only chance at both is at the same time: the night of the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. How does this have to end? You might think there are a thousand ways it could end--after all, anything's possible--but the truth is that the viewer is expecting a very limited subset of what is possible.

In BttF, the viewer expects Marty to get home and his parents to get together. Why? Because it's a light-hearted, funny movie. From the very beginning, the movie sends subtle clues that this will be a fun story, which implies a happy ending. There are a number of twists that can happen, but if Marty dies in the end, or gets stuck in the past forever, the viewer will be upset.

BttF also sent signals about what kind of climax it would be. Because there are action scenes (the Libyans attacking Doc Brown, Biff and his goons chasing Marty), the reader expects not just similar, but bigger, action for the climax. Because the movie is funny, we expect a little comic relief from the climax (or at least aren't blind-sided when it happens).

There's more. Marty's dad didn't have to become confident, did he? Could Marty have gone home and found everything exactly as he left it--loser parents and all? He probably could have, but we're all glad he didn't. The viewer expects the characters they care about will not only win, but win big (or, if it's a tragedy, lose big). It's not enough for George McFly to get the right girl, he has to become more than he was before Marty interfered. Marty doesn't just come back home, he comes back to something better (a new truck, Doc Brown lives and is a closer friend to him than ever).

Not all endings have to be happy and predictable, but they have to be satisfying. They have to be bigger and better than anything that's happened in the book so far. If you twist it, the twist should be better than the straight-forward ending would have been--don't twist just to be unpredictable.

Ask yourself, what has to happen in the end? Twists and details aside, where do the characters have to end up for me to be satisfied? That's where the ending needs to go.