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Posts Tagged ‘Joss Whedon

So I discovered Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.was available on Netflix a few days ago (the movie-TV business would go broke if it depended on me, I don’t rush to see anything on day one, that’s for idiots with a lot more willingness to part with their money than I have), and being a fan of the Superhero Genre I decided to see if it was as good as I hoped. For the most part it was. Since I’d just gotten The Winter Soldier recently, I even had the context for everything that happened (I saw Jasper Sitwell and knew what was coming). It’s a pretty clever idea, filling in the gaps between movies with a TV series that follows a representative group of lesser characters. We can’t all be superheroes, but we could be ordinary agents, just trying to do our jobs.

I wasn’t even very happy with the introduction of superpowers into this context, until it became clear that these abilities were technologically developed and highly experimental. Hopefully they’ll go into greater detail about how these specific individuals were chosen. The guy with the fire powers I can understand, but most of the other Centipede subjects seemed like regular guys.

The dialog and characters were spot-on, of course, what with the series being created and overseen by a comic-book geek. I liked Buffy and Angel, and I loved Dr. Horrible. It wasn’t perfect, of course, TV scripts don’t seem able to avoid falling into a pit of tropes anymore. They’re a good shorthand (Chuck season 3 only makes sense if you view it in terms of the tropes underneath the plot), but they also make the story predictable, and need excellent characters and actors to make them seem anything other than lazy writer collecting a paycheck. Fortunately one of the more blatant instances of this, Fitz’ reluctance to tell Simmons he loves her until staring death in the face, is offset by a much better counter-trope, with two major characters not going the wt/wt route at all, even though the guy was tagged as the lady’s SO, a bit of a joke since it means something totally different.

So I consider it terribly unfortunate that the main plot for the series, the basis for the first two-thirds of the series which culminates in the events of  Winter Soldier, is so sloppily done. Only the idea that they live in a world with super-powered people makes it even remotely plausible, but even then it violates the principle of Occam’s Razor and should never have worked. The main villain of the first part is called the Clairvoyant, a person who predicts the actions of everyone in the scene with startling accuracy. The Agents spend a great deal of time looking over their lists of gifted individuals, trying to determine who it could be.

Except that no security force would ever do that. If I was a policeman and someone called me, claiming to be a psychic who could predict a crime, the first thing I would suspect is that the ‘psychic’ committed the crime. The first thing Coulson should have suspected when he heard about this Clairvoyant is that there was a mole inside SHIELD, but that would have given the story away far too soon, and prevented the sudden explosion of HYDRA, so they had to be stupid on purpose, which is a terrible way to write a show.

In a slightly different form of deliberate stupidity, this so-brilliant mastermind, when the time comes for him to be found out, is betrayed by the most inane bit of stupid characterization in Trope-land. In trying to cast doubt on some other agent, he lets slip a detail which didn’t happen to be in Coulson’s report, and the jig is up. Not a large flaw, in the scheme of things, and it gets him captured, which means he gets sent to the Fridge by someone else’s order, which was what he wanted, so perhaps he did it on purpose. As a piece of surface-level stupidity it’s inexcusable that a guy who has never yet made a mistake should make such a blatant one. As a piece of double-duplicity I can see otherwise intelligent agents falling for it, given the chaos they were in at the time, but again it’s deliberately arranged stupidity. I would much rather the Clairvoyant got caught because of Coulson being smart, than because circumstances made him temporarily stupid.

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I don’t know how it works for pantsers in general, if there is such a thing, but when I write a story I do it from front to back. I start on page one and continue through to the end, wherever and whatever that may be. There are lots of writers out there who don’t care what scene they’re writing. If the inspiration is for scene 24, that’s what they’ll do, even if yesterday they were on scene 2. I can’t write like that. I have to know what has already happened before I can move on to what will happen next.

That’s when I’m actually putting words on paper. I do occasionally brainstorm ideas, mostly with my kids when going to and from bookselling events. My son and I came up with many of the plot elements that will go into my next Tarkas novel, someday. We have the ideas, but I haven’t put the words on paper to get me there yet, so i don’t know what will happen to those plot elements when I do. What often starts as a target becomes a roadblock, as I try to figure out how to get the story there, rather than let the story show me how it wants to go. Which is not to say that trying to write these scenes is a bad thing. Like most things, trying to do it teaches me a lot more than simply thinking about it. Many times I’ve written oceans of text that had to be thrown away, but only after it had served the purpose of helping me develop the idea and found its flaws. Many times I’ve written many paragraphs that didn’t work as written, but made much more sense when simply rearranged.

Writing backwards is slightly different. I take a possible endpoint, and try to figure out how to get there, sort of a pantsing approach to outlining. The first step is to find a suitable possible endpoint. As a character on Dead Like Me (the father, who’s an English professor) said, cliches are cliches for a reason. They’re what got thrown against the wall and stuck. Naturally my job is to take it off the wall, turn it upside down, and throw it again. It worked for Joss Whedon, making the petite blonde into the killer that all the monsters were afraid of.

But just creating anti-cliches isn’t enough, the story logic has to support them. That’s the part where you have to figure out how to get there. There is value in directness, but a really cool plot point that takes a lot of tortured logic to get to isn’t as good as an OK plot point that takes one twist and a step sideways. Sometimes you can get to the same place (the really cool plot point) by making a bunch of twists and sideways steps, just like you can make a left turn by going forward one block and making three right turns instead. Not only do you get to the same place but you’ve covered more ground doing it, maybe added a character or even a whole subplot, which can sometimes be a good thing. Sometimes it isn’t, which is where editing comes in.

Back when I was writing St. Martin’s Moon (which was a long time ago, at this point), I also happened to be watching the entire Buffy and Angel series on DVD.  My new boss was a Buffy fan, and since we had a lot in common, being former philosophy majors turned computer programmers, he recommended to me that I give it a try.

I had heard of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, since I didn’t live in a cave or anything, but I hadn’t ever seen an episode, or of Angel.  It’s in some ways due a reflex I built years ago, not to do what everyone else is doing.  A good one for an author, most of the time, but it does have its downside.  I haven’t seen an episode of Seinfeld, either.  Anyway, we got the DVDs from various coworkers and watched the entire series over what I like to call our Buffy Summer (get it?), and now we own them too. 

One of my favorite characters from the two series is Wesley, along with Xander and Willow, but Wesley goes through the most tremendous character development of both shows.  First he’s comic relief, then he becomes a junior hero, then something of a villain, and finally a romantic lead.  And it doesn’t hurt that he’s married to Alyson Hannigan, who plays Willow, and a much more interesting actress.  I did watch a little of How I Met Your Mother, but it didn’t really use her abilities very much, the few episodes I saw.

So when I was writing my latest book I had these actors in my mind.  Marquand, the main protag, is a man who had lost his lover to a freak accident on the Moon.  He’s been on Earth for years, trying and failing to grieve properly, until he gets dragged back into service on the Moon by a werewolf attack.  Naturally I thought of Wesley, i.e., Alexis Denisof, as the perfect actor to play this role.  Because of this I was led to think of his wife to play one of the romantic leads opposite him.  Yes, there are two, but she plays the one who’s alive.  When I was writing some of the lesser characters I automatically cast Nathan Fillion in the role.

This is the first and so far only time I’ve ever thought of a character in terms of the actors I think would be best to portray them.  Which is odd, considering that most of the time when I’m writing, I proceed by visualizing the events as if they were a movie.  Even now I have no particular ideas for who should play Tarkas, or any of the others from my Flame in the Bowl series.  It also seems I can’t really imagine the roles with any others.  I have some other actors in mind for lesser characters but I didn’t have them in mind while writing so I’m more open to change for them.

Has this ever happened to you?  Do you read or write with specific actors in mind for a part? How does it affect your experience of the story?

A few days ago I completed my latest short story, for the PARSEC contest.  The theme was catchy, I had a story idea, I had a plot.  Naturally it took over.  I had been working on my novel, Tales of Uncle.  I hit a little speedbump with the Scriptures I was writing–they’re Scriptures after all, and have to sound like it–and this story idea came in and took the spotlight away. 

It’s the hazard of having multiple story ideas running at once.  If one story gets too tricky, another one that seems easier will be the more attractive target.  I use this technique on tests, BTW, answer the easy questions first, they get the brain reminded of stuff that you can use to answer the harder questions, and so on.  I never answer the questions on a test in order, and I don’t write my books that way.  Within each book I write in order, I have no other way to do it, so being able to switch from book to book is a useful technique when one book isn’t talking to me and another is.

None of which has anything to do with decompression.  I don’t know about other writers, but for me, a story will dominate my thoughts when I think about writing a story, so that I can only write that one story (unless I hit a speedbump).  It’s a side-effect of my writing process, that follows the logic of the characters based on the situation to see what they’ll do to make a new situation for themselves.  Sometimes, like Giles in the Restless episode of Buffy, you have to crawl along following a wire that leads to a tangle and spend days untangling it (without the scalping, thank you very much).

So when you’re finally done it can take a while to let your brain get away from that story and get it fixated on some other story.   I have 2 other stories I’m thinking of doing, one is Tales, the other is a little horror thing I started years ago and dropped, both because it was dialog-less (and unlike Joss Whedon I was unwilling to accept that challenge back then) and because it’s a horror story, a vampire short that is different from any vampire short I’ve ever read, not that I claim to have read every vampire short there is.  I just make every effort to have every story I write be different from any story I’ve ever read.  So it goes without saying that this vampire short is different from ‘Bite Deep’, my last vampire short, which was also different from every vampire short I’d ever read.

Or I can blog.

Do you feel the need to decompress after a story?  How do you do it?


Unbinding the Stone

A Warrior Made

A Warrior Made

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St. Martin’s Moon

St. Martin's Moon

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Ghostkiller

Chasing His Own Tale

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Struck By Inspiration

Struck By Inspiration

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Steampunk Santa

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Bite Deep

Christmas among the vampires!

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Cyber-pirates. Sort of.

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Off the Map

Reality TV...without the Reality!

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