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I was just reading one of my more favorite fan fictions and came across a scene where the female lead realizes she was betrayed and set up to die by her trusted boss. The author spends a bit of time telling the reader how furious she was. This is a case where the rule of ‘show, don’t tell’ should have been followed.

The stronger the emotion, the harder it is to put it into words and the more phony it sounds when you do. ‘Joe was enraged’ doesn’t carry nearly the impact of something like ‘Joe attacked the punching bag. It lost.’ This version does sort of require the reader to know what punching bags are and the sorts of abuse they’re designed to take, so it’s not the best option. Those would be highly dependent on the genre of the story (the above example would work in a sports or boxing story, since it would be expected that the likely reader would know the necessary background), the context and the character.

This is one of the reasons I like dream sequences. They’re really good for showing the character’s internal mental state without all those pesky words getting in the way.

I have to say it was strange to find out that for a lot of people, their internal experience of the world is mostly cast into some form of interior monologue. In my case it is not, and I find books where the character’s internal states are put into pages of (usually italicized) text to be incredibly phony and off-putting. One, I hate reading pages of italics. Two, pages of the character going on about his internal state just reads like the author being lazy, telling me what the character is thinking and feeling rather than showing it.

In my experience only the most important things are worth the effort of putting them into words, and words are a way of keeping things distant. As I said recently in a comment on a youtube video about using the 5 senses in writing, “The goals of immersion and description oppose each other.”

Showing what a character is thinking isn’t all that hard, if you ask me. I developed my technique of what I call ‘experiential prose’ mostly to avoid having to describe the setting the character is in, but it works by focusing on what the character would notice in that setting, and uses only the concepts the character knows to understand it. If he’s walking through the forest I don’t want to describe every damn tree and shrub, just the ones he cares about. So I don’t. This makes the book more dynamic, since every piece if description is the product of some act of perception.

In a dream sequence we get the reverse, in which the entire environment is only the things he cares about, cast into some alternative form. Consider this, for example, from a story about a woman who has lost her memory and wants it back:

“She awoke on a cold, hard surface, one of the benches in one of the holding cells in [the base]. The entire facility was dark, and quiet, and she didn’t know what roused her. It wasn’t until she pressed the panel by the door that it occurred to her to think she may be a prisoner, that it might not open, but the notion hadn’t fully formed before it opened. She walked alone, into cold darkness. Down the hall she could hear whispers in the dark, a play of light in the shadows, and she walked that way.”

and contrast it with this, set later on and she’s much more desperate:

“She awoke in Castle, lying on a bench. When she pressed the button, the door moved but terribly slowly, and she yanked it back into its slot. The halls were dark, neither lights nor sounds to give her a direction. The cell block seemed much longer as she ran through it, but eventually she reached the end, and another slow door. This time she cut herself pulling it open.”

She knows she’s getting herself into trouble, and doing what she can to prevent it, but what she wants is stronger than what she knows. This is made clear later on, when she discovers a memory she’d lost on purpose:

“The blackness that had obscured the last image had crumbled to dust, although it still obscured the light glowing from beneath. She just had to…brush it off. She raised her hand and–

She bent and blew gently, unwilling to touch the thing.

-A room. A bed. A woman and a man, naked and coupling and the woman was-

[Her]body went from zero to sixty in no time at all. Her…her…the woman was…her, and the man, the man…[he]was…Oh God, he was…so perfect, waited so long…

She exploded in memory, she exploded in dream.”

You’d think that would be a good thing.

“Light played across the chamber, memories blazed across her mind, emotions seared her very soul, searching for channels that were no more. She had forgotten how to feel this strongly. Only [her later self] had ever learned, and she was not [her later self].

This was a mistake. She had to get away, and struggled to rise.

Her hand landed in the dust and she recoiled. Rage! Betrayal! Soul deep hatred stabbed through the vulnerable place he had made over her heart.

The [last]image burst into flames. The other images followed suit. The explosion caught her before she could reach the door.”

If I had to write this scene over, I’d do it a little differently, not for these parts but for the dialog. At the time I cast it as regular speech, but now I’d put most of it into the dreaded italics.

Dream sequences are, in my view, a great way to combine description and immersion. They present the character’s thoughts and goals into a visual form, showing what she wants, why she wants it, and sometimes the cost of getting it. Consider the classic movie Forbidden Planet, and its monsters of the Id made real.

Do you like dream sequences? Why, or why not?

Ever since I finished my fanfic series I’ve been trying to catch up on other stories I’ve been interested in seeing but put off. I didn’t want to see other things while writing in the Chuck vein, sometimes I have trouble getting back into that mood.

First off, naturally, was to review and re-edit my last novel, Ghostkiller, which I was able to finish mainly because of Chuck (I alternated writing chapters) but I see now wasn’t done very well. The story is complete, but much of the ending is in dialog form, with only enough narrative material to connect the dots. But it’s worse than that. I spent the last several days revising a single chapter, which is top-heavy with some backstory. I had to rewrite several times before I finally got a chapter I liked, and now I’ve moved on, but that doesn’t mean it’ll get easier from here.

That’s for my mornings. In my afternoons I’ve been watching DVDs of some shows I discovered a while back. I saw seasons 1 & 2 of Castle a while ago, and discovered my library had acquired seasons 3 & 4 while my back was turned, so I got those and we plowed through them. More focus on the relationship angle, which was okay by me. I was less than thrilled with the mystery-of-the-week format of the first two seasons, one of the reasons I was willing to wait so long to see the rest. The manipulations were more obvious, though. Beckett retcons herself, stating she has walls she’s built up, which is the first I remember hearing of them. And there are only so many times you can play the sudden interruption card, but practically every start of an intimate conversation ended with “Beckett, I got something…” I much prefer the scene in Notting Hill, where the rather brainless reader is walking in on the Important Conversation and Hugh Grant tells him to go away. But there was enough of it that when she finally did choose him over the job it wasn’t totally out of left field. But S4 only showed the beginnings of that in the finale, they could still get hit with a rocket launcher on the way to bed. Michael Dorn as the therapist was good to watch, his role had more weight than Christopher Lloyd’s therapist in Chuck, which was a wasted opportunity on several levels.

And then I finally got started with Dexter. I admit the main reason I want to see it is because of Yvonne Strahovski’s appearance in season’s 7 & 8 (another film I got from the library is The Killer Elite, because she’s in that as well), but the show seems to be highly developed over time, and I’ve heard many good things about it, so I’m starting at the beginning. I found the S1 DVD set at BJs and picked it up, but waited until now to open it up and watch. Now that is a wonderful show! Dexter as the outsider, commenting on human foibles as he tries to copy them, while at the same time so blasé about his own hidden predilections. I don’t think the show would work without the star. Playing a man who’s playing a man isn’t at all easy. The ending was a little bit off, though. Too many sudden reveals diminished the dramatic impact. Harry is supposed to be this compassionate man who cares for Dexter, but there’s an older boy in the trailer who gets ignored? What? The killer makes mistakes because he’s in a hurry, but no one’s close to catching up to him, and they’re not even really looking. Deb is unconscious and misses the revelation that Dexter is a serial killer, but wakes up and instantly twigs to the fact that Dexter stops the killer from killing her. Huh? The conclusion was lacking from a plot perspective, but the impact on Dexter was still worthwhile, thanks to Mr. Hall’s acting, and that’s the central focus of the show so I’m good with it.

Other high points for me were Officer Doakes’ treatment of Deb Morgan. He chews her out when she screws up, but is also free with praise when she does good work, as does Angel. I liked the way he does what Dexter does at one point, but gets away with it thanks to official connections (and defends Angel to boot, who had to choose honesty over loyalty), which could be some foreshadowing for Dexter. He could easily have been a caricature, as could Lt. Laguerda, who’s extremely petty and vindictive, but does redeem herself at times. She deserves what she gets, but she’s a better character at the end than she was at the beginning.

I can’t see myself writing fanfics for either of these shows, though. Okay, back to chapter 19…

It’s really kind of strange and unpredictable what will strike a reader’s fancy. In the latest chapter of my latest fanfiction story, Sparring Partners, I had a scene where Sarah and Ellie go to a bar for some ‘girl time’ (a phrase which makes my wife gag every time she hears it)(not that type of gag). Sarah has commented that her relationship was so screwed up that they had three first dates, two first kisses, and fell in love at first sight, so having the wedding after they got married should come as no surprise.

When I started writing the chapter I was in a very different mindset, I guess, since the opening scene has a very different tone, Sarah asking Ellie to help her arrange her wedding after the fact (her desire to say her vows in front of people who will hunt her down and kick her ass if she fails to keep them is another favorite scene). This often happens to me, by the way. I’ll start a story with no real idea where I want it to go, and then something will occur to me halfway through. With these fanfics it’s usually easier, since I’m modelling the story I write on the story they told, but in this case the story they told doesn’t have much to offer.

The nine2five idea was mainly intended to keep the tone and theme of the show after season 2, developing them in the same direction season 3 did but not the same way season 3 did, since season 3 was really poorly done. In this case, since Chuck isn’t an agent he’s not going to go out and seduce a mark, or face the grim prospect of burning him afterward (my comments about season 3 above notwithstanding, I happen to like this episode because of this sort of dramatic development, most of the things that made season 3 suck weren’t in it).

As a result, I’m free to use this timeslot to work on other aspects of the overall season, such as the wedding, and getting Chuck and Sarah in shape for it. It’s not every couple that gets post-marriage, pre-wedding jitters. Sarah is trying to become a ‘real girl’ with a ‘real life’ she has no idea how to live, since she never had one, and she sensibly turns to Ellie, the realest girl she knows.

When they walk into the bar, the first thing Ellie asks about is the two first kisses, and Sarah says, “Damn, lost a nickel.” She then takes a nickel from her pocket and moves it to a different pocket. This chapter is already turning out to be one of the more popular I’ve ever done, and that gag is one of the most popular gags in it. Don’t ask me why, it was just a little whimsy when it first occurred to me to write it. I guess it’s the whimsy that does it. Sarah is usually such a sober sort of girl that something so ‘out of left field’ has more impact.

It’s the little things.

I don’t know if any of you like to play them, but I have become fond of a type of computer game called a Hidden Object Puzzle game. These are supposed to be stories, in which the player is a character who has to solve the puzzles to get clues to resolve the story’s central adventure/mystery. The basic puzzle is a single screen which contains a number of objects that are obscured by lots of other objects. There is a list of objects to be found. Once the player finds the objects one of them will be added to his collection, since it will turn out to be necessary to solve some other puzzle or otherwise enable the story to progress.

I like these games for two reasons. First is the simple visual pleasure of the games themselves, especially when it comes to finding the hidden objects. Some of the games, such as Death at Fairing Point, have scenes that are simply beautiful, such as the English Garden. The puzzles are often quite cunning, and finding the hidden objects a good challenge. My daughter and I often collaborate on these.

The other reason I like them is that they are stories. These games consist of scenes, which contain the puzzles, and which form the supposed story. The player follows the story logic, which enables him to find the puzzles and the clues to solve them.

Or at least they should. The ones that I like most are like that, but there are many that are not and those I don’t like so much. Going by the comments lots of other people don’t either. In many of these games there is no logical connection between one scene and another, no story logic to follow.  The player can neither deduce nor reasonably guess where the clue he needs is, but instead has to check each screen, moving the mouse until something pops up and reveals itself. Very tedious.

It doesn’t help that I started with one of the hardest ones. I’m a big Phantom of the Opera fan, both the story and the ALW stage version (not the movie travesty, thank you). So when I discovered a HOP with a PotO theme I snapped it right up. Unfortunately, the game would only make sense to someone who knew the story, but the story logic was lacking. There were multiple discrete levels, but the player had to continually go back and forth with his clues to find the next clue. Maybe some people remember that an item found on level 4 fits into a picture seen on level 1 but I’m not one of them. Even worse, the game ends on level 4 with no way to get to level 5 and save the girl! I’m going to have to play it again and see if it makes more sense now that I know how these games work. Some of the others are almost as bad, fewer level, but with necessary parts in places where no one would ever expect them to look.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Redemption Cemetery games. These have multiple levels too, but each level has its own story, and the story logic is much tighter. Each story involves a ghost, imploring the player to save a child in danger or perform some other heroic act so that it can find peace. Death at Fairing Point has a different style to it, more visually attractive, but here too the story involves solving a mystery to allow two cursed souls to move on. HEAs all around!

What sort of games do you like to play? With stories or without?

It should come as no surprise to those who’ve read this blog that I have a particular fondness for a short-lived TV show called Wonderfalls. It was a brilliant comedy based on the premise of this underachieving, cynical, Gen Y girl who gets tapped by the gods to do the things they need to have done. Since my own fantasy series is based on much the same premise (except for the underachieving, cynical, Gen Y slacker part)(what the hey, it’s not a comedy) it really struck my fancy.

Wonderfalls was cancelled in its first year, but they were still shooting the final episodes, so the producers were able to rewrite the scripts to turn the final few episodes into a story arc that resolved most of the plot threads. In particular they brought back the ex-wife of the male romantic lead to challenge our heroine for his affection. But every time she tries to stand up for herself, the gods keep telling her to shut up, in the form of their avatars, animal toys and images with faces that talk to her and no one else.

I was recently watching these last few episodes again, don’t ask me why ’cause I don’t know, and I discovered a new bit of whimsy that for some reason just makes me laugh even when I just think about it.

She’s trying to get to the chapel where the man is re-marrying his ex-wife (it’s complicated, you really should see the show), after the gods have finally given her permission to go after him. Her car was taken by her best friend, who was also trying to disrupt the ceremony (but who gets sidetracked by one of the avatars), so she has to take a cab. The cab has an air freshener in the form of an angel or some other creature with a face. She lunges forward, grabs the air freshener and throws it out the window. As it goes, the air freshener cries out, “I didn’t say anything!”

It’s a little thing, but it just fits so perfectly with the whole show. I already loved the show, and to find this little funny bit was like finding a $20 in an old pair of pants. Not that I think you need to have the connection between ‘found money’ and ‘found funny’ spelled out for you, because I don’t. It’s one of those little pleasures that makes reviewing and re-reading so much fun, the stuff you pick up on the second time around. Has this ever happened to you?

Readercon started on Thursday, but it was fairly late in the day and there wasn’t much going on so I’m rolling Thursday and Friday into one. I mentioned on Twitter a long time ago that I wanted to go to Readercon, and my publisher enthusiastically jumped on board, along with her two top editors. When we were approved to be in the Bookstore here, they approved her and not me. But she allowed me to occupy her space so this is still an Author Guy event. The schedule allowed for lots of time to set up, since se could get in on Thursday but the bookstore didn’t open for business until Friday at 3 PM. This also allowed me to do something I don’t usually get to do at these cons, which is to go to the con.

Readercon is a convention about books, Spec Fic books in particular. There are lots of authors here, and reviewers, critics, and probably a few agents, editors, and publishers in disguise. There are not a lot of people walking around in costumes, although they tend to come out on Saturday anyway, but still I don’t think I’ll be seeing many. They love to talk about stories here, not too many particular stories, but Story. My own particular favorites are the philosophical topics, as I’m sure will surprise no one. I have attended three panels in the last two days, which were all on different subjects yet all talked about the same thing.

The first was called ‘Touching the Puppets’, a very odd title that still leaves me in a little doubt as to what the panel was actually about. It didn’t help that I got there late and missed the opening remarks. The question seemed to be about the extent to which the characters interact with the world they’re passing through, and therefore how believable that world becomes to us the reader. One negative example suggested in the program description was Star Wars, although they didn’t agree with that statement in the panel itself. In fact, the success of the first Star Wars series and the failure of the second was attributed in part to the extent to which the characters were apparently relating to their environment. The scene in the first movie, when Luke is given his father’s old lightsaber, was used as an example. It helped, I think, that in the first series the special effects were not rendered digitally, but the actors had things they were holding in their hands. They could see and react appropriately to, if not the blast itself (which should have been invisible in any case), the consequences of the blast: The puff of smoke, a little explosion. In the second series they were denied these aids, and as a result there is no sense of realism aout the story. The performance of Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit was also brought up, as it was credited with making the story seem as real as it did, since he had to be acting towards something that didn’t exist. It apparently helped that the actor who did the voice of Roger not only was on set but wore a Roger Rabbit costume all the time, to give him something to focus on.

On the second day the bookstore opened at 3 and closed at 7, so I could go to the three panels I wanted to attend that day. In the morning they discussed a book of essays called Evaporating Genres by Gary Wolfe, who is one of the main reviewers for Locus magazine, to which I am now thinking about subscribing. Since my novel St. Martin’s Moon is a combination of genres that are not normally combined I had a particular interest in the topic of ‘genre instability, or the blurring of boundaries.’ I have often said that one of the reasons they worked so hard in the beginning to distinguish SF from the Western was that the two types of story had so much in common. It is a common discussion topic on forums like Goodreads, how a person would distinguish SF from Fantasy, and the usual conclusion of these discussions is that you can’t, really, and it’s all a matter of taste.

After the bookstore closed I was able to sit in on a discussion called ‘The Quest and the Rest’, which focused on how much the adventure depends on the non-adventure. The domestic element, the homefire that we are supposed to keep burning against their return, or at least their hope of a return. These are the things that make the story more real, because we can relate them to our own lives. Not many or us wave lightsabers around, but we do beat out carpets, even if they do not turn out to be cloth-of-gold underneath. The domestic element is one of the things that makes the Addams Family so compelling, I think, despite their apparent weirdness they are more of a family than the normal folks who inhabit the story with them. If anything I would disregard the need for a quest, some of the best fiction I know is entirely domestic, such as The Thread That Binds the Bones, or Huff’s Enchantment Emporium, which is about establishing a new outpost rather than a quest per se.

The last panel was called Traditional Genres are Melting, and I think the title says it all.

Today is going to be a full work day at the con, with the book room open 10-6, so I don’t expect to get out much. But I’ve already gotten more out of this con than any of the others before it, so I’m not complaining. And we’re selling some books, too!

Like a lot of people out there, I have favorite books that I like to re-read. One of these is Valor’s Choice, by Tanya Huff. Which I was in fact re-reading this morning, which is why I’m writing this now. In the course of the story there is a character named Strength of Arm, who is a member of a species called Dornagain (and no, I don’t know how to pronounce it). The Dornagain as a species are thoughtful and usually very large and slow. They do not commit violence, like most of the members of the Conferation. That is why they need humans among other races. The basic idea of the Confederation is that most species who have gotten to the point of expanding into space have gotten past most of the violent instincts, and so are incapable of fighting when a species expands into space that hasn’t. In self-defense they recruit younger races, like ours, and give us the tech to get into space in exchange for us fighting their wars for them.

I am reminded of Gordon R. Dickson’s book Hour of the Horde, which features aliens from the interior of the galaxy who are gathering forces to confront a horde of invaders. They are able to fight, but only if they calculate that they will win. It is the Earthmen, who fight regardless, who tip the scales. And presumably go on to take over the galaxy. I am also reminded of the Uplift series by David Brin, in which some young and dynamic races from Earth are accepted into a rather static and traditional galactic culture and proceed to upset a lot of applecarts. And presumably go on to take over the galaxy.

Books like these are one of the best reasons for speculative fiction I know of. They give a concrete form to issues and ideas that in most cases are pretty abstract to most people. I started writing when I heard of a pretty theoretical notion of the ‘Holy Will’, which is only motivated to do the right thing. In the real world no person like this could exist, since we are motivated by lots of different things. But in a fantasy world they can. In the above-mentioned books the theme seems to be that dynamic races are the ones that will go on to take over the galaxy, but at least they leave open the question of whether or not this is a good thing. (Somewhat. The older the book is, the more it seems to be assumed that dynamism, especially of the American sort, is good.) The price of any kind of dynamism, economic, political, or biological, is high. (Hmm, story idea. A human who is born cold-blooded.)(See, this is how it starts.)

Anyway, back to Strength of Arm, rebuilding a well from the inside so that the troops protecting her will have water, when the enemy attacks and gets into the compound. She isn’t in any danger (yet), but she can hear the fighting above. She rises up out of the well, grabs an enemy fighter and throws him away. And again. Afterwards she suffers an agony of remorse for her thoughtless actions that leaves her fellows fearing for her sanity.

The question is, should she?

I would say she should not. From her perspective in the well, somebody was going to die. All her actions did to affect the outcome was change who died. Nor is it even made clear that they died, since she threw them away but we don’t see them land. I would also claim that she was right to do so, since her relationship to the soldiers defending her was stronger than her relationship to the enemies attacking and therefore she had a moral obligation to act as she did. From her Dornagain perspective I suppose the logic would be that since she was unwilling to commit violence in her own defense she should be equally unwilling to commit violence in defense of those defending her. I have a hard time seeing the persuasiveness of that argument, but I am also willing to entertain any others I haven’t thought of.

What do you think?

I finally finished watching all the episodes of Dead Like Me, a TV series that aired some years back.  It was about a girl, Georgia Lass, who gets killed by a falling toilet seat (falling from Earth orbit, that is, and going a good clip at the time), and is inducted into the ranks of the grim reapers, recently dead people who make the whole ‘death’ thing work by collecting souls and sending them on. Poor George didn’t have much of a life, though, so she didn’t have an ‘on’ to move to. Like Kfir Luzzatto’s book Crossing the Meadow, the show is an exploration, an examination and discovery of the meaning of life on the part of those who are no longer burdened by the business of living.

Unfortunately the show was cancelled after only 2 seasons, 2 very good seasons, but they decided to make a movie about it a few years later. So now I want to get the movie follow-up, which seems to be causing my son some trouble. He can’t seem to understand why I want to see the whole story. I understand the show didn’t have the same number of threads going as, say, Firefly, but I really don’t like it when shows are cancelled incomplete. I was very happy with Wonderfalls when they managed to wrap up most of the story threads with a mini-arc at the end. I was very unhappy with Tru Calling when they cancelled it in mid-season and there has been no follow-up or wrap up in any way. In some respects I’m even a little unhappy with the Dead Like Me follow-up, based on the plot synopsis I found, but I’ve seen a lot of synopses for the show that were dead wrong so I’m hoping for the best.

Don’t you pine for closure? I do. In fact, I’ve even refused to read books that disrupt the closure of previous books. Jack Chalker’s Wellworld books were brilliant, so much so that when he decided to write more books in that series I had no desire to touch them. Dave Duncan’s Seventh Sword books are perfect as they are, and I would hate to see him go back there. Fortunately he did a fairly definitive wrap-up that should make that impossible.

On another note…

My publisher sent me the cover art for my newest Echelon short story release, Ex Libris.


I just received a review for my next novel, St. Martin’s Moon!

All sorts of good things happening today.

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of TV on DVD, mostly new shows that I’ve discovered after they’ve been cancelled, because all the good shows get cancelled while all the mediocre dross lives on forever. Well, not exactly, Chuck and Burn Notice are both still on the air, although Chuck keeps having to struggle for renewal every season, it seems.

I recently got a hold of Castle, a TV comedy/mystery series about a mystery writer who gets involved in a murder case that uses murders from his books, and uses his connections with people in high places to get attached to the detective in the case as an observer. Of course his insights are brilliant and his position is very helpful to them in resolving all the cases. Of course he’s romantically interested in the lead detective but at least the show has the good sense not to let that proceed too quickly. And he’s got a brilliant daughter and a vivacious mother and the dialog is sparkling.

Can you hear the “But…” here?

I seem to have lost my taste for standalone stories, and each episode of Castle is a standalone. I like them, but there’s no sense of progression, not even in the relationship. A witness in one episode asks if they’re together, and she says Absolutely Not while he says Not Yet, which is pretty much where the show started. It’s also the way Chuck went for years, and lots of people got kind of annoyed that Chuck and Sarah kept getting separated. But Chuck and Sarah obviously wanted to be together, while Beckett hasn’t shown a great deal of interest in Castle except as a writer. Which is understandable, he’s had his own way with everything pretty much his whole life and she doesn’t want to become yet another success story.

Maybe Castle (the show) should add a new, unknown mystery writer, whose analyses are much better or at least as good, and in whom the detective is much more interested. Give Castle (the character) a run for his money, and he seems to have a lot of money. (Which is another problem, him starting at the top and all, but not one that matters to this post.) In other words, a story arc. This is pretty much what happened in the show Wonderfalls, which got concelled while still filming the last several episodes of its first and only season. The writers were able to turn those episodes into a long story arc that resolved a number of plot threads, much like the Serenity movie resolved the hanging plot threads of the series Firefly. And these episodes are in my opinion the best and most enjoyable of the show. I got really annoyed when they interrupted this plot arc with an apparently irrelevant episode set on a reservation, just as I got really annoyed when season 2 of Buffy had a fabulous plot arc going about Angelus and they interrupted the arc with the worst show of the series, about the swim team turning into sea monsters. WTF?

The point being that standalones have very little story flow (remember my post about story flow?), while the longer arcs have a great deal of scope. On the other hand I’m not terribly thrilled by stories that get spread out over the course of many episodes/books, either. They make you watch all those episodes, read a lot of stuff, to get to the big payoff at the end, which is OK if the payoff is big enough. Taking out Sauron and his forces is certainly big. Shonsu restructuring nearly every aspect of his world is pretty big also. Restarting the Universe when the Wellworld got damaged is right up there. But I’m mostly interested in characters, and epics usually aren’t. The Shonsu books are, and there are parts of LOTR and the Wellworld series that make them worth reading to me.

The usual compromise is a series of standalones, plenty of scope for character development and story flow, no need for big payoffs at the end. No possibility of a sudden cancelation preventing us from ever getting that big payoff. But even this has its problems. The seasonal arcs in Buffy worked, but the payoff at the end of the show was a bit lacking.

What’s your favorite scope?

‘Follies’ is not a recognized genre, as far as I know. Which is probably all for the best, since I’ve seen only one movie that qualifies as a folly unreservedly, a splendid little film called ‘Oh What a Lovely War.’  I first discovered this movie on a public station, where I tried to record it using a VHS tape with not enough room left. My dismay was great, you may be sure. Fortunately I discovered that it was released in DVD format recently and now I own it and have seen it in its entirety.

OWALW is a movie about World War 1, presenting it as a day at a seaside carnival. The purpose of the film is to capture the foolishness of the war itself, and that it does admirably. The imagery used is a little arcane in some spots, though, and only a knowledge of the history of the events enabled me to understand and enjoy what was shown and what it meant. The causes of the war, as well as its conduct, are presented as blind gamesmanship on the part of stupid and shallow pretenders at statecraft. The literal causes of the war, the Archduke and his wife who were assassinated in Sarajevo, do nothing, as good tokens will. They are an excuse for the war that every so-called statesman in the room says he doesn’t want.

Then the carnival begins, and all the male members of a single family buy tickets to the show. The movie follows these men, and occasionally their wives, alternating with scenes from the home front, where relatively few people know that a war is even being fought, or what’s happening in the trenches. The stunning incompetence of the military leadership is captured by a single scene, in which the numbers of dead men are read off like a score, while the number of yards gained is tossed off as ‘Nil.’ ‘In the end, we have ten thousand men, they have five thousand, we win.’ The horror of what is really happening is caught in a series of vignettes, in the form of carnival attractions such as a merry-go-round. These rides suddenly expand into song-and-dance routines, based on the actual songs sung during WW1, a pleasant facade that all too soon comes crashing down, dead men and broken horses, the curtain swiftly drawn and…Hey, look over there! The many members of the family are gradually killed off, as shown by the presence of little red flowers, until the final scene shows the women picnicking among a sea of crosses.

I know no movie which so perfectly captures the folly of its subject, with the possible exception of Dr. Strangelove, or War Inc., a strange little movie in which John Cusack almost reprises his Martin Blank character, an assassin for hire, who gets sent to ‘Turaqistan’ to kill an oil minister while undergoing a crisis of conscience.

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Off the Map

Reality TV...without the Reality!

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