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

Tropes vs. Cliches

A trope (in a story sense) is any plot, character, setting, device, or pattern that we recognize as such. It's kind of everything, from the unassuming farm boy to the rebellion against an oppressive government to the wise mentor to the chase scene in which the car smashes through a pane of glass being carried across the street.

Tropes are what make stories run. A story is not good or bad based on whether or not it has tropes. ALL STORIES HAVE TROPES. A story is good or bad based on how those tropes are used.

What we like about tropes is familiarity ("Yay, ninjas!"), excitement ("Oo, the hero's going to get all awesome on the badguys!"), and especially when our favorite tropes are twisted in interesting ways ("I did NOT see that coming").

What we don't like is when tropes are predictable to the point of boredom. That's when a trope becomes a cliche.

Now, cliches are subjective. What's old and tired to you may be brand new to someone else, or it might be someone's favorite trope--they don't care HOW much it's been done; they love it every time. So how do you keep your stories from slipping past trope into cliche? Here are a few ideas:
  1. Be trope-savvy. One of the things I loved about Avatar: The Last Airbender was how it was always aware of its own tropes. Sokka knew he was the comic guy, the plan guy, the boomerang guy, or "the guy in the group that was normal." They knew they were being silly (and yet a little bit serious) when they came up with a name for their group or for the bounty hunter Zuko sent after them.* It worked because they showed you they were aware of their tropes, through action and dialog.
  2. Subvert the tropes. I thought Megamind was fantastic because even though it used all the superhero tropes, it never played them straight. It took one of the oldest tropes (villain captures girl, threatens hero, hero outsmarts villain), showed they were trope savvy (girl mocks villain's threats as cliche), then twisted it (villain kills hero?!). And that was where the movie started. That sort of thing kept me guessing the whole time, even though I knew the ultimate end.
  3. Don't bother. Seriously, the subjectiveness of cliches is one of the reasons you can't please everybody. One completely viable method of dealing with this is to not even try. Use the tropes you love, put them together in ways you think are awesome, then find the people who agree with you.
What do you think? How can we use the same old tropes (there are no new ones) while avoiding cliche? When have you seen it done well?

* And the fact they never tell you his real name proves even more they know the tropes they're playing with:
Sokka: Wait, YOU sent Combustion Man after us?
Zuko: Well, that's not his name, but--
Sokka: Oh, sorry. Didn't mean to insult your friend!

So You Want to be a Geek

Fine, nobody wants to be a geek, except those of us who are already geeks and need a way to feel proud about that (God bless you, Internet, for giving us that way!). But maybe you want to hang out with geeks? Understand what's going on at Comic Con? Date a geek?

Stop laughing. It happens.

Consider this an unofficial, non-exhaustive primer on the things you should know to understand the geek world...or at least to be able to visit our world without falling asleep or cringing all the time.

Please understand that the term "geek" is very broad (and yet completely distinct from "nerd"--we'll have that conversation later). The following list will help you with the most common breed: the sci-fi/fantasy geek. Although geek types frequently overlap, this list will not be as helpful with computer geeks, techno-geeks, math geeks, physics-and-other-hard-science geeks, history geeks, or any other form of "useful" geekery.

1. Watch the original Star Wars trilogy. Original theater edition is preferable, if you can find it.
         a) Although you are not required to have an opinion on the matter, know what it means that Han shot first.

2. Familiarize yourself with some form of Star Trek. Preferably TOS (the Original Series) or TNG (the Next Generation).
         a) You are not required to watch more than one episode or movie, but you should be able to recognize (by name or face) at least 3 crew members.
         b) Watching the new Star Trek movie is acceptable (because it's awesome), but assume that conversations about Kirk, Spock, etc. are speaking of the original series, unless otherwise specified. If you, for example, say, "Spock and Uhura are so hot together" without specifying the context, you will be known for a fraud.
         c) Actually, just avoid stating opinions in general.

3. Know your comic book superheroes:
         a) The origin stories of Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man.
         b) The identifying powers/features of the aforementioned superheroes, as well as: Wolverine, Cyclops, the Incredible Hulk, Punisher, each of the Fantastic Four.
         c) Although you should see Nolan's new Batman movies (again: awesome), do not assume the original Batman ever trained as a ninja. Though he should have.

4. Watch or read the entirety of LORD OF THE RINGS. Reading is preferable but, dude, it's 1,000+ pages. We understand.

5. Watch every episode of Firefly. (NOTE: This may no longer be relevant in 5-10 years, but for today's geek it is a necessity).

6. Know what anime is.
         a) Know the difference between "anime" (Japanese animation, which includes many different styles) and "anime-style" (non-Japanese animation that looks like it).
         b) Know the difference between dubbed and subbed.
         c) Never, under any circumstances, assume or imply that because something is animated, it is for children.

7. Watch one or more of the following, preferably subbed:
         a) Neon Genesis: Evangelion
         b) Vision of Escaflowne
         c) Cowboy Bebop
         d) Naruto (one season is acceptable)
         e) Dragonball Z (the cartoon, not the live action movie; one season is acceptable)
         f) Any film by Hayao Miyazaki (e.g. Laputa, Nausicaa, Porco Rosso, My Neighbor Totoro, etc.)
         g) Avatar: the Last Airbender (this is not anime, but I think it counts)

8. Play one of the following RPGs for at least one hour:
         a) Dungeons & Dragons
         b) World of Warcraft
         c) Any Final Fantasy game

9. Know the following terms:
         a) Saving throw
         b) Red shirt (from Star Trek)
         c) Orc
         d) d20
         e) Klingon
         f) Mech or Mecha
         g) Skynet
         h) XP
         i) Grok
         j) Holodeck

10. Memorize some obscure piece of trivia related to any of previous items. Example: "Did you know Neil Gaiman wrote the English dialog for Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke?" (true story).

I know that seems like a lot of work, but nobody said being a geek (even an honorary one) was easy.

Also understand there are many, MANY things that could adequately replace items on this list. If my fellow geeks were to make similar lists, they would all be different and would include things even I'm not familiar with.

So to you: Do you know everything on this list? What would you add/replace for someone who wanted to understand the geek world?

How to Write a Terrible Sequel

Brought to you by 17 years of Disney direct-to-video animated sequels.

LOWER THE STAKES. Make the conflict less important and less exciting than the original. Like in Cinderella 2, in which Cinderella stresses about throwing the perfect party for her new father, the king. Wonderful!

CREATE CONFLICT OUT OF NOWHERE. Conflict should never arise naturally from the original's conclusion. It should appear as though you made it up on the spot, just so you could have something to write about. Like in Kronk's New Groove, where Kronk wants to impress his father who was never proud of him--a conflict and character not even hinted at in the original.

INTRODUCE A WHOLE NEW SET OF CHARACTERS WHO FOLLOW THE SAME EMOTIONAL ARC AS THE ORIGINAL ONES. That way you avoid TWO common pitfalls: giving the audience more time with the characters they love AND giving them a unique story as interesting as the first.

Do it like they did in Little Mermaid 2. Ariel('s daughter) desperately wants to be a mermaid instead of a human (see what they did there?), so Ursula('s sister) tricks her into a deal to get her hands on Triton's trident. They even replaced Sebastian and Scuttle with a comic relief penguin and walrus. Genius!

TURN A PREVIOUSLY SYMPATHETIC CHARACTER INTO SOMEONE THE AUDIENCE HATES. In the original Mulan, Mushu is the victim, mocked and despised by Mulan's ancestors until he can prove himself by aiding Mulan in her quest. But in Mulan 2, the writers gave us an unexpected twist. Mushu is now the taunter, treating the ancestors like his servants. When he discovers that Mulan's upcoming marriage will mean he doesn't get pampered anymore, he tries to break them up. How can you not love that?

And a bonus method, brought to you by midi-chlorians and the planet Zeist:

IF THERE WAS A MYSTERY IN THE ORIGINAL, PROVIDE AN EXPLANATION THAT IS LAMER THAN ANYTHING THE READER COULD'VE COME UP WITH THEMSELVES. This is the crowning achievement of a terrible sequel: when it is so bad, that it makes the original suck even more just by being made. Where the reader has to pretend the sequel never happened in order to enjoy the original again.

If you can do that, you no longer need my help.

Five Things I Love

I don't remember where I got this meme, but here it is. You may see it again in the future.

Also, you may notice there's a poll in the upper-right corner (some of you will have to click through to see it). I'm thinking of doing polls this way every once in a while, but probably not if nobody's voting. It's up to you guys.

Anyway, 5 things I love:


Rainy Days


Deep Fried . . . Whatever


Dear Hollywood: Asians are Cool

Dear Hollywood,

It has come to my attention that a live-action version of Akira is being made (YAY!) starring white actors (BOO!).

Look, I don't have anything against white actors. I love them. But if you're going to adapt one of the most well-known (in America) anime movies of the past 20 years, AND you're going to give the characters Japanese names, shouldn't they also LOOK Japanese?

Now, I didn't say anything when you made Dragonball, and I had different problems with The Last Airbender. But this is getting ridiculous. From 2000-09, you released like 1,000 movies. Of those, 13 had Asian leads. There are 13.8 million Asian Americans in the US, and over half of those live in your state. I know they're not all computer programmers. Surely some of them are actors?

My friend Emmet asked me, quite appropriately, "Aside from Jet Li and Rain (Ninja Assassin), who would you have cast in Akira?"

My first answer was I didn't know. And I didn't know because YOU NEVER CAST ANY, HOLLYWOOD. Google wasn't a lot of help either (fair or not, I blame you again for that), but I managed to find/remember a few.

So here are some Asian American actors for you to cast in lead roles. If not in Akira, how about Ghost in the Shell, Escaflowne, or Evangelion? You know you're going to remake those eventually!

John Cho, most recently appeared as Sulu in the new Star Trek.

Sung Kang, appeared in Fast & Furious and War.

Ken Leung, appeared in Lost and X-Men 3.

Dante Basco, best known as the voice of Zuko on the good version of the Last Airbender, but I saw Take the Lead. He can act too.

And even though he's not American, I'd like to suggest Ken Watanabe for all your older Asian role needs. Because basically, I can't get enough of this guy.

So come on, Hollywood. Asians are cool! Can you please stop pretending America doesn't have any?

Your friend (for now),
Adam Heine

PS: These are just a few examples. I'm sure my friends will have more suggestions for you in the comments.

PPS: It's not directly related, but Keanu Reeves as Spike? Seriously?

The Dragon was the Best Part

It's important to choose your protagonist carefully. In general, they should be the character whose choices and actions move the plot forward. If the protagonist is also the narrator, they should be present for most, if not all, of the key events.

Sleeping Beauty, for example, is not the best choice. She doesn't make a lot of decisions, and she misses all the good parts. Pretty much her whole story is like this:

Sleeping Beauty (from Aurora's Point of View)

I was born today. Don't remember much. I think Mommy was there, some scary people, and -- Oo! Sparkly!

[Time passes.]

So after 16 years of being sheltered by my godmothers, I finally met somebody. And he's HOT! I can't wait to tell the old girls I'm getting married and they don't have to take care of me anymore. Wonder if Sir Hotty will let me talk to other people...

Okay, so my godmothers have been lying to me for, like, ever. I can't marry Hotty McHandsome cuz I'm already engaged. Screw that, I'm outta here.

Hey, a needle. OW!

Not sure what happened. I ran away, cut my finger, and then...Sir Hotty was making out with me? (Still don't know his name, btw). Turns out I was engaged to him the whole time. Oh well, works for me.

Spoiler Camps

There are two extremes when it comes to thinking about spoilers. On one side, there is the ALL SPOILERS ARE BAD camp. These folks seem to believe that once a story is spoiled, it's not worth experiencing. I once saw a Facebook comment that said, "Any Ender's Game film will be a disappointment--imagine watching The Sixth Sense if you'd read the book first!"

I can't agree with that extreme. I'd love to see an Ender's Game movie, even knowing how it ends.

The other camp says THERE ARE NO SPOILERS. In Stephen King's words, "You might as well say 'I'm never gonna watch Wizard of Oz again because I know how it turns out.'"

It's a good point, after all we re-watch movies and re-read books all the time. But the first time you saw Wizard of Oz you didn't know how it would turn out. And I think a lot of the reason we revisit stories we love is to re-feel what we felt that first time.

Obviously I fall in between these camps. I think experiencing a story spoiler-free increases the emotional impact. The second and third viewings not only remind us of that impact, but also free us to see more in the story than we saw the first time -- clues we didn't catch, subtle hints that show the author knew what they were doing the whole time.

Spoiling a movie essentially skips that first viewing. We are half experiencing it for the first time and half watching for the clues that hint at the twist. But the emotional impact is gone because we know it's coming. At least that's what I think.

So I believe there are spoilers, but just because you've seen a movie before (or read the book) does not "spoil" it the second time.

I suspect most of us fall in between the camps, but I don't know. So where do you stand on spoilers? Have you ever had a book or movie ruined by spoilers (or the opposite: heard spoilers but still loved the story)?

The Problem with the Gun on the Mantle

"One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it."
-- Anton Chekhov

This is good advice. By putting a loaded gun on stage (or on the mantle, in the other version of this quote), you are making a promise to the reader. If that gun doesn't go off, it's not only wasting words but it's kind of a let down. If a storm is brewing, it better hit by the end. If there are embarrassing secrets, their keepers must be embarrassed!

But there's a problem: if the gun always goes off, then as soon as it's introduced, the reader knows what will happen.

I noticed this while reading Duma Key by Stephen King. There's some early foreshadowing that basically told me how it would end and drained some of the tension. I respect Stephen King, so I won't spoil his novel by using it as an example. Instead, I'll spoil Avatar.

Jake learns the ways of the Na'vi -- a super tall, blue-skinned race of nature-loving aliens. One of their rites of passage is to bond with a predatory bird they use for transportation and war, which Jake does. But he's almost taken down by an even bigger predator called the Turok.

Jake's girlfriend tells him the Turok is the biggest predator on the planet. "It has only been tamed five times in our history," she says. "Those riders became legends. They brought all the tribes together, bringing peace to the world."

Gun. Mantle. You don't have to see the movie to know what they do with it. Foreshadowing is good, and Chekhov was right about using all the elements you put on stage. But if you're not careful, it becomes obvious and predictable.*

The trick? One trick is to be subtle. Subtle foreshadowing is the stuff you don't realize was there until after the gun goes off, then you're all, "Holy crap, it was there the whole time!"

Another trick is to foreshadow things so that the reader has to know how it happens. The Turok wasn't interesting because we knew the result: Jake would prove himself legend, bring the tribes together, and use their combined might to fight the humans. Contrast that with the other Avatar: the final showdown between Aang and Ozai is forecasted from episode 1, but you have to see it because (a) Ozai has to be killed and (b) Aang doesn't kill anybody.

If you must foreshadow plainly, then twist what the reader expects. The gun goes off, but it backfires on the shooter. Jake fails to bond with the Turok, but his girlfriend rescues him and she becomes the legendary rider.**

Like anything in writing, be intentional. Keep your promises to the reader, but don't stick to the letter of the promise. A predictable climax can be just as bad as a gun that doesn't go off.

* My only real complaint with Avatar was its predictability -- there was a lot more than just the Turok.

** Then the movie might not have been so much like this 20-second summary.

What's Wrong With The Last Airbender

I don't do movie reviews very often -- or rants for that matter. But I'm so sad. I have to get this out so I can go on pretending this movie never happened.

My family and I ADORE the cartoon of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It felt kiddish at first, but I fell in love with the characters and the fantastic action sequences. I was hooked by the third episode. During the final four episodes I literally sat on the edge of my seat, shushing anyone who spoke.

So. You know where I'm coming from.

I took my older daughters to see the movie because, even though I knew the reviews it got, it was something we enjoyed together and I really wanted them to see the story in Thai. For the record, they liked it (though they both wanted to see Eclipse, so...).

I will grant the movie these two things: (1) the sets were beautiful and spot-on faithful to the series and (2) for a movie accused of whitewashing, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of Asian and Indian actors involved. But that's it. Be warned there are spoilers below. Usually I don't spoil, but then usually I'm talking about media I want you to enjoy as much as I did. For this, I just don't care.

The pacing was awful. It felt like all the best, most emotional moments of the TV show were included, but stripped of any context that would make them emotional. Everything happened so fast, there was no time for any real character arcs.

Bending was boring. In the cartoon, bending the elements was a natural extension of kung fu. When a bender struck with his fist, fire shot out. When he drew his fingers delicately through the air, a stream of water followed the motion. The result was martial arts that were fluid, effective, and super-cool to watch. By contrast, the movies felt like watching a turn-based RPG. Zuko does a complicated move while Aang stands still. Then a fireball shoots at Aang who flips away, and it's Aang's turn to do his move.

Aang and Sokka don't smile at all. I mean, come on. In the cartoon, Aang was a playful kid who rejected the weight of saving the world. Halfway through the final season, rather than talk about what to do after their attack on the Fire Lord fails, Aang wants to play around the Western Air Temple. And Sokka... his jokes were their own running gag. He said it himself: "That's pretty much my whole identity. Sarcasm and meat."

The ending sucked. While most of the movie went out of its way to include the cartoon's emotional moments, the ending ripped them out for no good reason. Instead of fighting Zhao, Iroh sets his hands on fire and Zhao just runs away. Instead of obliterating the Fire Navy as the Ocean Spirit, Aang makes a giant wall of water and the navy just...runs away. And instead of facing off with Zuko and the Ocean Spirit, Zhao is defeated by four random waterbenders who kill him with no struggle at all and then walk away.

Maybe the movie's better in English, but I doubt it. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch Zhao and Zuko duel for real while I get excited about The Legend of Korra.

More Answers, in Which Ancient Histories are Revealed

L. T. Host asks: What the deuce IS a jelly baby?

Like little, chewy babies, but you eat them!

I'm curious which PART of the CA coast-- if you're in the middle-ish, here's hoping it warms up before Fiance and I take a trip up there mid-July. If you're down south, you picked a good time to come. This is the NICE weather everyone talks about when they talk about CA. :)

We were in Southern California (Orange County and, briefly, San Diego). So yeah, pretty much the definition of Perfect Weather.

I'm also curious why you picked Thailand?

The simple answer is because my wife Cindy is Thai. The complex answer involves mission trips, a little mysticism, and a DTR (not in that order). We could talk about it over coffee, except I don't drink coffee. (Seriously though, you can e-mail me or something if you want the longer story).

C. Michael Fontes asks: What prompted you to become foster parents in Thailand?

The short answer to this one is the mysticism: God called us. The less short answer: Cindy's had a heart for orphans since she was young. When we decided to be overseas missionaries, we had a vague idea of running an orphanage/planting a church in whatever country we ended up in. But after we got here, that all kind of changed.

Emmet asks: In a no-holds-barred fight who would you rather be, the Emperor or the Lord Marshal (obviously the answer is Riddick, but other than that)?

Let's take a look:

The Emperor's prescience pretty much cancels out the Lord Marshal's coolest abilities. Plus, you know, it's not like he has a pretty face to protect. As long as Darth Vader's not around, I gotta go with Palpatine.

Anica is a great name, but if there had been no vetoing process (Cindy), what would have been on her birth certificate?

The only girl names I tried to push were Anica and Serenity (the latter being your suggestion, as I recall). But if I'd had a boy, and no wife to stop me, he'd be either Morpheus or Optimus Prime.

Would you rather write an amazing book (LOTR caliber) that doesn't get published until after your death, or a shite book that gets made into a bunch of movies (Twilight), and all your friends pat you on the back and say "great job" but then ridicule you on message boards around the internet, and you will have no other books to redeem yourself? 

So either way my career is depressing and full of rejection? In that case, give me the movies.

Would you rather give up cheese for the rest of your life, or be a vegan for a year? 

Definitely vegan. Uh... vegans can still eat bacon, right?

Bane of Anubis asks: How could you choose Aliens over Dragons? :P 

[Bane is referring to being a finalist in Nathan's contest, wherein I was a total jerk and voted Josin over him.]

See, Bane, like any good American I assumed my vote didn't really matter. How was I to know you'd tie? As soon as I get my time machine working, the first thing I'm going to change is my vote, I swear.

jjdebenedictus asks: Do these jeans make my butt look big? 

I can honestly say, from my point of view, they do not.

Myrna Foster asks: Do you have any other family over in Thailand?

Me? No. But Cindy's dad lives in Bangkok. She also has approximately one thousand aunts, uncles, and cousins scattered throughout the kingdom. One of them drew me a family tree once trying to explain it all. It took him like half an hour. I don't remember any of it.

What do you have in your writer's "drawer?"

You mean the stuff you'll never, ever read? Folks who've been around here a while will remember my first novel, Travelers, which got trunked after 60 straight rejections. Also before Pawn's Gambit, I wrote and submitted another Air Pirates short story to BCS, trunking it because it just wasn't working. And before that there was a short story that would eventually evolve into my current WIP, Cunning Folk. That not very good at all.

Do you really own an umbrella chair?

And lastly, Carrie says: I'm relatively new to your website. I'm curious to hear on what are your thoughts in regards to writer's block.

Which I'll answer on Friday. Thank you, everyone, for your questions! I enjoyed answering them. Hopefully you enjoyed it too.

Admirable Sacrifice (or Why Kirk's Death was Stupid)

I hope I don't have to explain who Captain Kirk is. If I do, it's possible you're on the wrong blog.

I will go into how he died a bit though. First, you should know we're talking about the old Kirk -- William "Priceline" Shatner. Shortly after retiring, Kirk is asked to attend the maiden voyage of the USS Enterprise-B (this is Star Trek Generations, btw). On that voyage, they receive a distress signal from two ships caught in a strange energy ribbon. The Enterprise is able to save them, but becomes caught itself in the ribbon. To free them, Kirk has to go engineering and alter the deflector shields.* He is successful, but just as the Enterprise escapes, the ribbon makes contact with the engineering section causing major damage. When the crew recovers, they find a gaping hole in that part of the hull, and Kirk is gone.

That was Kirk's first death. It's not bad (we'll talk about why in a second), but it wasn't his real death. See, the ribbon imprisoned Kirk in a time nexus.* Decades later, Captain Picard finds Kirk and convinces him to return to the present to help Picard stop a madman from destroying the sun of Veridian III. Kirk goes with him and together they are able to distract the villain long enough to thwart his plans. In the process, however, Kirk is wounded (or falls off a bridge -- they tried a couple versions) and dies.

* Star Trek science.

Before I go into why Kirk's death was lame, let's talk about what makes a character's sacrifice work. It's not enough that a character dies for someone (or goes to prison for them, or gives up their chance at becoming a rockstar, or lets them have the last tater tot, etc. -- sacrifice can mean a lot of things). If you want the reader to admire the character's compassion, their sacrifice has to be IMPORTANT, it has to be RIGHT, and it has to be NECESSARY.

The character has to sacrifice for something important. It has to matter, and it has to be in proportion to what the character is giving up. If Jack risks his life so that his buddy Bonzo can win the National Texas Hold 'Em Tournament, that's not very admirable. On the other hand, if Bonzo needs to win the tournament so the mob won't kill him and his family, Jack's sacrifice is a lot more worthy.

The character has to sacrifice for what's right. Readers sympathize with characters that are doing the right thing. Jack's sacrifice for Bonzo's family might be important, but if his "family" is a child prostitution racket, well... no one's going to give Jack any awards.

The character's sacrifice has to be necessary. If there was an alternative, but the character chose sacrifice anyway, no one will admire it. If all Jack had to do was loan Bonzo some money, we're going to think he's stupid, not noble.

Let's look at Kirk's deaths now and see if we can figure out what went wrong. First his death on Enterprise-B. Important? He saved the lives of many people, so yes. Right? The people he saved were (so far as we know) good people. Check. Necessary? The movie set it up such that Kirk had to be the one in engineering (at least, there wasn't time to explain it to someone else -- in any case, if he sent someone else to do it, he'd have been a jerk). Check.

It was a good death for a character as big as Captain Kirk. Later, when you find out Kirk's alive, it's kind of cool. He survived! That's just what such a great captain deserves, right? But then he died again. Was his second death important? Technically. He saved lives, though we were never really made to care about the Veridian people, so it's arguable. Was it right? Again, we were never really shown any Veridian characters. While we assume they are innocents, to the reader they are faceless. Yes it was right, but only technically. Necessary? Arguable. Kirk knew what Picard was asking was dangerous, but from a story standpoint, there's no reason Picard needed Kirk to pull it off.

Kirk's second death hit the right points (important, right, necessary), but it hit them weakly. After all the dangers he had been through, readers expect a death in proportion to the character. A minor character dying for the same reasons might have been a worthy sacrifice, but this was James T. Kirk. It was made worse by the fact that we already thought Kirk had died, and his first death was more worthy than his second.

But it's okay, because we can learn something from it. If you want a character to be admired for their sacrifice, make it important, right, and necessary. And if you bring a character back to life, make sure his second death is more important than his first.

J. J. Abrams, I'm looking at you.

It's Not You, Wilhelm. It's Me.

I remember the first time we met, Wilhelm. It was in this HyperCard game back in the 80's. You were the sound that played when I did something stupid and died. This sound.

Back then, I liked you for who you were -- I had no idea you were famous. To me, you were just "that scream I assigned as my computer's shutdown sound."

Then one day I was watching Star Wars. A stormtrooper got shot, and I heard you as he fell down a shaft. When I asked you about it, you told me everything. "I'm an old joke," you said. "They call me the Wilhelm Scream." You mentioned some old movies you were in -- the kind I'd have seen on MST3K -- before George Lucas found you. "And you know how GEORGE is about inside jokes."

It was kind of awesome. You were a big deal, and I was in on it. I'd be watching a movie with my friends and be all like, "Hey, I know that scream! That's the sound from when the bad guy died in Temple of Doom." My friends thought I was cool.*

* You have to know my friends.

That was twenty years ago. Now...

See, it's not your fault, Wilhelm. You haven't changed a bit in 58 years. It's me. I just... Sometimes I want to watch a movie in peace, yeah? Without you opening your mouth. I know, I know. It's your job. But it's like. Every. Single. Movie. You scream in Fifth Element, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tears of the Sun, Kingdom of Heaven, Sin City, all three Lord of the Rings movies...

I can understand some of them, I guess -- Indiana Jones, Avatar, Tropic Thunder. But New Moon? Anchorman? The Pacifier? You were even in an episode of Mythbusters for crying out loud!

And it's not just my movies; you're in all my kids' movies too. Even when I'm not watching, I hear you in Kung Fu Panda, Cars, even Up and Bolt. Heck, my daughters were watching Prince Caspian the other day IN THAI, and I heard you from the other room!

So, it's too much. You were cool and all, 20 years ago. But I think it's time we saw other people, or movies, or... If you could just not be in movies at all anymore. Ever. That would be great. Maybe we could talk then.

In another 20 years.

On Spoilers

When is it okay to mention spoilers without having to provide a spoiler warning? I have finally solved this age-old (i.e. as old as the internet) problem. Put simply, it is a function of how unbelievable the spoiler is and the age of the work in question. Like so:

If the Spoiler Quotient is greater than or equal to 1, then a spoiler warning is required. The OMG Factor is a rating of how unbelievable a given piece of information is, numbered from 0 to 5.

So "Darth Vader is Luke's father" (OMG Factor: 5, Years since release: 29) has a spoiler quotient of 0.17 and is totally fair game. While "the Axiom's autopilot has secretly been ordered to keep humans in space forever" (OMG Factor: 3, Years since release: 1.5) has a spoiler quotient of 2... which means I should've warned you.

Hm. Maybe this thing needs some more work.

Safe Characters

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 it's for their own good.

Because the World Needs Another NaNoWriMo Post

I must not have been very connected to the writer's blogging world last year, because I can't ever remember hearing so much about NaNoWriMo all at once. Why am I writing about it too? Because I'm aware that not all of my readers are writers, and may not even know what NaNo is. Friends, this one's for you.

NaNoWriMo is short(ish) for National Novel Writing Month. Each year in the month of November, thousands of writers and wannabe writers disappear as they attempt to write 50,000 words in one month. The idea is primarily twofold: (1) to prove to yourself and others that you actually can write a novel -- time is not lacking, only motivation -- and (2) to give yourself said motivation with deadlines and accountability (i.e. all the other writers who are doing the same thing).

The contest is free. The rules are loose. There is no prize.* It's just fun. As someone who once wrote a novel just to prove to myself that I could do it, I can fully appreciate the heart behind NaNo. I've always wanted to do it, but I don't think Cindy would understand why I had to disappear for 2-5 hours every day until I wrote 1,667 words (really 2,000, because I would need days off). Or rather, she might understand, but she wouldn't put up with it.

Also I'm not sure I need it. Not like I'm some crazy-fast writer or anything (I'm really, really not), but I know I can finish, and I figure I'll get faster with time. Plus this way, I don't have to abandon my wife and children any more than I do already.

If you want to know more, the NaNoWriMo website has all the information you could ever want and more. So what about you? Are you doing NaNo? Why or why not?

Also, because I wasted about a half hour on MST3K clips today, I found one to share with you.

* Other than the use of an image on your website and self-confidence... Come to think of it, that's a pretty good prize. I could use some more images.

That Thing Where I Draw: Porco Rosso

Pastels are fun. They're like crayons for adults!

This is a scene, somewhat simplified, from one of my very favorite movies. Seaplanes, air pirates, and bounty hunters. How can you go wrong?

After messing around with pastels last week, I could tell they weren't really good for detail work, not like pencil or ink. But I was curious as to how inexact they really were, so I figured I'd try a cartoon. Turns out, if you're careful, you can still do a lot.

Pastels are so different from what I normally do. I hardly know anything about colors or shapes, preferring instead lines and shading (although I hardly know anything about shading either, now that I think about it). Among other things, it's forcing me to be looser with my drawing, which is a good thing. I normally get so stressed out over getting everything exactly right that drawing ceases to be fun. But doing this one was fun from the start, even in the sketching phase.

Maybe if I'm lucky, some of that freedom will shift into my writing process. Who knows? Anyway, my favorite part is the propeller.

Fighting Monks

This week's sketch is actually 3 weeks' worth, one for each character. I'm getting better at inking, which is to say I'm enjoying it more. The hard part is inking lightly. Things like lips, face shadows, and shaved heads came out more prominent than I'd like, but still better than previous attempts.

Faces are hard, but I'm learning why. Humans are so darn good at face perception. So if a nose is slightly large, or ears are slightly off, everyone can tell it doesn't look right, even if they can't say why.

Conversely, things like hands, feet, shirts, and swords are much easier. People can still tell if they're wrong (e.g. if a hand is too big, or a sword isn't straight), but there's a lot more leeway. After repeatedly practicing faces, it's a relief to discover the body parts I've been neglecting don't require as much practice to get to the same level.

Also, I think I'm starting to like drawing hair. This is a big deal.

I might try drawing from imagination again next week. We'll see. Copying pictures/life is fun and all, especially when it comes out good, but it's not what I want to do. I want to be able to draw whatever, whenever, you know?

I think it's the same desire that causes me to write. I've got worlds in my head, and I want to show them to somebody. I want to show them to you.

Up and Interpretations of a Story

Chapters Edited: 20
Scenes Edited: 67
Words Murdered: 5078 (6.6%)

People whose butt Sam has kicked: 42
People who've kicked Sam's butt: 2

People whose butt Hagai has kicked: 0


Last time, I chided George Lucas for revising Star Wars after they'd been released to the public saying, "Once it's out there, it's no longer yours." What I mean is that the story you write, and the story someone else reads (or watches), are two entirely different things.

Here's an example. My wife and I went to see Pixar's Up last Friday. Up is about a retired old man named Carl. His wife and childhood sweetheart dies; they couldn't have children, so he's alone now. For her sake, he decides to go on the adventure they always said they would go on but never did. Along the way, he learns that the seemingly boring things in life are what make memories - they're the real adventure.

My wife and I had different reactions to it. Superficially, I liked the airships, and she didn't like the talking dogs, but then we started talking about it and discovered we had different ideas about what was important.

I liked that Carl pursued his dream, doing what he'd always longed to do. I also liked the relationship he formed with Russell, the young boy who went with him. These are themes I'm commonly drawn to: doing what you're born to do and fatherhood, which says a lot more about me than the movie.

Cindy, on the other hand, was more interested in Carl's relationship with his wife. To her, the fulfillment of the wife's lifelong dream was more important than anything else, so when Carl chose to set the dream aside in order to rescue a bird that had become important to Russell, she kind of lost interest.

And the thing is, she's not wrong. She latched on to what she had brought to the movie, just like I did. In both cases, we got things out of the movie that were not its primary focus - were maybe never intended by the creators at all.

That's what I mean. Once someone else reads your story, it becomes something different, something that belongs to them. You can revise it, but in doing so you may wipe out the story they thought they had read. If it's a beta reader or something, they'll understand. If it's a fan of 20 years[, George,] they won't.

Sigh... I liked that Han shot first. It made him cooler.

Pixar Sci-Fi

It's to the point now where my wife and I will see a movie just because Pixar made it. Finding Nemo and The Incredibles are two of my favorite movies of all time. Today, Wall-E didn't move me as much as those two did, but I think that's only because the family and father/son themes resonate much more strongly with me. Which is to say that Wall-E is a good movie, and it's not Pixar's fault that I wasn't moved to tears this time. (MINOR SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW).

I also thought it was interesting from a sci-fi point of view. I've already noticed in my own stories a recurring theme of world-destruction. It's what Travelers is about, and it lies waiting deep in the history of Air Pirates. So I immediately enjoyed seeing another take on what could happen to Earth and to all those colonists who fled and forgot where they came from.

Unfortunately, my brain can't help finding flaws. Part of that is because S.C. Butler wrote a post about Wall-E at SF Novelists. I couldn't get the plant-in-space thing out of my head the entire time, and I found myself watching for other logical absurdities as well.

There were a number of questions that were left unanswered, like how does reproduction work on the Axiom, and why did the Axiom fly so far away from the Earth if they always intended to return, and (perhaps most pressing) why didn't they just shoot the trash into space? Questions that could have been answered, but weren't quite.

One big flaw that bugged me was that the humans who (as far as I could tell) had never walked in their lives, could walk when the plot needed them to. After generations of sedentariness, I don't think their bodies would be able to support their own massive weight. I could've let it go if the movie hadn't specifically mentioned the possibility of "bone loss" (in a video that was meant for colonists returning after 5 years, not 700, but whatever, another unanswered question). It could be explained away by low gravity, but when they got to Earth they had no problems there either.

Like Butler's plant flaw, it didn't ruin the movie for me, but I won't be able to get it out of my head. I don't accept the excuse that "it's a kid's movie" either. The folks who write kid's movies should care about what they do (esp. at Pixar) just as much as those of us who write for adults. After all, when our kids watch a movie over and over again, we have to as well. And the movies that do really well are the ones that both kids and adults enjoy.