Word Sketches

Yesterday, I wrote about how I hate how tone has overtaken the way that movies work. But more than that, I think it has overtaken the way some books are also written. After all, it’s an easy way to seem like everything in your plot is coherent and flows perfectly. It can very easily become camo for mediocre writing, like the kind found more often than I’d like on this blog. You may even be, like me, unable to really tell when your writing is taking on this tonal oppression without it being pointed out. Like most everything, the best and easiest way to fix the problem is to take preventative measures for it ever happening. The best place to start, I’ve found, has been with character sketches.

Take my screenplay, for example. I have a fairly unremarkable protagonist placed into a horrifying situation. There are more interesting characters in the film. In fact, I’d say that most of them tend to be a bit more invested in life than her. I sat at my computer for a good long time looking at the single pathetic sentence I’d written out to summarize her. I knew it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t nearly enough, but I didn’t know where to start. So I began exploring more deeply some of what I had already written. I began exploring her life. Is she smart? Is she motivated? Is she self-aware? Does she want? What does she want? What has she accomplished? The more I asked the more I needed to know. At the moment, the character sketch is about three fourths of a page long. It could easily be much longer. I could easily write another three pages about just her, but that would ruin the point of a character sketch for me.

The reason I do character sketches is because it helps me become a more independent writer in the early stages of writing and editing. Having a more flushed out background written down allows me to check her tone, her emotions, her responses to every little thing against her background. Senses of wonder and terror intermingling in her actions, backed by her background. Then, when I do get into a phase where I’m asking people if this sounds right, if they question her actions and motivations I can check to see if their criticism has merit or correct a moment earlier that lead them to an improper conclusion on the character I’m trying to portray. Going through this, I’ll find the correct course of action to take to reach the story I want to tell.

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An Unpopular Opinion of Jennifer Lawrence

I don’t like Jennifer Lawrence. I haven’t ever liked her. I know that she’s been widely praised and been nominated for, and won, numerous awards. In the grand scheme of things I don’t think that my dislike of her should in any way effect her. Nor do I feel an urge to tell her how awful she is online or to her face. I do want to spell out why I don’t like her for my own benefit as I’ve just come to realize what it is I don’t like about her, and it’s a critique that applies to some other actors I don’t like as well. She acts to the tone of the film.

When I see Jennifer Lawrence act I get the sense of exactly what the movie is going to be like from start to finish. Typically, this is some form of dignified, yet vulnerable, yet strong female lead, which is typically something I love in films. What I don’t love is when those characters tend towards having no emotional diversity. What I see when I watch a Jennifer Lawrence flick is her being a dignified, yet vulnerable, yet strong female lead. What’s she feeling? Dignified, yet vulnerable, yet strong, every single step of the way. This is a sort of trend of modern movies, I think, and I’m not sure if it can completely be blamed on the cast. Everyone in the Paranormal Activities franchise has the same tone over emotion play. Male lead is always nervous and insecure. He’s laughing. Why? Nervous and insecure. He’s screaming. Why? Nervous and insecure. They take no threats seriously because they are so nervous and insecure about the reality they are witnessing.

I realized that tone was the problem I had with Jennifer Lawrence because I was trying to figure out why I wasn’t loving the movie script I’ve been working on with a friend. I realized that I was writing out emotion in favor of tone. The thing is, it’s a horror movie. Tone is incredibly important in that genre, and really in any genre. Yet, that’s also why there’s so rarely a great horror film. It’s either a bunch of cliches or a bunch of tonal acting and scripting. A well-rounded character that you can connect to can’t just play up the tone of the movie. They have to have varied emotions that fit into their character. They should have a whole write up about who they are and why they’re there. If they can’t be given that, then they probably don’t belong in the story.

I also must admit that I’ve only seen a couple of Jennifer Lawrence’s films because I was put off by her acting. I’m sure there’s some films out their that would change my mind about her acting.

The Return of the Tick

Amazon recently released a new live-action series of  The Tick.  The Tick is a character that I’ve been familiar with all my life. Many of my generation will remember him from Saturday mornings with the animated Saturday morning series The Tick: The Animated Series. Fewer may be familiar with the surreal, satirical romp that are The Tick comic books. The comics are a black and white monochrome affair, full of slick drawings and slicker jokes. The one that I love the most, however, is the short lived live-action series of The Tick that starred Patrick Warburton and David Burke.

That show was ahead of its time in a lot of ways. The third episode, for instance, features parallels being drawn between being a super hero and being gay. Arthur, the Tick’s sidekick and main character of the series, gets himself locked away in an insane asylum by his mother and sister for his super lifestyle choice. While in there, he’s subjected to a deprogramming program by a super-curious psychology grad student. The episode dealt with the problematic system of treating homosexuality as a psychological deficiency with levity and sincerity

The entire nine episode series is worth watching. It was full of memorable characters like Captain Liberty, the empowered, government backed super heroine, or Batmanuel, the playboy, slime ball, narcissist. Each character has their own personality that becomes well defined as the series progresses. Each person suffers their own problems and has their own outlooks on the situations that come to hand. The stories are handled well, with tongue in cheek allusions to more serious subject matters. Nothing is safe from a classy ribbing, nor should anything be in fear of mockery.

This program has long been to me what Firefly has been to so many others. A show cancelled before its time. As I go in to the new series on Amazon Prime, I’m not sure how to feel about this new Tick, and this new cast. Patrick Warburton and David Burke were such iconic representations of the characters that I’m not sure that Peter Serafinowicz or Griffin Newman can conquer the shadow of this old series for me. I don’t know if I believe in the darker turn the writers are taking the series into as seen from the pilot. There’s only one thing I can do, though, and that’s watch it, and if I’m not satisfied, go back to the old ones and wish they were more plentiful.

Movie Theater Popcorn

I read a statistic once about movie theater popcorn being more expensive per ounce than filet mignon. It’s incredibly expensive and overpriced, and there’s a reason for that. Most of the theaters ticket costs go to the studios, not the theater. The theater mostly subsists off of concession prices. But that doesn’t explain why, so often when I go to the theater, I get a bucket of popcorn.

I’m not sure why I like movie theater popcorn as much as I do. Back when I worked at theater I would get popcorn as a snack. Sometimes I’d cover it in nacho cheese or the like. There’s something special about that kind of popcorn. The kind of salt, perhaps, or the artificial butter, or even just a sense of nostalgia. When I was a kid and my family would all go to the theater, we would get a big bucket of popcorn. It was a fun occasional excursion. It was the kind of thing you did for a night out, but not on any kind of regular basis.

There’s more to popcorn than just that. I used to eat more than my fair share of the stuff. I have a popper and even different kind of seasonings to put on the popcorn. I would make myself a bowl of popcorn when ever I felt a bit down. No other food item can make me feel quite as queasy as popcorn while also feeling content. It was something I would make when I would sit down to do homework, or planned to be writing all day. It’s a snack that you don’t have to think about. You just pop it into your mouth, no distraction necessary. Perfect for movies or anything else that requires your faculty. Better than filet mignon at least.

I have had other food items at a theater. I’ve been to the dinner movie theaters before, and they’re incredibly fun, but nothing ever really feels as right as popcorn in those instances. Besides, the prices on those other food items is outrageous. better stick with the twenty dollar bucket of popcorn.

 

False Connections

Lost Cat by Jason.pngWhen I was younger, and just discovering the full scope of what comics could be, I discovered an author/artist who went by the moniker Jason. He uses strange anthropomorphic characters in a simple, cartoony style to tell surprisingly deep things. I remembered him as being great so when I saw a copy of his book Lost Cat at my local library, I picked it up. I read it and I must admit to a wave of nostalgia coming over me as I read it.

It was just the bizarre and strange kind of fiction I expected from Jason. The story centers on a private detective named Dan. He’s a bit older, divorced, no immediate family, lonely. One night, as he’s walking home he finds a lost cat. He calls the number of the owner and meets a woman named Charlotte. They hit it off and he asks her to dinner. She doesn’t show and he realizes she’s gone missing. The main arc of the story centers on his search for her from that point on. Ultimately it becomes a book about expectations and the false beliefs about people to which we cling.

For better and worse, the plot line of  Lost Cat stays fairly focused, even as it tries to emulate the twists and turns of classic hard-boiled detective stories like the Maltese Falcon, or The Big Sleep. It works in so far as it gets the point he’s trying to make about everything work. When you sit down and really read the book it is quite touching and unique in its depiction of ideology. The simplicity also keeps it from ever feeling like it could be considered a classic, though. It lacks the external depth to really keep you coming back once you had “gotten” the script. It simply tells you what it set out to tell you and leaves little room for exploration.

Speaking of little room for exploration, reading the book made me realize a greater issue with Jason is that all his characters speak identically. They all have the same speech patterns, with the same dialogue traits, with only the physical appearances really setting them apart. I didn’t realize this when I was younger, because there is very little dialogue in the books. A lot is conveyed through silence, but that silence tends to feel just as samey as the dialogue after a while.

Ultimately, I would recommend readers pick up Lost Cat if only through their public library. It’s not a long read, but it holds its own kind of challenge. A challenge that will help make us all better.

Lost Cat by Jason.png

Of Dreams and Sleep

I love dreaming. It’s my favorite pastime. I love all kinds of dreams. Nightmares, adventurous dreams, realistic dreams, surreal dreams, lucid dreams all have a place in my life. A dream is a story that your mind writes for you to enjoy. I tend to remember my dreams, at least for a while. Sometimes, if the dreams are extremely good I’ll write out what my dreams were about so I’ll remember them later. Some have stuck in my head without that necessity.

One such dream was from when I was maybe five years old. I was in my Lion King pajamas in the dream. I looked up and saw the earth way above me. Everything in the dream seemed slightly off. I realized I was on the moon but the moon, the Earth, the Sun, all were made of clay. I turned to walk away. I saw a purple door in the distance that I knew I had to reach. It was only about fifty feet away. Then, out of nowhere, Vinnie, from Biker Mice from Mars on his red motorcycle pulled out in front of me. He too was made of clay, but smoother than any claymation could ever be. He simply drove back and forth around me until I woke up and ran into the kitchen. I cried there and called for my mom who came and held me in her lap until I fell asleep and had a dream that was a single static image of Sonic the Hedgehog.

It’s strange which dreams I remember. I’m not the kind of person to put any credence into dream readings, or dream analysis. I think Freud’s assertion that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar is more often true than not in dreams. We don’t understand dreams, but we like to think we do. We don’t need to understand them or for them to have a deeper meaning for them to be important to us. Dreams have no meaning on their own. They just get the values we instill in them. Or maybe I’m wrong. All I know for certain is I love dreaming. It takes me further than my feet ever could.

Cleanliness Next to Busyness

I’m not the best at housework. I dislike doing it and I have a tendency to let it buildup. Typically, this is due to internal monologues such as, “I’ll get that later” then, “There’s too much of this to do right now” and finally, “I can’t stand there being this much filth! How did it get this way?” Followed by the immediate realization of how it got that way. This is a bad habit to have, I know. And, in spite of the surrounding mess, I have begun to change my ways.

I’ve begun to set aside time to make sure that things get cleaned. No one else is going to do this so I have to be proactive. It’s not that other people don’t live in this pigsty, or that I don’t get frustrated with them for not doing their part (or vice versa), but I realize that I cannot force cleanliness on another person. Cleanliness has to come from within. Typically within a bottle. Cleanliness tends to have a blueish hue in my experience.

Another thing I’ve done is to make sure that I try and clean up my messes as they are being made. While cooking, when I remember, I always try to make sure to wash dishes while a sauce is simmering down, or things are in the oven. This way I wind up with maybe one or two dishes to do after dinner. This rule doesn’t apply to my writing. It, ironically, is a terrible habit to try and edit while you’re going along writing. If you try, then you tend to wind up with no more than a few sentences after hours of work. Better to write everything out first and figure out what needs to be changed with the whole of the story in mind.

It’s important to remember that making your bed is not a good thing to do right away in the morning as the moist environment is a breeding ground for mites that emit a plethora of allergens. That said, if you go to work in the morning, making your bed in the evening when you come home makes for a much more pleasant and relaxed environment. A messy place is a place filled with stress. When everything is a mess, then you can look around and not see anything but what you have to do or what you should be doing instead and you get overwhelmed. There is an argument to be made about creative work spaces tending to be messy places, and that can be true. It can really depend on your needs and desires. If you aren’t making any progress, try cleaning up first. It might help more than you think.

Now, I’ve got to go ignore a huge mess while I unproductively watch Netflix.

Problems with Fantasy in the Modern Age

One of my favorite sub-genres, one that I constantly read, is called Urban Fantasy. The genre is such a blend of my favorite genres that I just can’t help but get excited every time I see it. You have magic and sorcery without the limitations of the middle ages. You have mysteries that often fall into the category of neo-noir. Twists, romance, flawed characters, all can be found in the Urban Fantasy sub-genre. The range of stories goes from Young Adult to Old Adult, with a surprising bit of variety. There has been one issue with this genre: a lot of the books suck.

It’s not meant as an insult to any one writer, and I’ll be the first to admit to reading some severely subpar novels in a literature sense that I’ve enjoyed immensely in the genre, and some severely subpar novels in the genre sense that I’ve enjoyed on a literary basis. The issue is that there’s a problem finding a middle ground. There are some authors that produce a good product consistently. Neil Gaiman is certainly head of the herd in that respect. I’d even put someone like Laurell K. Hamilton, or Jim Butcher into that category if we stick to their main series (Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter, and The Dresden Files respectively). I’d very much encourage reading those two series as an introduction to the genre. But once I’d read those books I found myself with a desert to cross before the next book in a series I like or from an author that never disappoints reveals itself to me. It’s made me wonder why.

I think it’s because it’s the kind of genre a lot of people want to read. I know I do. It also seems deceptively simple to write. After all, two of the most famous cliches about writing are “write what you know,” and “write what you want to read.” Both of which, in spite of being cliches, are good advice. The problem is that a lot of people who get writing degrees tend to be educated only with straight literary fiction. There’s some good stuff out there, some good stuff that’s coming out now. A lot of these will be by an author who will only ever write that one book, because they don’t have the drive to write that kind of book on their own. Few people have the urge to sit down and write out a novel about a guy being a guy, living a life, just for the sake of literature. Some do, but most of us want to go off into other genres of fiction. More often than not, people get lost trying to break into a new genre. They lower their standards about what is necessary.

A while back I had the great honor to meet the poet Dr. Chris Abani after a lecture in which he spoke at length about the critical detail necessary for poetry. I read his book Sanctificum which has nothing to do with Urban Fantasy, but everything to do with his life. I recommend reading it and the old post I made on another blog. When I went up to get my book signed, I asked him, about novel writing. He told me that attention to detail in every single word you write is possible in fiction, and it would help. After all, that’s why classics are classic. It’s not just the story, because a story itself doesn’t make a book great. It can make a book good if it’s a good story, but without the extra push from the language that putting thought into every single word can give then it will never truly be great. So many of the writers in my favorite sub-genre can’t truly say that they’ve edited every detail of their stories. That’s the biggest problem with Urban Fantasy.

If you need a good book to read, let me recommend The Manual of Detection by Jebediah Barry.

 

Tall Guy Problems Part 1

I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on some problems I have as a tall guy. It’s one of those things that I don’t hear people talking about very often. People of average to below average heights don’t know how good they’ve got it.

1: Back Pain

I’m well aware that there are shorter people with back problems, but it is a universal fact of life for tall people. At some point or another in your life you will have severe back pain. I can’t tell you how many weekends I’ve spent lying on hardwood floors in strange bizarre yoga positions I heard about through a friend of a friend who also knows someone who is tall and has back problems.

2: Windshields

It’s a fairly universal fact for me that when I’m driving a car I’m going to have to hunch down to see the stoplight. It’s one of those things that there is simply no help for. I’ve driven vehicles with huge broad windshields that for any one shorter than me would be perfectly adequate, but never seem to come up quite high enough for me to see the lights when I’m stopped. It does help when there is a sun roof.

3: The Weather

This is something tall people get all the time, jokes about how the weather is up around us. I kid you not, normally it is the exact same but I’m always the first to know it’s raining. Without fail, the first raindrops hit me. This is because I’m tall and as we all know, rain is very similar to lightning in that it strikes the highest point first. Usually, my face.

4: Job Offers

Seriously, I can be out  and about in my laundry day suit and people still try to give me job offers. It’s like, thanks, but I’m already employed with full benefits as head dog-petter for a major multinational company. I can’t also be head ice cream taster for yours. Find some one slightly shorter than me to do it. Sheesh.

5: Amulet of Tallness

Seriously. As an adult I thought people would stop being so immature as to try and pick fights with me. It’s upsetting to have to drop kick someone half your height over a fence, but those gosh darn midgets won’t stop trying to steal my amulet of tallness. Like, seriously, what’s a guy got to do around here for some peace and quiet? The worst thing about being a tall person is having to be on constant look out for short ninjas trying to steal your mystical amulet that grants you your preternatural tallness.

I hope this has been an educational experience for all of my readers.

Weighty Revelations

The eclipse yesterday seems to have thrown off my internal clock, as I sit here hours after I’d normally have written a piece, scrambling to get one out just a bit past my deadline rather than a day after it. Fortunately I know exactly what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about a turning point I’ve recently had in my life dealing with my weight. I’m heavy, but I’ve always done a decent job hiding it. It helps that I’m also tall, so I look lighter because it is all distributed more evenly. I used to be fine with this. I used to be okay just looking like I was fit, and then like I was just a bit chubby, then just lightly fatty.

Then I realized, I don’t want to just not look my weight. It wasn’t that I knew I would eventually look my weight no matter what kind of fancy dressing I did. It was that I wanted to feel lighter. I no longer wanted to feel full to bursting at every meal. I don’t want to have trouble breathing after walking up a slight incline.

It’s such a strange feeling to realize that you feel awful most every day, and that one of the biggest reasons for not doing anything about it is appearances. I didn’t want to be the fat guy running on a treadmill, with sweat pouring down his body in a waterfall. Now I am, not because I want to be, but because that’s how I get from fat guy running to fit guy running. No, I’m not going to look strong or impressive at the gym, or even outside while I make my life more active for a long while. I might even look humorously to some people as I eat portions smaller than people half my weight. I’ve come to realize that I don’t have anything to gain by gaining pounds. I have my life to gain by losing it.

I came to a second realization, one that will make it harder to accomplish my goals, but I love food. I love new flavors. I love new textures. I love the adventure a dish can take you on. And I’ve begun to learn that I can have all of that and get to my ideal weight. To start, I figured out that a lot of what I eat isn’t good. I don’t truly enjoy it, and yet I eat it constantly. Second, I realized how often I try to push down as many veggies as I can to meet a sort of quota, instead of enjoying them. So now I make sure to spice and season them in ways I know I will enjoy without overwhelming them with anything, like fat, carbs, or sugars. I realized that when I eat a delicious dessert, I don’t enjoy that dessert as much as I do an apple. Third, I realized that after I’ve eaten very little I actually feel contentedly full.

I’m starting to feel more content.